As my time as acting president comes to an end, I wish to offer my sincere thanks for your partnership and collaboration in moving SUNY Oneonta forward over the past 10-and-a-half months. I would also like to share updates on several important initiatives that incoming President Cardelle and I have personally discussed to help ensure a seamless transition. I know Dr. Cardelle will lead the institution with thoughtfulness and respect, and I look forward to hearing about all that you accomplish together as an institution in the years ahead.
Increased Planning for Pandemic and Emergency Response
The college is in a strong position to manage operations and plans in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. The work done by the COVID Response Team to increase oversight and communication has paid off. The fall plan offers in-depth guidance and policies that, if followed, will ensure the health and safety of the college community and beyond.
College leadership has also built on the existing pandemic response structure to ensure effective action in the event of other emergency types in the future. Emergency preparedness planning will continue, and updates will be provided as additional policies and procedures are formed.
Internal Communication Task Force Issues Final Report
The report of the Internal Communication Task Force was recently presented to the President’s Cabinet and the College Senate Steering Committee and is now available for the entire community to review. Read the full report online. Leaders of departments or units whose staff has limited access to electronic communication are encouraged make this information available to employees for review.
To implement the first recommendation of the Task Force - to establish a communication advisory council to the President - I am requesting that the current members of the Task Force serve as the interim advisory council, with the addition of a governance representative and Karyn Wendrow, director of internal communications. Additional Task Force recommendations included in the report will be further reviewed by incoming President Cardelle in consultation with Cabinet, the advisory council and other stakeholders. Improved communication requires a constant effort, and action items intended to make progress on internal communication will be developed and implemented in phases.
Budget Condition and Financial Planning Updates to Continue
Our community has worked collaboratively to preserve fiscal resources during the pandemic. We are still awaiting final details for receipt and distribution of the third round of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). This one-time infusion of funding will provide significant financial restoration and support to the institution and our students. It will also provide a window of opportunity that allows the college to develop timely strategies to endure a post-pandemic environment where all higher education institutions will face additional challenges. Progress will continue as President Cardelle works with the College Budget Committee to position the college for continued financial strength and stability.
Enrollment Planning Continues
Karen Brown, in her capacity as executive director of admissions and senior enrollment management officer, and Richie Lee, provost and vice president for academic affairs, will be working with several groups and leaders across the college to ensure that we have a strong enrollment plan for the next several years. This includes programs and projects that will not only recruit and enroll new students to join our community, but also retain students, help them be successful and complete their programs of study in a positive and nurturing environment. The success of the new student orientation as well as the sophomore “Year 2 All About You” program is a positive indication of the impact these initiatives have on the student experience. Additional updates will come from enrollment management and academic affairs later this semester. I encourage everyone to continue to invest time and energy into the important work of all enrollment and retention activities.
Graduation Activities Planned for the Classes of 2020 and 2021
We are fulfilling our promise to provide an in-person graduation celebration for the classes of 2020 and 2021. Plans are underway for an event celebrating the Class of 2020 to be held in October of this year. May and August 2021 graduates will be invited to attend the Fall Commencement this December. Additional updates will be shared as details are finalized and guidance is issued to address shared concerns about how to best celebrate our graduates while also preventing the spread of COVID.
The dedication and pride of SUNY Oneonta's students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends is an impressive force, and being part of this community has been a rewarding experience. Our extraordinary employees and hardworking students helped carry the college through a fragile time. It is clear that everyone is committed to creating an environment where students continue to be successful as we all work to foster a culture of care and appreciation. The impact of this teamwork and sacrifice will be evident in the success the college will experience in the future. I thank you again.
Read Transcript: SUNY Oneonta Presidential Transition
Dennis Craig: Hello, Red Dragons! August is here and the college is gearing up to welcome our new and continuing students in just a few short weeks. That also means that my time as acting president is winding down. As you know, a new president has been named to begin in a permanent role starting in September.
Dr. Alberto Cardelle and I have already begun meeting and I believe his passion and commitment to student success, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and public health are among many characteristics that will serve our college well for years to come.
Serving as acting president for the last ten months has been a privilege and I am proud to have been part of such a resilient community. Students, faculty, staff and alumni all banded together to support one another during a tenuous time by remaining true to the supportive community that Oneonta has always been. My sincere thanks for the hard work put in by everyone across the college.
I will continue to serve as acting president until September 3. Until then, we have much that we will accomplish together in the weeks ahead as we prepare for the fall semester. Our work continues to move forward on improving communication, planning graduation activities for the classes of 2020 and 2021, and focusing on enrollment initiatives that bring Oneonta back to the environment we enjoyed prior to the pandemic. Please stay tuned for important updates and ways you can support these efforts and stay informed in the weeks ahead.
After my departure, I will continue to be invested in the success of SUNY Oneonta and offer my continued support as a colleague and friend.
It is now my pleasure to introduce Dr. Alberto Cardelle, who is very eager to officially arrive on campus next month.
Dr. Alberto Cardelle: Hello SUNY Oneonta! I am so pleased to have a chance to introduce myself, express my gratitude and briefly present my plans for when I arrive on campus.
First, I would like to thank Acting President Craig for those kind words and to acknowledge how very appreciative I am for his willingness to generously share of his time, counsel and support as I prepare to join the Red Dragon family next month.
It is very clear that this community has been working hard over the past year to overcome significant challenges. Most importantly it is clear that you have been supporting one another to stay on track and remain a strong academic institution. Your strength of spirit is admirable, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with individuals who are so kind, committed, and passionate.
