OSWEGO — As SUNY Oswego administrators, staff and faculty attempt to navigate the historic challenge of keeping students safe from a global pandemic while also providing its accredited higher education programs, some students say they’re concerned about where Laker leadership’s priorities lie.
State officials have given SUNY Oswego as much attention in recent weeks as any other school in the system, with Chancellor Jim Malatras making his second trip to the Port City in a week on Sunday morning.
With cases on the rise and creeping near the threshold set by state health officials that would trigger a move sending all classes to distance learning, Malatras and President Deborah Stanley Sunday announced more measures to curb the coronavirus spread. The pair talked tough about consequences for breaking health directives, and urged student compliance.
“This administration will come down hard on people who are partying, who are in clear violation of the rules,” Malatras said, noting that during his Wednesday visit “every student” he saw was “wearing masks, socially distancing and just trying to get their studies done.”
“Most students are doing the right thing, and it’s a shame they’re in this position and feeling this anxiety when we’ve finally been able to open up our campuses again,” he said.
A feeling of anxiety among students is palpable, as many believe the cancellation of in-person classes is inevitable and adds more pressure on an already fraught situation.
“I’m just so exhausted of not knowing what’s going to happen and having the constant fear of getting infected,” said Hannah Rogers, a junior English major from Rochester. “The uncertainty of what is going to happen is probably the worst of it. My fear is that they’ll keep us here longer, putting me at risk to get COVID and then if I unknowingly get it, I’ll bring it back to my family.”
In-person classes were a mistake from the beginning, Rogers said, but college officials told The Palladium-Times the decision was made in conjunction with student input. Students preferred “face-to-face instruction and missed being part of a residential campus learning environment.”
“Our faculty and staff worked all summer in planning and developing teaching and learning plans that meet our students' learning needs as best and as safely as possible,” said Provost Scott Furlong. “In many cases, these are remote classes; in others they are face-to-face or hybrid classes. It is our responsibility as educators to provide the best learning environment possible and to do so in a safe and healthy way.
Furlong pointed to the “wonderful preparation” of classes and classrooms, citing mask and social distance policy as well as an aggressive cleaning and disinfecting effort daily by custodial staff.
“Because of our collective efforts, we believe it is safe to come to class,” Furlong said.
Some students, including Rogers, expressed skepticism that decisions weren’t being made with the school’s bottom line driving policy, a claim Stanley strongly rebuked.
“All of the college’s actions, plans and policies in response to COVID-19 are solely based on the health, safety and educational experience of our students and employees,” Stanley told The Pall-Times when directly questioned on the issue. “As an institution of higher learning, we want students on campus because we believe that SUNY Oswego has the resources and the personnel to make their education experience better.”
Tuition would remain the same regardless of whether the college remains face-to-face or shifts to all-remote learning, Stanley said. She also urged students to keep in mind the monumental obstacles facing not just Oswego or New York, but the entire nation and world.
“This is not how any of us wanted the fall semester to go. We are living, learning and operating in a global pandemic and public health crisis,” Stanley said. “These are unprecedented, unusual times that are requiring everyone on campus to experience their education in different ways. Our main focus has to be on the health and safety of all students, faculty, staff and our neighbors in the community.”
The depopulation of campus, restrictions on activities and gatherings and what students described as conflicting or incomplete guidance from officials has led to an unfortunate disillusionment among some Lakers.
“It’s just sad to me because I used to love Oswego,” Rogers said. “Now I feel like they don’t really care about their students.”