Colleges Confronting Coronavirus!

Dear Commons Community,

The novel coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease it causes, are becoming a public-health threat across the world.  As more cases are reported, colleges are re-evaluating their study-abroad programs, moving courses online, and taking other preventive measures. Meanwhile, some academic associations are canceling their conferences.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has compiled information on the virus’s spread and its implications for higher ed.  Here is a recap.

Which American campuses have reported cases?

As of March 3, more than 100 cases of the virus had been reported in the United States. There were scattered reports of connections to college campuses:

Rice University said on March 2 that a staff member traveling internationally had possibly been exposed to the virus, and that 17 people — including faculty, students, and staff — with whom the staff member had had contact were self-quarantined.

Dartmouth College notified its community on March 2 that an employee of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center had tested positive for the virus, and had attended an event at the college’s graduate business school before being quarantined.

Students at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, near Seattle, may have been exposed to the virus, according to the Kirkland Reporter, after visiting a nursing facility where cases have been confirmed.

A University of Massachusetts at Boston student who had traveled to Wuhan, China — where the virus originated — was among the first documented cases in the United States.

How has Covid-19 affected study-abroad programs and travel?

Because most reported cases are abroad, many American colleges and universities are advising students studying abroad in countries where coronavirus cases have been reported to return home. Some colleges are also imposing self-quarantines on people returning from affected countries.

Many colleges are restricting or suspending travel they have sponsored to the same countries, and canceling or suspending study-abroad programs. Several campuses have gestured toward future cancellations, including of study-abroad programs for the summer and fall semesters.

How else are campuses preparing for a possible pandemic?

Some colleges are preparing for even-more-disruptive scenarios. Syracuse University said on March 2 that it was devising a plan to continue instruction in case it has to “suspend residential learning.”

Have academic associations canceled conferences?


The American Physical Society announced that its biggest meeting of the year, scheduled for March, has been canceled. The Asia-Pacific Association for International Education announced on February 29 that its annual conference, slated to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, would be postponed. The Educause Learning Initiative said that its annual meeting, slated for Bellevue, Wash., had been canceled.

Other conferences are deferring a decision, suggesting possible action if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues other guidance. The American Council on Education said on March 2 that it planned to go forward with its annual meeting, scheduled for mid-March, but would be in touch with attendees if the situation changed.

At least one association with an imminent conference said it would proceed as planned. The Association of Writers & Writing Programs released a lengthy statement explaining its decision to hold its annual conference in San Antonio from March 4 to March 7. Several academic presses subsequently posted on Twitter that they would not be attending.

What will be the long-term effects on higher education?

It’s unclear. Some observers have speculated that if it can’t be contained, the virus could prove to be the biggest disruption to higher ed this year:

Meanwhile, colleges have confronted an unwelcome side effect of the paranoia surrounding the virus: discrimination. Leaders on several campuses, including Pennsylvania State, Syracuse, and Northwestern Universities, have taken pains to emphasize not targeting people of Asian descent, after reports of anti-Asian discrimination on campuses.”

Below is a statement from CUNY’s Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriquez.

I have already told the students in my courses (they are already offered in blended mode) that if there is any disruption, we will move to a totally online environment.



The City University of New York


To: CUNY Faculty and Staff
From: Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, Ph.D.
Date: March 2, 2020
Re: Human Resources Update — Coronavirus

As we continue to monitor developments related to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), it is important to gather facts, take preventive measures, and plan for a variety of scenarios. As I am sure you know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published preliminary recommendations for organizations to consider in case of local transmissions of the coronavirus in the United States.

Although the first case of coronavirus in New York City was just confirmed, the risk to New Yorkers remains low. The NYC Department of Health has “not detected community transmission of COVID-19 in New York City.” Community transmission means the disease is spreading and the source of the infection is unknown. However, it has raised our level of concern and we are stepping up our ongoing preparations for the possibility of our city and campuses being impacted by the virus.

We are also giving our facilities extra attention in terms of restocking hand sanitizers, soaps and other cleaning supplies and ensuring that there are plenty of places throughout common areas where students, faculty, and staff can wash or sanitize their hands. Clear signage regarding proper hygiene (washing hands and covering coughs, etc.) will be displayed in restrooms and in various common areas around campus and CUNY offices.

For our employees, please note:

Employees who are sick and exhibiting symptoms of acute respiratory illness are asked to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer) and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines. Employees should notify their supervisor and keep them informed of their absence. For the health and safety of all employees, staff members who report to work exhibiting these symptoms may be sent home.

Employees returning from a country designated as “Level 3” by the CDC are to contact their Human Resources office by phone or email before returning to work.

Employees who may have international travel plans should check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for the country of travel.

The University also recommends regularly checking the following resources for updates:

We understand that employees may be experiencing heightened levels of anxiety during this time.  We want to remind you that CUNY’s Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) is available to work with you toward addressing this.  CUNY’s EAP may be reached at 1-888-993-7650 or

The NYC Health Department is preparing for all possible scenarios, and we will continue to monitor and communicate with them about any potential impact to our campuses.

Please be assured that CUNY is taking this possible threat very seriously and we are actively making and updating plans to ensure employee and student safety, as well as continuity of our business and operations across a range of possible scenarios.

As you know, CUNY’s academic systems, including its learning management platform Blackboard and our cloud collaboration tools Microsoft Office 365 for Education and Dropbox, can be helpful ways to deliver academic instruction in a remote/online manner, should the need arise.  Furthermore, CUNY’s Virtual Desktop environment and many similar Virtual Desktop environments at the colleges provide students, faculty, and staff with remote access to some of the software products commonly found in computer labs across the University, again should the need arise.

We will continue to communicate with you about our ongoing efforts regarding the coronavirus.

Should you have any immediate questions or concerns, please contact your College Human Resources office.


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