I pursued this role because of my belief in the transformative role of public higher education, a commitment to equity and a strong sense of optimism about the potential future generations hold to continue to improve our world.
And I plan to use those principles to direct my work with you in achieving the collective vision of this institution. During this first year I hope to first of all implement the thorough plans already developed to ensure that we complete the academic year safely. I will also want to spend time meeting with all of you listening. This will help me better work with you in setting out a plan for rebuilding a sense of community both on campus and in the city and town of Oneonta.
I can’t wait to meet you all in person and introduce you to my family – my wife Dr. Rachel Frick Cardelle, and my daughters Marianela, Catalina and Josephine.
I have heard a lot about the vibrant student life, quality academic programs and the many campus traditions. It is an honor to be joining your community and I will continue to stay in touch throughout the next month and I look forward to all that we will accomplish together.
Read Transcript: Spring Wrap-up, Commencement Information, and Thank You
Hello again Red Dragons. As the semester winds down, I want to provide one last update for the academic year. We've been through a lot together this year, so let me once again express my gratitude for your hard work in overcoming the obstacles our entire campus community has faced over the past year. Students, faculty, and staff have all played an important role in making it to this point. My thanks goes out to you all. Additionally, we have gone from focusing on the immediate needs of our campus, to serving the city, county, and region by hosting a state mass-vaccination site in the Alumni Field House. The vaccine site has distributed over 30 thousand vaccines, and the college ended the year having conducted tens of thousands of tests with a COVID positivity rate under one percent.
This weekend, I am looking forward to celebrating the accomplishments of the class of 2021 through our virtual commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 15! Last week, we honored our graduates with the first leg of their commencement experience - a graduation ritual where each student’s name was read while they walked across the stage with a small group of their peers. Thank you to the staff and faculty that helped with this event – I know you enjoyed it as much as our students did. It was an exciting and meaningful experience that was livestreamed for parents and families, and also recorded.
For virtual commencement this Saturday, the commencement committee has put together a dynamic graduation experience including a full online ceremony, interactive live chat, fun social media filters, and more. Tune into the four ceremonies to honor graduates from each of our schools. All of the ceremony information can be found at the link below.
And finally, while this year saw many challenges, we also saw many triumphs:
- Our annual student research and creative activity day went virtual this year and featured work of 90 students and 50 faculty mentors from 30 academic departments. Conducting meaningful scholarly work in the middle of the pandemic is an incredible accomplishment.
- College Advancement’s Day of Giving raised over two-hundred and eighty thousand dollars to support current and future SUNY Oneonta students through scholarships and student-centered funds.
- We established the Center for Racial Justice and Inclusive Excellence which will open in Lee Hall this summer. The center will enhance and expand on-campus programs and activities surrounding antiracism, social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Clubs and organizations were creative with their meetings and events, students recorded themselves performing and shared their art with not only the college, but the world, some presented at and attended virtual conferences, and in April we were able to hold a safe outdoor gathering to celebrate SUNY Fest on the quad.
Next fall we will welcome new Red Dragons eager to join a vibrant and welcoming community. Let’s continue our commitment to healthy and safe actions that will help ensure we can get back to the Oneonta experience so many of us know and love as quickly as possible.
Thank you again, and I hope you all have a healthy and revitalizing summer.
Dennis Craig, Acting President
Read Transcript: SUNY Oneonta Employee Appreciation Day 2021
Greetings and welcome to our employee appreciation recognition. On behalf of the entire administration, we couldn't let this opportunity pass to thank all of you for getting us through what has been a truly extraordinary year. I am incredibly impressed by the resiliency of the Oneonta community.
When I arrived in mid-October I was quickly inspired by the dedication of our people - the heroism and selflessness displayed in the face of very trying circumstances over the past year. From implementing quarantine, isolation, tracing and testing protocols practically overnight, to pivoting instructional, financial, recruitment and operational practices to function virtually, to ensuring that students and fellow employees had access to clean and safe facilities, books, software and technology, food, mental and physical health care, and academic organizational support.
While we will still have changes and adjustments moving forward, you all have worked so hard to see the college through this challenging time. This year we have gone from needing help to becoming helpers by assisting our region with the COVID vaccination site on campus. We know many of you have adapted sacrificed shown creativity and put in extra hours over the past 12 plus months.
In the midst of all the chaos, both in our personal and professional lives, we've continued to support our students and provide them with the extra care and attention needed for them to thrive and excel.
An example of this was illustrated through the excellent scholarly and creative projects presented at the recent student research and creative activity day event. The work you have all put in continues to align with our mission of nurturing a community where students grow intellectually, thrive socially, and live purposefully.
Rising to the challenge is what I have come to know as the spirit of Oneonta, and it is my pleasure to play a role in recognizing the contributions of our faculty and staff, and to celebrate our collective achievements. Today we also honor those who have been serving the college for milestone years as well as SUNY chancellors and distinguished teaching award winners. Please join me in congratulating them and I hope you take the time to view the separate videos of the employee appreciation day web page recognizing these groups of valuable employees. On the web page you will also see a form where you can offer your own acknowledgement and appreciation to a fellow employee on our Oneonta applause wall. I encourage you to take some time and think about someone or several people who have had a positive impact on your work in your department, or on the lives of our students. Submit as many as you'd like, especially if you hadn't had a chance to see these people in person very often, to let your colleagues know you are thankful for them and their contributions. The entries will be listed online and stay up for the next week or so, so we can see and reflect on what a great team we have here.
I hope today is a step forward for all of us to continue to do our part in strengthening a culture of appreciation, encouragement, recognition and support. After reflecting on where we've been, where we are, and where we are going, one constant remains - that we have dedicated employees who keep students and the success of the college in their hearts and minds every day.
