by Pete Janny and Gabriella DePinho, Sports and Managing Editor & Editor-in-chief
Manhattan College’s campus has sat empty and quiet for over three months, but it is looking like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The college has shared its official plans to reopen campus in August with the entire school community through a communication campaign called “One Manhattan.” The initiative is meant to keep the campus community informed about all newly implemented protocols for a safe return to campus as the coronavirus pandemic is still afflicting the United States.
The email informing the community of the news was sent out in the late afternoon of Monday, June 22, and included a link to the main webpage for the “One Manhattan” campaign.
“I look forward to welcoming you all back, including our newest Jaspers, to campus, as we plan to resume classes on August 31,” Brennan O’Donnell, the college’s president, wrote to open the email.
O’Donnell’s email introduces the community to the four sections both the webpage and the return plans have been divided into: Returning to Campus, Academic Life, Campus Life, and Health & Safety Guidance.
The current mechanics of the plan are subject to change in accordance with directives from New York State and Public Health experts as the summer progresses. As of right now, higher education institutions are set to reopen in Phase 4 of New York state’s reopening plan. New York City is currently in Phase 3, with no timeline on when Phase 4 is set to begin.
Dubbed Manhattan College’s “Return to Campus Task Force,” the group, led by O’Donnell, Bill Clyde, a faculty member and the former provost, Steven Schreiner, the newly appointed provost, Tamara Britt, the college’s general counsel, and Anne Mavor, the director of Health Services, has been working together since February, before the college even announced its move to online classes in March. Schreiner has been working with the Task Force since being appointed to the position, prior to his official start date of July 6, despite still having his own duties in his previous role at The College of New Jersey.
“I was invited to join the planning for the Return to Campus Task Force in early May, well before my actual start date of July 6th,” Schreiner told the Quadrangle. “I am very pleased that Provost Bill Clyde invited me as part of my transition to the new position, as it gave me great insight into the critical planning for the fall as well as a deeper introduction to many of my campus colleagues.”
According to Mavor, Health Services had been tracking the novel coronavirus since classes resumed in early January, around the same time China was making international headlines with its rapidly growing caseload.
“The New York State DOH started hosting weekly updates in January tracking the progression of Covid from epidemic to pandemic,” Mavor told the Quadrangle.
The Task Force was broken up into three working committees: Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Management, Policy, Compliance, and Campus Operations. These groups have led the planning efforts and have received feedback from the Advisory Council and the Board of Directors throughout the process.
“The organization of the subcommittees was needed to focus on major topical areas, but there is much crossover in the planning of these three groups as you may imagine,” Schreiner said. “Communication among the co-Chairs helps to ensure that all elements of the planning are being addressed and that we are not duplicating efforts. The Task Force did an amazing job breaking up into small working groups to tackle specific issues.”
While students may be excited to return to campus, they can expect their experience from move-in to classes to residential experiences to look very different than years prior.
“We need to empower the community to recognize each individual’s role in keeping the cases as low as possible,” Mavor said. “We have a shared responsibility to our community.”
Returning to Campus
Manhattan College, as well as other institutions of higher learning in New York, will take the state’s lead on deciding move-in dates in anticipation for Phase 4 of reopening. The process of moving students into dorms at Manhattan will span 14 days to avoid overcrowding, with a maximum of 200 students allowed per day.
If required by the state, the Office of Health Services will conduct COVID-19 testing on move-in day. Commuter students will also undergo testing, which will be completed two weeks before the start of the semester. The school is also preparing resources to further educate students about the risks of the coronavirus and make personal protection equipment (PPE) widely accessible around campus from the moment they return. All campus frequenters will be obligated to wear a mask on campus and “when unable to properly social distance by six feet or more.” Masks will be distributed to students and employees without pay. They may also use their own face coverings as long as they meet CDC standards.
Campus employees and faculty members are subject to follow detailed guidelines and policies on matters including sick-leave, PPE usage, and safety training. As directed by the CDC, College employees will need to pass a “daily symptom checker” at the start of their work days. Human Resources and other campus offices will oversee the implementation of these temporary statutes for employees.
To help the Manhattan community meet the unique challenges of this crisis, a COVID-19/Return to Campus Office will exist specifically to “coordinate the implementation of policies, procedures, health and safety guidelines, and programs, including the new Campus Ambassador Program.”
The Campus Ambassador Program is made up of employees, volunteers, and work-study students who will “provide assistance and information to the Manhattan community about maintaining a safe and healthy environment.” These ambassadors will monitor for any health and safety breaches.
The responsibilities of resident assistants will expand this upcoming semester. In addition to their normal duties, resident assistants will be required to communicate and enforce all health protocols and techniques meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the dorms. Resident assistants will also coordinate virtual activities and meetings to help students dealing with experiences of “anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and grief.”
