Important Update from President Glotzbach and President-Elect Conner
Dear Members of the Skidmore Community,
The last four months have certainly tested us all in ways we never could have anticipated, and we thank you all for your efforts in supporting our students, each other and the mission of Skidmore College during such an immensely challenging time. It was due to this exceptional teamwork and dedication that the College was able to weather such an unprecedented storm during Phase 1 of our response to the pandemic this spring: the transition to remote learning and teleworking.
We now are encouraged to see a steady decline in COVID-19 cases in New York State and the gradual reopening of the state and region. Skidmore’s own path forward will be guided by two principles: protecting the health and safety of our community of students, faculty and staff, and the greater Saratoga Springs community, and returning to a fully residential, in-person, excellent liberal arts education as soon as possible. The residential learning experience is an important aspect of a Skidmore education, and we will continue to provide our students with the highest quality educational opportunities and experiences that we can. We are all in this together and we are responsible to and for one another. We will all need to be educated and supported in how to comport ourselves in this changed environment as we reopen.
With the preceding considerations in mind, the College now has entered Phase II of its pandemic response and is engaged in the critical process of establishing a fall semester reopening plan. The Academic Planning Working Group (APWG), which was charged with identifying options for offering high-quality educational programs under a variety of possible scenarios in the fall semester and through the 2020-21 academic year, has issued the "Report and Recommendations of the Academic Planning Working Group," and the President’s Cabinet and the Institutional Policy and Planning Committee (IPPC) have reviewed it, together with a first draft of a "Skidmore College Reopening Safety Action Plan" to guide reopening under Phase 2 of Governor Cuomo’s plan for the state. President-Elect Marc Conner has provided a written response to the APWG report.
These documents provide strong foundations on which we will continue building potential plans and considering a small number of different possible scenarios in the coming weeks. Our final decision will be based on the latest health, safety and governmental guidelines and restrictions. The educational impact and financial implications of all possible scenarios will also be carefully considered. But all of us need to keep in mind that the public health situation could change quickly and significantly. If that should happen, we would need to be prepared to alter our plans on short notice.
While much of the plan is yet to be finalized, the following three determinations have been made:
- To accept APWG’s recommendation that the 2020-21 academic year begin during the week of Monday, Aug. 24 (exact date to be determined), with classes ending on Friday, Nov. 20, and to request that the Committee on Educational Policies and Planning (CEPP) review and act on this recommendation. Under this calendar, exams, final projects and other components would be completed remotely after Thanksgiving.
- Instruction will need to be designed for delivery through combinations of in-person, remote and blended modes.
- The schedule and plans for the spring 2021 semester should be determined in the fall, based on our experience in the fall semester and the latest health guidance.
Welcoming students back safely
Our aspiration is, and will continue to be, to bring as many Skidmore students to campus in the fall as possible, while complying with health and safety guidance from New York state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health organizations. Key health questions concerning testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, the implementation of cleaning protocols, hygiene standards, the use of personal protective equipment, social distancing policies, and other measures are all being addressed. In order to create sufficient safe housing for as many students as possible, the College also is considering creative ways to accommodate students both on campus or nearby in the Saratoga Springs community.
Similarly, our teaching spaces must align with all safety standards. In classrooms, the College will implement masking, social distancing, the installation of plexiglass shields, special cleaning protocols and additional time between classes, as needed. All health guidance will be followed to ensure the maximum degree of safety possible for students and faculty. In short, by taking all reasonable steps to create safe teaching and learning spaces, we hope that faculty members will feel comfortable offering in-class instruction to our students.
The following scenarios are under active consideration based on the Academic Planning Working Group’s findings and recommendations, and on the work of other administrative teams. Our research and discussions on these possible scenarios remain ongoing:
- The cohort concept: Two classes of students would come to campus in the fall and the remaining two would come to campus in the spring.
- The single-class concept: Just first-year students would come to campus.
- The all-remote concept: No students could come to campus and all instruction must be delivered remotely.