Thank you for taking some time to honor what we have accomplished together. I appreciate all you do, and I hope you take advantage of a moment today to show appreciation to one another.
Dennis Craig, Acting President
Read transcript: Spring Semester Update and Good News
Spring is finally here and we have just six weeks left in the semester! First and foremost, I want to thank you, Red Dragons, for staying vigilant and doing your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 this semester.
The busy state-run vaccination site on campus offers us hope that we’re getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. More good news came earlier this week when New York State announced that those age 16 and older can be vaccinated beginning April 6th. As we plan for a successful academic year ahead, I encourage everyone to get the vaccine as soon as you can get an appointment. I just got my second dose in Utica this morning and it was easy to sign up online at ny.gov forward/vaccine.
One common question health professionals have been asked is, whether or not someone should continue to test weekly for COVID if they’ve been fully vaccinated. Here’s the answer: anyone who is reporting to campus for any reason must still participate in weekly testing. The vaccine is designed to stop the virus from making you sick. We don’t know yet for sure if the vaccine will stop you from spreading the virus. We should continue to wear masks, social distance and wash our hands after we’ve been vaccinated. Testing remains essential for us keeping the spread of COVID under control and regular testing has become an established routine, with our campus administering more than 2,000 tests each week. This has resulted in our campus infection rate staying lower than that of our surrounding community and Otsego County. Thank you to our testing site volunteers, and to those of you who are on campus or in the city and have committed to getting tested every week. You all continue to play an important role in keeping the campus safe and productive.
As we race to get everyone vaccinated, we should all remain concerned about emerging COVID strains and the fact that infections have been rising in our region and across the state. I know you might be tempted to relax your mask wearing or social distancing efforts with warmer weather here and more opportunities to gather, but we are not at that point yet. Remember, masks are still required on campus, even outdoors.
University Police continues to work with the City of Oneonta Police Department to ensure that student activity off campus aligns with our community standards. I am happy to report there have been very few incidents so far this semester. I thank all of our off-campus students and encourage you to continue to be good neighbors.
We have come so very far and I am proud of our students, faculty, and staff for all that you’ve done individually to get us through this very unique academic year. Now is the time to continue working hard to keep each other safe so we can have a successful end to the semester.
Last week, I welcomed everyone back to Oneonta for the spring. This week, our campus — after several long months — is holding in-person classes once again! This is a milestone moment and I’m thankful to all of the students, faculty and staff for making it happen. About 1,500 students are returning to classrooms, labs and other instructional spaces, a sure sign that we’re making progress toward what is normal.
We’ve also entered our second week of mandatory COVID testing. Our first week went extremely well. Our testing center has proved efficient and our saliva test — one of the world’s most accurate — doesn’t cause the discomfort of a nasal swab. Of course, we expected to see some tests come back positive, but 99.22 percent of everyone who went through our testing center last week tested negative. This reassuring and we have to keep safety top of mind.
I’ve invited Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig and city health official Dr. Diane Georgeson to sit in on our COVID Strategic Response Team meeting. The semester’s off to a solid start, and continuing to share information with the city will benefit the whole community.
Another facet of our collaboration with the city is a new joint venture between UPD and the Oneonta Police Department. Beginning this week, our two agencies will initiate a “party patrol” to respond to unsafe gatherings. UPD will collect the names of any SUNY Oneonta students who participate in off-campus house parties and forward them to the Community Standards office for follow-up. While we know that the vast majority of our students are following the rules, safety and enforcement go hand-in-hand.
I’m also please to plug a new podcast from VP for External Affair Franklin Chambers. It’s called, “In the Lair,” and in his first installment, Dr. Chambers sits down with SA President Gabby Cecere for a lively, far-ranging discussion about the spring semester. A link to the podcast is embedded in the email that included this video.
From our shared commitment to testing, to the virtual town halls we hosted last week, to the college’s budding collaborations, good things are happening here at SUNY Oneonta. I appreciate all you have done to bring us to this point. Let’s keep building on our efforts.
Hello, and welcome to the spring 2021 semester. It’s a new year and we greet it with excitement and the hope that there’s growing optimism that our quality of life will improve in the months to come. Students, we have missed you – and having a smaller and safer number of you back at Oneonta is great. I’m looking forward to meeting some of you during my virtual office hours. Those will resume in early February. Look for an email soon with directions for signing up.
About 650 students have opted to live on campus this semester and over 1,500 of you registered for at least one in-person class. Preparation for this was extensive. Thank you to the faculty and staff that made this happen. We’re optimistic for a smooth experience, yet ready to take whatever measures are necessary in the name of safety.
Unfortunately, COVID infection rates are on the rise nationwide, and Otsego County is no exception. In fact, many students who’ve come to Oneonta may have arrived from an area where the risk of COVID infection is lower than it is here.
What this means for all of us is that we need to remain vigilant. Wear a mask. Social distance and be sure to socialize safely. Test regularly each week. Wash your hands frequently. Taking these simple precautions will go a long way towards making this semester a success. We all must be able to count on one another to be responsible.
Oneonta is one community, and we’re focused on strengthening it. Vice President for External Affairs Frank Chambers and I recently met with some local property owners who rent to SUNY Oneonta students — just one example of the partnerships we’re building. Vice President Chambers also has established a Parents of Off-Campus Student Ambassador program. Parents are vested in the Oneonta community and we want to engage them in it. He and I meet regularly with Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig to share information and talk through questions that come up in the course of town/gown relations.
