Can graduate students teach from out of state if able? Also, if we are teaching remotely in Ithaca without going to campus, is weekly testing necessary?

Date: July 2020


Dear Deans,

I am unsure about a few of Cornell’s COVID-19 policies involving graduate students during the upcoming school year:

If graduate students are able to teach remotely (out of state), are we able to do so?

If graduate students are able to teach remotely while remaining in Ithaca, and agree not to go on campus during the upcoming school year (except for essential activities such as, for example, doctor’s visits), might we be exempt from the weekly testing? It seems that everyone would be safer if we were able to continue to socially distance from home, and that by going in weekly for testing en masse, we would actually be risking community spread more than if we could just sign an agreement to stay off campus and to adhere to community distancing policies. I’ve been completely safe for months, and am worried about going to get tested when I believe I am safer not doing so.

I understand if some of these questions are still being figured out. I would like to encourage the policy for graduate student instructors, and all staff and faculty, contained in my question. Thank you!

As ever,

Wondering About Virus Testing


Dear Wondering About Virus Testing,

Thank you for your Ask a Dean question. Please be aware that Cornell’s COVID-19 policies and expectations are evolving, and will likely continue to evolve, as the pandemic unfolds.  Depending on the topic, Cornell policies must be consistent with local (e.g., Tompkins County Health Department), New York State, and federal requirements. And as the geographic spread and scientific knowledge about the virus unfold, policies and expectations may be updated.

At this point, you can find information about teaching assistant duties in my July 14 update to research degree students and my July 9 update to graduate fields. To your question, if you are a TA approved to teach remotely for your TA assignment, that should generally be able to be done either from Ithaca or from out of state (but not out of the country – there are constraints and specific eligibility conditions that must be addressed regarding assistantship appointments for students outside the U.S., reflecting federal and other requirements that the university must meet). Of course, you should also consider your research/scholarship and other academic progress requirements and whether those, also, can be performed remotely, out of state.

If you will be teaching remotely while remaining in Ithaca, the COVID-19 testing program described in the July 15 message from Vice President Lombardi and Vice Provost Koretzky pertains. As they noted, “All undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who reside in or return to the greater Ithaca area and/or the Cornell University campus community for the 2020-21 academic year are required to participate in the testing program as part of the Cornell Behavioral Compact.” More details about the regular surveillance testing program will be communicated when available. There will not be costs to Cornell students for the testing. Individuals coming for testing will wear masks and will physically distance.

There will be a Campus Reactivation Town Hall for Graduate and Professional Students on July 22, 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. You may submit questions in advance when you register. That is an opportunity to ask the Provost directly (via submitting an advance question) about your concern regarding the safety tradeoffs of staying home/off campus vs. being tested periodically for the virus.

Thank you for thinking carefully and thoughtfully about appropriate behaviors in the midst of this global pandemic.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Dean of the Graduate School