UB moves to ‘distance-learning’ model for rest of spring semester

SUNY to transition to online classes in response to coronavirus

a-scott-webber

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced all SUNY and CUNY schools will transition to online classes starting March 19 during a press conference Wednesday at 1:45 p.m. 

UB confirmed its plan to implement a “distance-learning model” with The Spectrum Wednesday at 2:55 p.m. but did not announce the decision outside of notifying the media until a 4:21 p.m. tweet. UB sent an email notifying the student body of the switch Wednesday at 7 p.m. 



UB will transition to the “distance-learning model” for the rest of the spring semester starting March 23 due to COVID-19 concerns, according to UB spokesperson John DellaContrada. UB found out about the statewide decision during Cuomo’s press conference but had been preparing for “the last couple of weeks,” according to Robert Miletich, Faculty Senate chair. Miletich said dining halls and residence halls will remain open throughout the semester, although “there may be some closures.” Science labs will remain open, according to Tripathi, but large labs will be divided into smaller labs. 

During a Faculty Senate meeting, UB President Satish Tripathi said UB will make another announcement on UB’s plans Thursday. 

Tripathi said UB expects to keep the campus open.

“The campus is not going to close. So campus operations, faculty and staff and everything else going on will come to the campus,” Tripathi said. “The main objective for everything is to reduce [population] density.”

In the 7 p.m. email, Tripathi wrote “... UB will remain open, and UB’s campus operations will continue without interruption. This includes residence halls, campus dining, student academic support and health services, university libraries, transportation, campus safety and all other university services.”

Cuomo’s announcement came after several schools already transitioned to online classes. New York colleges that already moved all classes online include: Syracuse University (announced on March 10 until at least March 30), D’Youville (announced March 10 until at least March 30), Columbia (classes cancelled March 9-10, online classes from March 11 until further notice), NYU (beginning March 11 until further notice).

Provost A. Scott Weber sent an email Wednesday night detailing how some classes “may not be amenable to a distance learning format in the short term” and UB will grant exceptions “in some circumstances.” 

Weber wrote that individual faculty members and instructors will make decisions about “specific modalities” for remote instruction in consultation with their department chairs or deans. 

“Students will receive additional guidance from the university over the next few days regarding housing, dining and other issues,” UB’s spokesperson John DellaContrada wrote in an email. “We appreciate students’ patience as the university addresses their questions.”

Instructors should notify their students by March 19 about how to access course content, according to Weber. Instructors must provide their class with an updated syllabi and “clear” instructions for class expectations. UB will rely on guidance from the Erie County Department of Health in evaluating whether or not to hold campus events of more than 50 participants, Weber wrote. 



Maya Richardson, a sophomore political science major, spoke to The Spectrum before Cuomo’s decision to transition to all-online classes, but said this decision could imply “a lot of issues that we aren’t talking about.”

“It’s harder for people to have internet at home or go to places that have internet, and it’d be harder home life that people aren’t talking about,” Richardson said. “But also some professors are older and they might have young children, so then that comes into play, so I’m not really sure.”

Elizabeth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, said Cuomo’s office hopes the transition will “reduce the congregation of large numbers of students in classroom settings” and that “dorms may stay open to accommodate particular student situations.”

UB’s Center for Educational Innovation advised professors to prepare to transition to online classes in the event that the coronavirus needed to be contained, CEI’s Assistant Vice Provost Christine Kroll wrote in an email Tuesday.

Carla Mazzio, an English professor, tested Zoom –– a video-conferencing platform –– with her students on Monday night. She normally lectures in person but decided to try Zoom to prepare in case UB suspended on-campus classes. Mazzio said she was pleasantly surprised by the layout of the video conference, but that some students may have felt less comfortable and, therefore, less willing to participate. 

“Although I could see faces, I missed the opportunity to more easily sense when students on the shyer side may have had a question or a comment that they weren’t quite ready to articulate,” Mazzio said. “I missed the chance to speak informally with students both before and after class and the ability to gauge the chemistry of the room.”

Students said they’d understand why a switch to all-online classes might be necessary but say their educational experiences will lack without in-class experience. 

Verdelle Saint-Jean, a senior psychology major, said she understood the “safety reasons” behind the governor’s announcement but had a lot of questions about the decision. 

“I didn’t know this announcement even happened,” Saint-Jean said around 2 p.m. “I didn’t even get an email. Why is the information kind of dribbling out?”

Noah Johnson, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said the move may impact certain classes more than others.

“For classes like physics, it might be harder. There’s certain equations where a computer has to write it down. It’s different when you can actually go to a TA for physics.”

This is a developing story.

The news desk can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com

JULIAN ROBERTS-GRMELA


Julian Roberts-Grmela is a senior news editor for The Spectrum and an English and philosophy major. His favorite book is “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith and he hopes that one day his writing will be as good as hers. 

REILLY MULLEN



Reilly Mullen is the news editor for The Spectrum. She double majors in English and political science. She enjoys arguing with frat boys and buying cool shoes.