Whether you’re on campus, on Main Street or attending remotely, our goal is for you to have a good experience, to feel safe and supported, and take an active part in all that SUNY Oneonta has to offer. Thank you in advance for all that you do to keep our community safe.
Jan. 6, 2021 was a shocking and sad day for our country. On behalf of SUNY Oneonta, I condemn those who disrupted the certification of Electoral College votes yesterday. The peaceful transfer of federal executive power is a hallmark of American democracy. To delay it is to trespass against our republic and all for which it stands.
If these events left you feeling angry or scared, please know that you are not alone. The scene of a mob on the steps of the United States Capitol becoming a riot desecrating the Senate chamber was surreal.
In the face of division, let us remember that, as an institution of higher learning, we are not powerless. During this time of uncertainty and fear, SUNY Oneonta must remain a community of care united by higher ideals, among these, our core value of inclusivity. We are called to participate in and actively work together to protect our democracy by thinking critically, challenging the status quo, testing assumptions and asking difficult questions — peacefully and respectfully. This is the path of progress in a just society.
Guest Commentary: Collaboration will lead to successful spring semester
Guest Commentary in The Daily Star Online, on Dec. 12
Since my arrival to campus in mid-October, I’ve seen faculty, staff and students working nonstop to set in motion the collaborations and planning that will prepare SUNY Oneonta for a successful spring 2021 reopening. Throughout my many conversations with members of the campus community, local elected officials and civic and business leaders, one sentiment rings clear: a desire to keep moving in the direction of normal.
By continuing to work together, we will achieve this goal.
With the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, and a shared commitment to making the spring semester a success, I see hope and optimism taking root on our campus and across the greater Oneonta community.
SUNY Oneonta’s plan for the spring is strong, much stronger than the plan we had last fall. Among those who’ve registered support are Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, Otsego County Director of Public Health Heidi Bond and Otsego County Rep. Clark Oliver. Local public health officials affirm our increased commitment to testing students — both before and throughout the semester. Bringing students who live off campus on board with prevention efforts is the charge of a newly created vice-president-level position, which Dr. Franklin Chambers, a seasoned member of our administrative team, has filled. These are all critical pieces of what will be our comprehensive and collective fight against COVID-19.
We are armed now, too, with more knowledge, resources and experience. Through our partnership with SUNY Upstate Medical Center, we offer the pooled saliva test that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ranks as the most accurate for detecting the virus in its earliest stages. Regular pool testing and wastewater surveillance, reduced density in campus housing and workplaces, stronger prevention programs, and significant penalties for students who do not comply with safety policies are all part of our draft plan.
At the heart of this effort is participation from all stakeholders. Alumni working in the educational field have shared advice on best practices. Parents have come forward as partners and advocates. Community leaders have offered constructive criticism. In my president’s office hours, and at larger vents such as the Inter-Greek Council risk management meeting I attended recently, our students have impressed me with their suggestions and their eagerness to be part of the solution.
Faculty have volunteered to offer 20 percent of our spring courses in a traditional setting, with masks, cleaning protocols and social distancing. In many cases, they’ll be teaching in dual modalities, to simultaneously serve students who want to learn in person and those who would rather take classes online — because we know that our students need and want both options. And, most of all we want them to reach their academic goals.
From the unsung heroes on our facilities staff who have adapted to extra cleaning protocols, to the athletics employees who help run our weekly COVID testing program, we are all working toward one goal: a safe spring reopening leading to the gradual return to a full residential campus environment, more closely resembling the way things were before this pandemic.
In my meetings and phone calls, at our COVID Response Team town hall sessions, and during discussions with the college senate, Oneonta city council and the county board, I’ve heard many constructive ideas for how we can move forward as a community. Criticism also is helpful, allowing us to thoroughly scrutinize issues and ultimately strengthen our draft plan. For example, in response to concern that testing students bi-weekly, as required by SUNY, wasn’t often enough, we doubled down and now will test students weekly throughout the spring semester.
Our plan, presented on the SUNY Oneonta website, is specific, thorough and adaptable because one thing we’ve learned is that we need to be ready to pivot. We expect that feedback from SUNY also will guide further refinement. As SUNY will receive plans from 64 campuses, there is a growing reservoir of best practices that will strengthen all of the campuses’ plans in the weeks ahead.
It’s important to remember that our plan is and will continue to be fluid. The work of planning itself has incredible value in helping us prepare for a safe reopening. We continue to shape operational and contingency plans and to evaluate COVID conditions locally, regionally and nationally so that we can respond to the changing environment.
SUNY Oneonta’s spring 2021 plan is the product of a strong, caring community — extending far beyond campus — rallying around our college. As a newcomer, I couldn’t hope for higher levels of productive engagement. I am grateful for your shared commitment. Working hard, side by side, is the formula for success in the spring.
Dennis Craig is acting president at SUNY Oneonta.
As we move closer to the end of our semester and the close of what has been an extremely challenging year, hope and optimism are emerging and taking root in our community and across the world as the promise of a COVID vaccine has become a near-term reality in the last few weeks. It’s something that is tangible to us.
What’s less recognized or tangible is how the collective work of our community is carrying us through the pandemic and these times of uncertainty, leading us to light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel. This message applies to everyone in our community: students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, Oneonta residents, business leaders and local government. What you do is appreciated, and every hour of your hard work brings us closer to the return of happier and normal times. Here are just a few examples of what I have encountered since my last broadcast before Thanksgiving.
