Message from the President / Update on Summer and Fall Planning

To: Paul Smith’s College faculty and staff

Delivered: June 2, 2020

Dear colleagues,

I hope you have been able to get a bit of rest after the challenging Spring 2020 semester. Thanks to each of you, the Paul Smith’s community reflected its great strength, agility, creativity and care. With little notice, we moved from a highly residential learning environment to one that was 100% remote. You made that happen through your tireless efforts. Many thanks.

You have all been patient as we have been developing options for the coming months. This very lengthy email is an update on our thinking.

As you will read below, we are increasingly optimistic that we can safely reopen the campus in time for the Fall 2020 semester. There are a number of details to work out, and to do this safely and successfully all of us will need to pull together! But it will be great to welcome our community back and do what we do best. Please note that many variables can impact these plans, and that we need to be compliant with state guidelines. Our hope is to finalize and formally announce our plans by the end of June.

Summer 2020

We are being cautious with all summer activities and have cancelled or moved online all large group events such as conferences, SOAR days, and alumni reunion. Public spaces such as the library, student center, fitness center and canoe launch are closed. The VIC facility is also closed; however, the trails are open for outdoor recreation.

A small number of VIC and AWI seasonal staff are currently living on campus under strict safety protocols. This has permitted us to implement procedures on a limited basis to inform our reopening plans. Facilities has been working to “deep clean” many areas of the campus.

Our Remote Work Policy remains in effect. The North Country is now approved by the governor’s office to enter “Phase 2” activities, including office work. Once we finalize our safety protocols it will be possible for more of you to work from campus if your job and personal situations would benefit. In general, we expect most employees to continue working remotely for much of the summer.

Fall 2020

Our plan is to have all students back on campus for the fall semester. In order to achieve this we must implement proper health and safety protocols while delivering the outstanding education and experiences that we are so proud of.

In April we created the Fall Planning Task Force (FPTF) as well as a Safety Assessment team. The former is focused on options for fall operations; the latter for ensuring that health and safety considerations are adequately addressed. These two teams now operate as one larger group. Many thanks to the team members for agreeing to take on this important role:

  • Chair: Cathy Dove
  • Academics: Nicholas Hunt-Bull, Mel Johnson
  • Co-curricular and Community Engagement: Zack Luzzi, Shannon Oborne, David Placey
  • Student Support: Melinda Bard, Mike Beccaria
  • Health, Safety and Compliance: Abby Fontaine, Trevor Fox, Teresa Gay, Gwen Goodman

The FPTF has been meeting at least twice a week and considering a number of options for the fall semester. We have been working with groups like CICU (our state association of Independent Colleges), receiving advice from advisors to employers, talking to other schools, and conferring with local officials and health providers. Campus scenarios ranging from zero residents to a partial or full campus have been considered. At this point we believe it will be possible to bring all students back to campus for the fall semester. We have not yet finalized our plans, as we await confirmation from New York State that our planning is consistent with state regulations and guidelines. Our expectation is to finalize and announce our plans by mid-June.

Based on current predictions of what may happen with COVID-19 in the fall, in order to optimize likely number of days on campus, we are tentatively planning to open two weeks early (classes to start ~August 18), eliminate fall break (Homesick Weekend) and wrap up campus instruction before the Thanksgiving break. Students will not return after Thanksgiving but instead will complete end-of-semester work such as reading days, exams and capstones remotely.

By avoiding breaks, we minimize the possibility of extensive student travel and its corresponding health risks. This approach will also compress our time on campus in the fall when the possibility of an outbreak during flu season may be higher. And, the warm weeks of August are an optimal time for outdoor labs and experiences.

This approach does include several important considerations:

Health and safety

  • We anticipate that until a vaccine is available, all public interaction will require social distancing, with required masks when distancing is not possible.
  • We are working with local officials and healthcare providers to ensure we have appropriate testing, contact tracing and quarantine practices in place.
  • We have, or are sourcing, the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks for our community.
  • We are reviewing our physical spaces to ensure that people can maintain proper social distancing and will provide protective barriers where necessary.
  • We are acquiring the necessary equipment and manpower to handle appropriate cleaning and disinfecting.
  • We have been developing procedures for communication, signage and addressing individual concerns.
  • We are reviewing class scheduling and classroom assignments, and also assessing the dining venue to minimize congestion and to maintain social distancing.
  • We will have contingency plans in place should a confirmed case be identified.

Academics

  • Currently we plan to accommodate all enrolled students on campus by holding smaller classes and repurposing large spaces such as the Pine Room and/or the Buxton Gym to accommodate larger classes.
  • A small number of courses may be offered online. Other courses we plan to offer face-to-face on a “high flexibility” model which will allow us to offer live classes while respecting the health challenges of faculty and students. Every course will need to be quasi-hybrid, Canvas-intensive, and likely recorded for flexible attendance with built-in agility to shift to a remote teaching environment if necessary.
  • All classes will need to have a consistent, planned Canvas presence. Feedback from students revealed that inconsistent use of Canvas is a major educational barrier. We are actively working on a recommended format for Canvas courses. Some resources are available on the Faculty Learning Center on Canvas. Kung Fu Canvas in the Introduction Module is a great place to start. More training will be offered over the summer. If you have any specific training requests or suggestions, please email Mel Johnson, Catie Lalonde or Joe Henderson.

Co-curricular

  • We will have a staggered move-in process that permits social distancing.
  • Welcome week, club activities and other college events will continue following health and safety protocols.
  • Athletic teams would likely forego a preseason. We are still awaiting determinations from the USCAA and YSCC conferences regarding intercollegiate athletics.
  • Residence hall assignments will ensure no more than two students/room. Designated quarantine/incubation space is being identified.
  • The dining hall layout and menu approaches will minimize congestion and eliminate most self-service.

Student and employee support

  • Given the need to stay agile, we are capturing the positives, negatives, and learning opportunities of the spring semester. You will receive a survey soon – please share your experiences.
  • Given the likely uncertainty ahead, our systems and processes will be enhanced to ensure our remote learning is more robust if/when needed.
  • Counseling and advising of students will be ramped up to accommodate the increased need for these services.
  • Employees and students who are in high-risk categories will be accommodated due to their circumstances.
  • There may be regional concerns when college-students arrive in the Adirondacks. We are sharing our plans with local groups and will work with our students to make sure they are respectful of others when off-campus.

I completely appreciate that opening early will be difficult for those who are not working throughout the summer. We will work with each group to ensure we are ready.

Uncertainty is challenging, but we have a remarkable team that has demonstrated how well we adjust to challenges. Thanks to all of you I know we will emerge from this pandemic even stronger.

We will do our best to anticipate our future needs early and keep you apprised of our direction in the coming weeks. In the meantime, do not hesitate to reach out to your department or any of the task force members with questions or comments. Thanks for your commitment to Paul Smith’s College.

Cathy

Dr. Cathy S. Dove, President

Key Contacts

Student Health Services
Abigail Fontaine, RN, BSN, Director
(518) 327-6349
afontaine@paulsmiths.edu

Housing & Residence Life
Lou Kaminski, Director
residencelifeandhousing@paulsmiths.edu
(518) 327-6488

Campus Safety
Holly Parker, Director
hparker@paulsmiths.edu
(518) 327-6300

Emergency Management
Teresa Gay, Compliance Coordinator
tgay@paulsmiths.edu
(518) 327-6451