In the event that a student tests positive for coronavirus, exhibits symptoms, or suspects they have been exposed, Residence Life will grant them access to one of the college’s “offline beds” set aside for emergency quarantines. These beds will only be available to students who live more than two hours away from the College and thus may not be able to return home. Those who enter this official quarantine protocol on campus are “required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days.”
Individual clubs will work with the school to create a plan for how to hold their respective events and meetings, whether through use of “Google Groups, virtual space, social distancing and outdoor venues.”
The college is considering holding the first Sunday mass of the school year outdoors to accommodate social distancing, while Quadstock is being vetted to take place at Gaelic Park with circles placed on the ground to avoid crowding. Following the lead of this summer’s orientations, the club fair will shift to an online format this fall semester.
The timetable for athletic competition is slowly starting to take shape. International student athletes will report to campus first before entering a mandatory 14-day quarantine. The remainder of student-athletes returning to campus early will settle in next before finding out their next moves. The current plan is to prohibit team practices until “two weeks prior to the first date of permissible competition.” Also mentioned in the report is the expectation of a “limited non-conference” schedule to allow for an early start to the MAAC season. The MAAC is aiming for a resumption of “all non conference and conference contests” on September 11 until further notice. Conference officials will reconvene on July 15 to further discuss their plans.
“Two specific areas under my subcommittee that have some uncertainty include new regulations for international students and direction for athletics that will continue to come from the MAAC Conference and the NCAA,” said Richard Satterlee, vice president for Student Life and chair of the Task Force’s subcommittee for student affairs.
With the exceptions of men’s and women’s basketball, team schedules will be adjusted to only include “local and regional competition” that accommodates bus travel. If permitted by government officials, the college will allow spectators at games, but only 50 percent of capacity at Gaelic Park and 30 percent at Draddy Gymnasium under the current conditions. Those two venues play host to soccer and volleyball games respectively during the fall season.
All dining locations on campus — Locke’s Loft and Kelly Commons — will observe stringent guidelines to create a healthy and responsible environment for all occupants. These places will display “prominent signage, one-way directional mapping and clear pick-up options” to safeguard against the spread of the coronavirus. Additionally, certain areas will be designated “safe spaces” where students can eat their meals.
The college currently plans on adopting a hybrid learning system that combines virtual sessions and physical classes. Class formats will vary depending on the nature of each course. When discerning class format, factors such as class size, course curriculum and classroom layout will all be considered.
Prior to the start of the semester, the Center of Academic Success will host a workshop for faculty regarding the potential challenges students may encounter in these new learning environments.
To make social distancing possible in classrooms, only 40 to 60 percent of capacity will be allowed. This concept of limiting attendance will be supplemented by additional measures that include staggering class times; rotating students between online and in-person learning; and stocking classrooms with sufficient cleaning materials. Additional protocols will be implemented to optimize all types of learning activities, including seminars, laboratory research, lectures, and internship opportunities. In regards to student internships, college officials will consult with external organizations to “ensure student safety while meeting the needs and expectations of on-site learning providers.” The college will continue to expand and update the rules pertaining to internship experiences.
Out of precaution, most advising sessions will be conducted virtually through google meets. Students will be expected to schedule regular advising meetings over Jasper Connect. In the event that a student cannot be advised virtually, they will be able to meet with their advisor in a conference room conducive for social distancing.
Decisions on whether to proceed with study abroad programs scheduled for the winter intersession and Spring 2021 semester will be finalized by the end of September. The college’s conclusion on these matters will be heavily influenced by “current health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Department of State.” The college did not specify if there will be one all-encompassing verdict for Study Abroad programs, or if the school will make determinations on a case-by-case basis.
The Waiting Game
Nothing about this plan is immutable as more than a month still remains until any student is allowed to move back on campus. It remains to be seen how and if the college will respond to future health updates and the developing approaches of other universities.
“As we continue to move forward with our preparations, new items are identified and added to our working list of action items,” Schreiner said. “We are closely monitoring any changes to the State and federal guidance, making appropriate changes to our planning.”
Just this week, Harvard University announced plans to bring back only a limited number of undergraduate students for the entirety of the 2020-2021 academic year. Consequently, the Ivy League decided to scrap the Fall sports season and mandated that athletic activities not resume until January. Time will tell if these precedents ultimately influence the course of the college’s plans.
Mavor has faith in the ingenuity and brainpower of the administration to help rise above the challenges that lie ahead. According to Mavor, their work is inspired by the college’s Lasallian heritage.
“I had no doubts about the college’s ability to plan and respond,” Mavor said. “We are fortunate to be surrounded by innovators, thinkers and problem solvers; this is some of what MC teaches and does this with the 5 Lasallian guiding principles.”