Our students have dedicated over 2,600 hours collectively in community service that includes things like tutoring children in Oneonta or their hometown. Pi Delta Chi raised money for gift cards for Family Services in Oneonta for Thanksgiving meals, and a collection of Oneonta students volunteered for the downtown business scarecrow event, helping 25 businesses, while also keeping the tradition of Halloween alive for our children in the community at the Main Street Halloween event.
Faculty have found creative and innovative solutions to support student projects and competitions conducted virtually. One example is our inaugural iGEM team, which earned a silver medal for its work in this prestigious international science competition. The seeds of this victory were planted two years ago, when our faculty led a course on synthetic biology in the spring of some of these students’ first year at Oneonta. We’re hoping to repeat this accomplishment at an in-person competition in Paris next year. Our faculty have also presented virtual lectures and have continued to share their research, and they keep traditions like Life of the Mind and the Community of Scholars alive.
Our staff have made real contributions in keeping us safe. Every day, I am reminded of this and comforted when I enter the office and there’s blue tape on the door knob. That tells me our CSEA staff are constantly focused on our health and well-being.
An impressive number of parents have come forward to offer their support and assistance in helping the college launch new prevention strategies that lead to students making safe choices in their social lives.
Alumni and friends continue to be generous to the college, committing close to 18 million dollars to our comprehensive fundraising campaign, which among other things, supports scholarships, faculty development, student research and emergency financial support for Oneonta students.
And, since my last video broadcast, my meetings and discussions with the Otsego Chamber of Commerce, the mayor, Hartwick College’s president, and the Otsego County Board, have all offered appreciation and support for all of our collective work.
Together, we can continue to work collaboratively in further shaping the direction of our campus and extended community in the weeks to come.
This Sunday, we will honor more than 1,600 students who graduated in 2020 in a virtual ceremony, the next best thing to the in-person event we are committed to having one day when it’s safe to do so. Ceremonies will take place by school from 11 a.m.. throughout the afternoon. We are all proud of our graduates and I know our faculty and staff are looking forward to participating in the live chat during the event to connect with and congratulate our students, so watch for an e-mail on Sunday morning that will provide instructions – and I look forward to joining you then.
I’ll start today by saying how much I appreciate the strong, continued investment in spring planning from all corners of our campus, throughout the Oneonta community and among the parents and families of our students. Response to our draft plan for spring has been substantial and thoughtful. Your feedback, questions and even criticisms will be important as we refine our plan in the weeks ahead.
Of particular note, some have expressed disappointment that, as it stands now, we intend to house around 1,070 students on campus in the spring rather than fully opening and inviting over 3,000 students to live in residence halls. We know that operating at about a third of our capacity in the dorms is an incremental step, and this limitation will be offset by the students that have decided to continue learning remotely at home. But it’s a step in the right direction that takes into account, among other factors, our experiences earlier this fall. As we discussed at our two town hall meetings, reducing density as we face the challenging winter months ahead will ensure safety and minimize the threat of disruption.
We also discussed during our Town Halls that it would be a mistake to believe that there’s a single right path forward for every single institution. We all wish that there could be a one-size-fits-all approach to spring and to some extent, there is. Our spring plan is based upon broad direction from SUNY. The COVID Response Team’s charge was to meet safety standards and also critically assess what would work best on our campus.
Finding compromise was and will be a part of this process. As I also mentioned at our town halls, on one hand, many students and parents clearly want college to be more in-person next semester, while on the other hand, faculty and staff have expressed safety concerns about increasing in-person instruction.
What moves me is that our students WANT to come back to campus. Some want to be in classrooms and others would prefer to learn remotely, but they want to be here. This is powerful. This is our big picture. Their desire reflects the value of our community and a spirit that will carry us forward.
As another point of progress, I’m pleased to share a change that will augment testing on our campus. Danielle McMullen, who currently serves as deputy chief of staff at SUNY Empire State College, has agreed to oversee our COVID screening operation. Danielle is an excellent fit for this role. She has a wealth of experience in high-level coordination of resources and the creation and implementation of training and education programs. Recently, she supported Governor Cuomo’s Reimagine Education Commission in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This move frees up Counseling, Health and Wellness Center Director Melissa Fallon-Korb to spend more time advancing strategies for addressing the mental health issues that are inherent to the pandemic. I am pleased, and I know Melissa is as well, to be able to give this the attention it deserves. We cannot understate or ignore COVID-19’s toll on our emotional well-being. Bolstering both testing and mental health resources better positions the college for spring.
One additional point of student connection is Franklin Chambers' role as vice president for external affairs. Frankin will establish a communication platform to engage with students who live off-campus and keep them more involved in SUNY Oneonta. He’ll work toward achieving complete participation from off-campus students in the college’s testing program, and gaining needed support from students and all our community members on prevention measures. He will also work to strengthen the college’s relationships with the parents of off-campus students. Parents, of course, want the best for their children and we need them as advocates for a successful spring. My thanks to Franklin for taking on this critical role.
I hope you feel as I to a sense of momentum in our discussion about spring. We have been working extremely hard to set in motion a plan that will bring confidence next semester and an experience that brings us closer to normal.
As we turn the corner toward Thanksgiving next week, our immediate goal is to get students home safely. Move out began yesterday and additional COVID screening is going on right now for students who plan to leave later. On behalf of SUNY Oneonta, best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday.
[Acting President Craig] Happy Friday, Oneonta – Dennis Craig here – Acting President with Gabby Cecere, our Student Association President.
As we get ready to release our spring 2021 plan, both of us wanted to share some key points that Gabby and I have been discussing about what in-person social activities can look like for spring.
