Dear Faculty and Staff: The resurgence of the COVID-19 virus around our country is intensifying on the heels of holiday travel and gatherings. Here in Onondaga County, we are experiencing rising infection rates and an uptick in hospitalizations. In response,…
Chancellor Addresses University Senate, Discusses Transition to Online Learning and Spring 2021 Planning
In his remarks to the University Senate Meeting, held virtually, Chancellor Kent Syverud addressed last week’s transition to online learning and planning for the Spring 2021 semester, among other items.
Thank you, Marcelle. Good afternoon everyone. I will keep my remarks brief. I will provide updates on 1) last week’s transition to online learning; 2) Spring 2021 planning; 3) ESE search; and 4) academic performance among our student-athletes.
We are now a week out from Thanksgiving. Our hope was to be winding down the on campus part of the semester starting now. Instead, we had to begin that process a week earlier. Concluding in-person, on-campus learning last week was not something we planned to do or wanted to do. But, it was the right call.
We were on track to exceed the New York State threshold of 100 positive cases in a two-week period.
But much more importantly, we were seeing an increasing prevalence of cases all over Syracuse and Onondaga County. Outside of our region, the virus is surging across the country and has been for several weeks. This has started to be reflected in our students, and we were observing some evidence of transmission within some residence halls. This is a shift from recent weeks where we were able to identify small clusters and then test and isolate positive cases before they spread.
So with those factors in mind, it was prudent to move to online classes when we did. As a result of that, many of our students are leaving campus early to complete their semester at home. I want you to know that they are participating in pre-departure COVID testing (more than 7,000 students have tested for departure already). The bulk of our students will be leaving in the next seven days. We continue to follow the departure protocols and testing guidelines for students that we announced back on Oct. 14, very early, including pre-departure testing. Our students are checking out of their rooms in the residence halls and almost all are following the guidelines. We are providing free safe transportation to our students to major cities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.
There ARE a significant number of students, who for a variety of reasons, must remain on campus. And we’ve made arrangements to support these students for as long as they need to be on campus. We have a quite adequate quarantine and isolation states. We will provide those accommodations as long as necessary for our students.
The shift to remote learning was relatively smooth. I thank the deans, faculty, ITS and of course our students, for making this transition possible.
Spring Semester Planning
The second topic is spring semester planning, which I am sure we will get questions about. As we work to wrap up the residential part of our fall semester, we are learning from that and looking ahead to spring. It is our intention to offer an in-person residential experience beginning on Jan.25 subject to public health authorities and guidance and the situation in our country, which is—as you know—very dynamic. We have learned a lot from our successes and our challenges this fall. We will take what we have learned and apply that to the Spring 2021 semester.
I think as a university we did relatively well compared to our peers this fall. The spring semester has to be even better. In particular, we must have more and safer universal testing. We will have more and safer indoor spaces for academic and non-academic pursuits. So we will need to have an even better plan for the spring. We will have an even better plan.
To support this work, we are reconvening six of the committees that were integral in planning our fall semester. Those six committees are:
- Public Health and Emergency Management
- Student Experience and Engagement
- Academic Strategy
- Infrastructure and Residence Life
- International Students
- Disability Related Considerations
We have 10 weeks at least before the start of the spring semester, and for those committees, which again will include faculty and staff, we will again ask that you provide your ideas and feedback to these committees, to your chairs and deans, and to the interim provost as we work hard over the next 10 weeks.
We also heard from a lot of faculty and some students that the tents on the Quad and outdoor spaces were very helpful in delivering instruction. Unfortunately, most of those are coming down for winter. I am pleased to share that we have a plan and are working hard to refine it for major spaces coming online that we will use for socially distanced academic and student life activities. We are looking at how we can best allocate and use all our space. That space emphatically includes the stadium, which is now open and the Schine Student Center, which is going to be open as soon as the final stages of the renovation are complete. I toured the building last week with Chief Facilities Officer Pete Sala. It is a truly spectacular space. It is much bigger than anyone realized because of how it was divided up in the past. The Schine will be coming online for staff in December and for students in January.
The timing of this reopening could not be more aligned with our current needs. The Schine provides renovated and accessible spaces that are suitable for socially distanced learning, gathering and socializing. For example, the new design provides a bigger vestibule area outside of Goldstein auditorium, modern spaces for many of our cultural centers and versatile mixed-use space. There will be new dining services, including Kosher and Halal food. Many of the features you will see in the building are the direct result of feedback from students and community members. We are planning a series of opening events and activities—all within public health guidelines—in January. The main point is the Schine will be online for the spring.
ESE Leadership Search
Now, a brief update on the search for the next leader of Enrollment and the Student Experience.
As announced on Oct. 8, Cole Smith, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and Candace Campbell Jackson, senior vice president and chief of staff, are co-chairing the search for our next senior vice president for Enrollment and the Student Experience. The committee includes a broad representation of students, faculty, staff and trustees. We are partnering with Witt Keiffer on the search. Earlier this month, the search firm met with more than 25 groups, including students, staff, faculty, alumni and University leaders, including members of the University Senate Student Life Committee. The search committee will meet later this month to review these findings. We hope to announce a new leader in late spring.
Academic Performance Among Student-Athletes
My last update is on the academic performance of our student-athletes. With everything else going on in the country I am afraid that it will go unnoticed. Yesterday, the NCAA announced the Graduation Success Rate and Federal Graduation Rate data for all NCAA Division 1 institutions. I’m pleased to share that our student-athletes continue to perform extraordinarily well in the classroom. Syracuse Athletics ranks in the top 10 among Power 5 schools. We’re also one of six ACC schools in the top 10.
Some key highlights include:
- Our overall GSR is 94 percent, which is the highest since the NCAA began tracking;
- A record 10 teams have a 100 percent score, with women’s tennis and volleyball achieving this distinction for the ninth consecutive year; and
- Since a senator asked me about it before this meeting, I will report that our graduation success rate among Black male student-athletes is 89 percent, also an all-time high.
The data reflects the class that enrolled in 2013-14 and graduated within six years.
I am grateful for the academic advisors, support staff and coaches who support our student-athletes. And most importantly, I am proud of our student-athletes. We need to continue this and follow it closely. They continue to excel in the classroom, serve their communities and achieve great things.
Ending with Gratitude
Finally, I want to share a note I received last week that is really to all of you. It came from a parent of one of our students. It’s just one of many the University received throughout the semester from grateful families. It was addressed to me, but it is a reflection of the work of you and your colleagues:
“You and your entire Syracuse University community have done an incredible job this semester. I can’t imagine the amount of work that has gone into opening Syracuse University and keeping it open. I am so proud that my daughter chose to attend the university and even more so now. While there has of course been stress and anxiety, which is to be expected, the people at Syracuse have made this experience as comforting as possible given all of the circumstances in the country. I am constantly sharing the good experience with others. I am very sorry that the end of this semester is ending in a flurry of activity. But I am still so proud of what Syracuse University has accomplished. Thank you.” I pass that thanks along to all of you who have done all of the work this semester.
Thank you. I will take questions after Interim Provost Liu’s remarks.