Fall 2020 Student Questions (Updated 7/31/20)
Provost Michael Kotlikoff and former Graduate School Dean Barbara Knuth responded to questions and concerns of many graduate and professional students around the university’s plans to provide hybrid instruction for the Fall 2020 semester.
University policy indicates that graduate students will continue to receive their stipends if they become ill or have to quarantine or isolate for another reason. What is the protocol for when a member of a teaching assistant’s family or household becomes sick? Specifically, will there be a guarantee that stipends will not be interrupted or withheld if students need to take time off, for example, to care for or grieve a loved one or to isolate themselves if a member of their household becomes ill?
Graduate students will likely be working more than the standard 20 hours to ensure safety protocols are being followed, to help undergraduates through mental health crises, to assist with transitions to online instruction, and to cover for each other in the case of illness, among other possibilities. How will this extra work be compensated?
In-Person Instruction and Research
Graduate students have identified major concerns with the current opt-out policy for in-person activity, and many departments have adopted their own opt-in policies to provide graduate students with the autonomy to decide whether they feel safe coming to campus. We have linked 18 examples of such policies above and urge the Graduate School to follow suit. Will the Graduate School implement a universal opt-in policy at the university level?
Cornell's policy for graduate students requesting non-medical accommodations from their supervisors is extremely broad and requires students to have to escalate the issue themselves if their supervisor doesn't agree to their requests. How will Cornell protect graduate students from coercion if supervisors attempt to force them to come to campus for research or instruction?
How should teaching assistants handle non-compliance or otherwise unsafe behavior among students in classes?
What is the protocol for how rooms will be sanitized between instruction? Will teaching assistants and instructors be responsible for sanitizing rooms? What kind of PPE will be provided for teaching assistants and instructors, and who should be contacted if the supply is not sufficient?
If a student, instructor, or teaching assistant for a course becomes sick, will the course move online for 14 days? Will people who have been in the classroom for other courses be expected to quarantine as well? Who will be responsible for communicating this need to quarantine to all those impacted?
What transportation options will be available for graduate students who have to conduct research or teach on campus? How will public transit options like the TCAT be monitored for density as well as sanitized to ensure passenger safety, especially for popular routes between downtown and campus like the 10?
COVID-19 Testing and Safety
Is the current summer testing being used for test validation? If so, has this been communicated with those being tested, including details of how this data will be protected and used?
The university has indicated that graduate students who will be working remotely with no on-campus activities may be required to be regularly tested. Many students who live within Tompkins County but plan to perform their duties entirely remotely this fall are concerned that coming to campus for testing will actually increase exposure and risk, both for them personally and for the larger community. Will there be additional testing sites off-campus, especially in areas where most graduate students live? If not, will this policy be amended?
If the only testing site will be on-campus, will Cornell provide safe (i.e., not public) transport options for people coming from off-campus who do not have cars and do not feel safe taking public transport for risk of exposure?
Will graduate students be given the same accommodations as undergraduates to quarantine in hotel rooms paid by Cornell if they become sick and/or upon their return to Ithaca from states with high virus rates or from outside of the country? Many graduate students live off-campus with roommates or family and may have difficulty quarantining at home without putting others at risk.
Will graduate students be provided with the same personal protective equipment that will be given to undergraduates in their welcome packages?
What is the protocol for “testing people as they enter” Ithaca as noted in the town hall? Can the university clarify how they will be monitoring entry and enforcing testing both as people return and throughout the semester?
International Student Concerns
Can international graduate students still be funded through RA or TA positions if they are not in the U.S. or will have to leave before the semester starts? According to current guidance from Cornell, only students who are legally stranded are eligible for remote assistantships. What is Cornell doing for international graduate students with medical concerns since, according to current TA regulations, medical reasons do not count as a valid reason not to come back to Ithaca (which means students have to choose between not getting paid and thus pausing all research for a semester or risking their health by traveling)?
International students currently in Ithaca are in an especially precarious position since their funding is also tied to their immigration status. How will you ensure that they will not be forced to teach or conduct research on campus for fear of losing their funding and thus being deported? Will there be immigration repercussions for international students who may have to cease assistantship activities due to being quarantined? If students need to leave the U.S. for family emergencies, will that affect their funding?
What is the university's plan to address physical and mental health concerns for international students who are not in the U.S.? And are international students in the U.S. (especially those with medical concerns) allowed to take all of their classes online without facing immigration repercussions?
Of the students who indicated that they would return to Ithaca in the fall, how many are permanent residents of Ithaca and/or graduate students? Why does the Re-entry Checklist not differentiate between students who recently arrived back in Ithaca and those that never left Ithaca?
What metrics will be used to determine the need to shut down face-to-face instruction? What specific response mechanisms are in place for a potential shut down?