Here are some considerations and thoughts that inform how we we’ll be working with our returning students on defining the social opportunities that must be part of community living:
We want to plan fun and safe things we can do together on campus – especially, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Winter is coming, but we can still take advantage of outdoor opportunities on the campus, in the city, and in the town. Earlier this week – I took a quick hike with a faculty member on the trails that surround our campus – there are many opportunities to provide some structure and community to how we use our outdoor spaces. I’ve also spoken with city officials, and they are very excited as partners in planning how we can be social in our city in new and creative ways.
Oneonta faculty and staff – we all miss connecting with our colleagues and with our students, and some us have had success stories to share in how we’re keeping these connections alive while maintaining social distancing – let’s build on our effective efforts this spring.
Gabby has some ideas on how we will work together to deliver a robust student life, with a social and intellectual schedule that will be good for all of us. Gabby?
[Gabby Cecere] Though our Red Dragons are in their home away from home, that doesn’t mean our college experience has to suffer. Through Activities Council and several other facets on campus, we are bringing in-person experience to you, wherever you may be. Activities Council has been offering several virtual activities, such as speakers, concerts, games, activities and prizes like gift cards. If you aren’t interested in any of that, there are over 180 clubs on campus that have all gone virtual through Student Association. You can find all of these and more on Oneonta’s Campus Connection page. Earning LEAD credit, attending study group sessions, a paint and sip, or exploring the musical talent of our fellow students are just a taste of what’s available. If you don’t see anything you like, you can always feel free to suggest your event ideas through Campus Connection. Just because we are staying six feet apart doesn’t mean our college experience has to suffer.
[Acting President Craig] Thanks, Gabby. Well said. We’ve had some pretty intense discussions this past week on campus about the spring semester. One thing that has been clear to me is that even when we disagree on our approach, we all care deeply about our students and we must continue our dialogue on how we’re confronting the unique challenges of this pandemic, in providing safe learning and social environments while supporting one another.
One final note – our in-person community members will all be testing prior to departure, on Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Tuesday between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in our Alumni Field House. It’s our civic duty to test prior to departing so that we can all be safe and keep others healthy and protected as we get ready to enjoy Thanksgiving. Thank you.
[Gabby Cecere] Thank you, and have a great weekend.
Our COVID Response Team has been busy planning for the upcoming spring semester, and I wanted to provide the community with some important updates.
Over the past two weeks I’ve listened to a variety of perspectives and hopes relating to the spring, held town halls, surveyed students, faculty, staff, and parents, and most importantly coordinated campus perspectives through the COVID Response Team planning group – many of you met the planning team at one of the Town Halls last Thursday.
Here are some early findings that will influence our plan for spring:
- Dual modality is necessary to support both segments of our student population – those requesting remote instruction and those requesting on-campus learning experiences.
- Benchmarking against other SUNY comprehensive colleges, on-campus courses account for 30-60 percent of courses. Currently we are far below this benchmark.
- Across all campuses, including Oneonta, with proper safety measures in place, in-person teaching has been universally not found to be the vector of COVID-19 transmission. As I mentioned at the Town Halls, there are effective measures that must be incorporated into every campus plan. They include: testing negative prior to campus return; required quarantine for students coming from COVID hotspots; required surveillance testing every two weeks for all in-person students faculty, and staff; required pauses back to all-remote instruction when infection rates rises, and what I would characterize as a zero tolerance code of conduct
Through this discovery process we have identified that 50 percent of the students are desiring on-campus courses. Based on recommendations from our COVID Response Team that will be included in their November 16th report, Oneonta will have a low-density residential model – approximately 900 students living on campus – and a larger number from the city of Oneonta commuting to in-person learning and other in-person experiences. To serve students on-campus and ensure they have engagement, mentorship and a stimulating learning experience, expansion of the on-campus offerings is necessary.
Rethinking the spring semester allows us to more purposefully shape a transitional semester for students and the college community – bringing us a step closer to resuming more campus activities. It is our collective opportunity to begin to recover and safely reposition ourselves, using our strength and identity as a premier residential college with quality academic and social experiences for all students.
I appreciate the faculty who stepped up to teach 7 percent of our sections on campus in dual modality, but that number is not enough to achieve our goals of working with students in optimal learning environments. We need at least 20 percent of our scheduled course sections to be dual modality (on-campus and online students in one synchronously delivered course). If we teach approximately 20 percent of our course sections with an on-campus dual modality, we will be able to provide our students on campus an in-person academic experience. We will also work with students, faculty and staff in Student Development to offer a robust mix of supplemental in-person co-curricular lectures, events and activities that provide both intellectual and social opportunities.
I appreciate the trauma the campus has endured. We can and must move forward safely and positively to meet our students’ needs.
At a meeting yesterday, Provost Kahanov and I talked through issues with the deans, who will be supporting academic department chairs and faculty in identifying the classes necessary to increase our on-campus course offerings. The provost and deans will be able to provide the operational process and timeline to faculty. When our COVID Response Team issues its spring plan on November 16th, a Town Hall will be convened to hear feedback and to have further dialogue.
I remain committed to providing regular updates. Thank you.
Hello again, everyone.
Two weeks ago, I shared a few questions with members of our college community asking for input on how to be an effective leader at SUNY Oneonta. Today, I'm prepared to begin a process where we share some of this information and begin to formalize a plan for action in the weeks ahead. Here's some information to get that started.
To the 2,738 students, faculty, staff and parents who responded, thank you. I appreciate your guidance, candor and thoughtfulness. While not surprising, the common themes that emerged will give me focus in the weeks ahead.