- The "improved public-health" concept: A majority of students – somewhere in the range of 75% to nearly 100% – would be on campus, recognizing that at least some will almost certainly remain off campus for various reasons.
The longer the College can wait before making key decisions about how many students to bring to campus, the better the information we will have from health agencies and the more informed those decisions will be. Each possible scenario involving on-campus instruction would have the members of the new entering class, the Class of 2024, in residence during the fall.
Although it may be possible for most classes to be offered in-person, circumstances and official guidance might require that some or all classes be offered through remote instruction. For that reason, faculty members will need to prepare for both modes of instruction in the fall. Faculty members will individually determine which mode of instruction will best suit their personal situations, pedagogical practices and disciplinary requirements. The College will ask all faculty to indicate their initial preferences in mid-June, so we can begin to provide students with a preliminary sense of the modes of instruction; we will then ask faculty their preferences again by mid-July, to see if ongoing developments in public health and the steps towards campus safety have affected any decisions. This process will help us plan for any revisions to the curriculum and ensure that students will be aware of the dominant teaching mode for their classes.
The three options for instruction are:
- Remote: Some faculty members will be unable to teach in person due to health constraints or because they still feel unsafe in doing so. These faculty members should be able to select an all-remote teaching plan and prepare their courses to provide the highest quality remote instruction.
- In-person: It may be possible to offer some courses – such as lab sciences, studio art and performing arts – only in an in-person environment. In these cases, the College will help faculty members create safe solutions for in-person instruction. If there is no safe solution, the faculty member may create an alternative course, and the College will assist students who need to find a suitable replacement course, possibly at another institution.
- Blended: Some faculty members may choose to design their courses in a blended mode, with some in-person instruction and some remote instruction. For example, lectures might be delivered via remote formats and seminar meetings or discussions might occur in an in-person format.
Faculty members should feel free to explore these possibilities according to their own sense of their discipline, their preferred pedagogies and teaching expertise.
To help faculty prepare, the College will strongly support a robust series of faculty pedagogy trainings and workshops featuring academic technology, instructional design, shared pedagogy practices and teaching-the-teacher workshops throughout the summer.
We currently are working to develop operational action plans on multiple fronts: residential life, facilities, dining services, academic support services, co-curricular programs and the many other departments that contribute to campus life and operations.
The COVID-19 Working Group, which was activated during the spring semester to provide a rapid emergency response to the pandemic, now will be replaced by more focused divisional administrative action teams that will tackle the essential tasks required for reopening in the fall. The action teams will report to the President’s Cabinet and, through their respective Vice President, to President-Elect Conner, who is now taking a more active role in leading the decision-making that will so profoundly affect the first year of his presidency.
President Glotzbach is now transitioning to more of an advisory capacity in this process. President-Elect Conner, who is now continuously engaged in planning discussions and deliberations, has also met with key committees and groups.
Our Central Commitment to Communication
Ongoing and enhanced communication with the entire campus community of students, faculty and staff, the Board of Trustees and our students’ parents and families will be crucial during this process. The community will continue to receive weekly updates on the progress in all areas of the fall planning process, including any new guidance on health and safety requirements and new information about student residential life. Additionally, the communication channels will include community meetings with senior leadership; forums on key questions and concerns; community check-ins; feedback opportunities via email and "office hours"; and constant updates to a fall planning website. Our goal is to fully involve the Skidmore community in these discussions, so that everyone will have opportunities to inform the decision-making process. There should be no surprises as we work together on these challenges.
Despite the uncertainty that lies ahead, thorough planning will position the College well to respond to evolving circumstances, and we know we can count on all members of the community to rally behind this important work. The tremendous challenges we continue to face require us all, as President-Elect Conner has put it, to conjure a somewhat desperate degree of creativity in seeking novel solutions to the extraordinarily complex challenges we face. There is nowhere more appropriate for that to happen than Skidmore College.
Thank you for your kind attention and your efforts to assist in reopening the College in the fall.
Philip A. Glotzbach, President
Marc C. Conner, President-Elect