At the top of everyone's list is communication, as I've noted before, communication and planning are often intertwined. And right now we are in the midst of developing a plan for spring. Communication, like yesterday's town hall is critical to that process. The COVID Response Team's Communication Subcommittee has identified some of the communications challenges and shortfalls that have hampered the college not just this past summer but in previous crises. Right now, that subcommittee is framing a strategy to effectively share information about the COVID Response Team's work.
We will put people and resources in place to make sure that whether you're a student, parent, campus employee or partner of SUNY Oneonta, you'll know what's happening. At a larger scale, an initiative we will begin soon is to design and implement an institutional system to provide reliable, predictable, comprehensive and timely information to the entire college community, which includes alumni, local officials and other Oneonta stakeholders. I've already discussed this with campus governance and my leadership team, and I anticipate forming a task force very soon to meet the challenge. Some key recommendations are still coming in.
There are a lot of gaps in communication about COVID-19. We must fill these and create a permanent infrastructure that delivers communication in times of normalcy and in times of crisis, both now and for future generations of college leadership. A special area that needs greater emphasis right away is parent communication. COVID-19 has highlighted this.
Today, I'm pleased to announce that three members of the college's staff have stepped up to manage the college's communications with parents. Interim Director of Residential Community Life, Monica Grau, Assistant Director of New Student Services Kate McMichael and Director of Continuing Education and Summer Session Michelle Thibault will lead efforts to keep parents informed and field their questions.
Another strong theme is safety, particularly COVID testing. Our plan for spring will include detailed information about our testing program and how we will respond to positive tests. Besides testing, a thread that ran through many students responses is choice. Students want to be able to continue learning remotely or return to campus and have the option of taking some classes in person. Within choice, safety and instructional quality are especially important to students.
For parents, a main concern is communication from the college. You want more of it and you want it routinely. More than that, you want a stronger relationship with SUNY Oneonta and people to go to with questions and concerns. As I mentioned, we're committed to giving our parent communication structure and permanent support going forward.
One theme among faculty is the desire for meaningful participation in planning, as well as the simple necessity of being heard. Faculty want a voice in decision making. They need me to listen. Community is important to our staff, the feeling that we were all partners in creating the best experience for our students.
We are all in this together: students, parents, unions, faculty, staff and management. Beyond the campus proper, I've also reached out to several community leaders. I've had calls or meetings with elected officials at the local and state levels, the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce and the Future of Oneonta Foundation. I participated in the Oneonta city control room meetings and attended an Oneonta city council meeting earlier this week. Hearing the perspectives of those stakeholders is important. I want to make sure that there's an open channel for them to connect with the college and not just during times of crisis.
Next, I'd like to report out on yesterday's town halls. Thank you to each of the nearly 700 students, parents, and faculty and staff members who participated. Interest in joining us at a town hall lets me know just how invested our community is in taking steps toward spring and a plan we can all support.
I'm also grateful to our presenters. The team's co-chairs, Provost Leamor Kahanov and Vice President for Finance and Administration Julie Piscatello, along with Associate Vice President for Student Development Amanda Finch, Vice President for College Advancement Paul Adamo and Counseling Health and Wellness Director Melissa Fallon-Korb.
And although you couldn't see them at the town halls, the entire COVID Response Team, which includes faculty and staff members and several students, was behind yesterday's effort. They are working intently to address health and safety, communications, facilities and dining, student development, and learning and instruction moving forward, I hope it's clear to everyone that this team is dedicated to serving you and the college.
Their spirit of collegiality is helping us find a path back to the campus that we all love. Although I know we'll have to find compromises on the way, all of us are on that path together. We're working hard making progress and on track to deliver a spring plan by November 16th.
Last week, I kicked off president office hours with students, something that I hope will become a tradition at Oneonta long after my work is done. I'll share some quotes from these conversations so we can all hear what our students are thinking.
"RA's need to have a single room if the colleges to operate safely during a pandemic."
"Thank you for improving communication over the last few weeks."
"The election news, the pandemic and how we are consumed by social media is hurting our mental health, how can we lead healthy lives and how is social media impacting our mental health?"
"Let's serve others by taking care of ourselves and our own mental health. Being supportive of the people around us, even if we don't know them, is good for everyone's mental health."
"Not having a spring break will be a real obstacle for us. We need that week to take the stress out of our lives."
I have heard in your voices genuine concern, but also a commitment to take on challenges in order for us to get through the times we're living through. Sometimes our problems are interconnected and complicated with no easy answer that will meet everyone's needs.
Thank you, Gage, Carl, Brendan, Danniella and Kelsey. This has been a tough week for all of us. I promise to continue to listen as we grapple with these issues as a community.
Hello, everyone, it's been a week since my last video when I spoke about us finding a path back to the life we enjoyed on this campus and how we needed to do this together.
I began my listening tour across Oneonta on October 19th. This will culminate with a forum where we can debrief as a community and begin longer-term planning. In a few short days. Over 1600 of you - students, faculty, staff and business and government leaders - have answered the questions I posed last week. Some early themes that have emerged are covid testing and communication around the spring semester.
Next week, I'll work with the team here to sort through this information so that it can be shared in ways that will lead to action. Stay tuned.
Perhaps the biggest action we'll take together will be fleshing out the spring semester and solving the puzzle of how we can finish this academic year in a way that brings us together as a community. Our covid response team has had its kickoff meeting last Friday and will host a town hall meeting on November 5th. Tomorrow, you'll receive an invitation to this event, which will include an opportunity for you to submit questions to the lead members of the team in advance. We will speak to these questions at the town hall and share how we will go about our work.
Colleges are complex organizations under normal circumstances, especially now. We all need to be educated about the parameters of an effective school plan that makes safety its highest priority and includes recent safeguard parameters and guidance provided by SUNY.
One important action that is underway right now involves honoring our May, August and December graduates. I'm delighted to share that we have set December 6th as the date for virtual celebrations to recognize the accomplishments of the Class of 2020. While hosting an in-person event when doing so becomes possible again is our ultimate aspiration, right now, we want to offer graduates a point of reflection, pride and connection with their alma mater. They've earned it.
This is one step on our path. I've made a commitment to get to know the students who attend SUNY Oneonta and to understanding what it's like to be in their shoes. Last week I reported Nyack being my home, but in recent days I've been waking up in my apartment on campus and going downstairs to be greeted at breakfast by a welcoming staff and then bumping into our groggy students in the early morning, some of whom confess to pulling all-nighters to work on assignments and study for tests.
Yesterday, I kicked off President's office hour with students. Hearing directly from them gives me confidence and hope. I'll share some quotes from these conversations so we can all hear what our students are feeling. Once said "the library was my anchor on campus. I got work done there." Another told me "someone I care about is a taxi driver in town that's struggling because he doesn't have business anymore." A third shared that "there are social justice issues that we were grappling with together and that work can't stop." Finally, a student said, "my roommate in my residence hall was an important presence in my life that pushed me to follow a schedule and to study. I want those relationships back."
I heard in their voices a passion and a resiliency that is the spirit of Oneonta, and it is bigger than the times we're living through. Thank you, Cooper. Mayhem, Dylan, Nathaniel and Elizabeth, I hope you gained as much through these conversations from me as I did from you, and I hope the spirit of regular communications become a staple for all of us.
Our lives are filled with events ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Recent news has declared that I have come to rescue Oneonta. Oneonta doesn't need rescuing. You are a resilient and capable community. My role in these times is to lead, to do everything I can to bring out the very best of this campus and to assure that all of us work to ensure that we continue to learn, live and thrive together.
Our students’ roles are to commit to social distancing, mask wearing and keeping one another safe-downtown, in the dorms and at friends apartments. Parents can support their students and the college by reinforcing the need for vigilance against covid-19. We rely on faculty and staff to create the environment for learning and engagement, regardless of how we're interacting with students. And the greater Oneonta community can help by working with our students in ways that strengthen the bonds between all of us.
Truth is, I am no savior. The work ahead belongs to all of us.
I'll be in touch again next week.
Hello, everyone, I'm Dennis Craig, Acting President, SUNY Oneonta.
I arrived late Sunday night on campus, relocating from Nyack, New York, which had been my home for the last 20 years or so.
I thank everyone who has extended their welcome so far. Since Monday morning, I've spoken with students, parents, faculty, the leadership team at the college, and I've begun a dialogue with our campus governance.
I can't even begin to lead without listening, so I wanted to take a minute or two to share some initial thoughts about what I heard so far and what you should expect from me in the weeks ahead.
While the events over the last six weeks have been traumatic and damaging for all of us, Oneonta has a tremendous amount of loyalty, talent and resiliency. There is a path back to the life you enjoyed on this campus, and we'll find it together.
For me to get started as quickly as possible, I'll be sending a short list of questions that I have prepared together with the leadership and the governance of the college. Your answers will help me to fully understand the style of leadership that's needed at this unique moment and I'll be reporting back to you in the days ahead.
Effective planning and communication are two issues for Oneonta that are intertwined, and I've already heard from many that both communication and planning are key issues. As I mentioned yesterday in my broadcast email to campus, we can't move forward with a plan for spring until a well-qualified team of experts convenes as a task force. In-person learning during a pandemic is complicated, and it would be reckless for me and for all of us not to understand what we did wrong and what we learned.
We cannot have confidence going forward without this understanding not to engage in finger pointing, but to acquire the knowledge that's gained through experience. I'll be back in touch very shortly with timeline's after the covid task force has its first meeting.
A great thing happened to me when it was announced that I would be coming to Oneonta. There was an outpouring of goodwill and support from colleagues and friends back home, people who I deeply respect and admire. And they shared with me that they had graduated from SUNY Oneonta.
I'm learning very quickly that this is a special place with cherished experiences and traditions that must be fulfilled. Oneonta deserves that, and you have my full commitment to working with you to return to better times.
Many of you have asked me already how you can help. I will have more specific answers to that question very soon. But I wanted to start by asking you to have some hope and to not begin any assumption that is biased towards assuming the worst.
Trust in leaderships and institutions in our country and around the world seems to be at an all-time low. My life's work has been in public higher education because I believe that what we do must go on and it must be preserved for future generations.
We have a lot of work to do, but from what I already know about you, I'm confident that we will be successful together.
It’s my second day at SUNY Oneonta and already I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with many individuals and groups. There is shared commitment to the institution and our students and also an eagerness to move ahead. Toward that end, I have established two top priorities that we will begin working on immediately.
First, we will recast the group responsible for managing the pandemic. Provost Leamor Kahanov and Vice President for Finance and Administration Julie Piscitello have agreed to co-chair this group, called the COVID Response Team. This week, they will begin to reach out to others to join them in this crucial effort.
At the same time, we will also set in motion a process to develop a plan for the spring. This is the topic on everyone’s mind. To shape conversation around it, I’ve been working with college governance, campus leadership and others to finalize a few questions that I will invite everyone to answer. Understanding your thoughts and feelings will help me address common themes, beginning with online town hall-style meetings that will be scheduled soon.
More information about the COVID Response Team, my questions for the community and the town halls is forthcoming. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves alongside everyone here and move the college ahead.