SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras is called Chancellor No-Fun, so it isn’t surprising he canceled spring break, the only source of March fun for many of SUNY’s 420,000 students.
What is surprising is his brazen disregard for our mental health.
UB students are busy: we’re caring for family members, working full-time jobs, dealing with the stress of 12-months under COVID-restrictions, completing assignments and experiencing the rollercoaster of life.
And like all humans, we need breaks.
UB had originally penciled in March 13-20 — this week — for spring break, the annual one-week period when we get ahead on schoolwork, catch up on sleep and yes, party. That changed following Malatras’ Nov. 8 decision to cancel spring break for students across the SUNY system, “given the risks associated with COVID-19 spread and travel.”
Malatras’ edict was fairly well-received by the New York media. And it was maybe even prudent, considering COVID-19 is a highly transmissible virus and college students have shown, time-and-time again, that we can be very willing vectors of the disease.
But that doesn’t excuse Malatras’ unwillingness to mandate periodic reading or mental health days throughout the semester.
Malatras had no problem implementing mandatory surveillance testing, seven-day precautionary quarantines or mask wearing on SUNY campuses. He was also adamant about beginning the semester on Feb. 1 and lining campus with plain language COVID-19 signs.
It can be argued — as Malatras has — that these measures have kept case totals low on campuses.
But while he was paying great mind to COVID-19, another invisible ailment was lurking beneath the surface: mental illness.
And Malatras has shown no care for that at all.
Last September, researchers at Texas A&M University and Houston Methodist Hospital reported that 71% of college students have experienced increased stress and anxiety levels due to COVID-19. Nearly nine in 10 students said they have difficulty concentrating, disrupted sleep schedules and decreased social interactions because of the pandemic.
And yet, Malatras was more than willing to send us to school for 15 consecutive weeks.
Malatras has shown a stunning lack of disregard for students’ mental health, but he isn’t alone.
UB is to blame, too.
UB could have adopted a schedule with “single-day, midweek reading days throughout the semester,” as other universities did. Binghamton University and SUNY Geneseo have three rejuvenation days this semester. UAlbany suspended classes at two distinct points during the spring. SUNY New Paltz has three Mind, Body, Spirit days.
UB has nothing.
The Faculty Senate was wrong for not adopting one of the calendar proposals that included reading days and President Satish Tripathi and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs A. Scott Weber were very wrong for promulgating the breakless spring calendar.
But, Malatras, a longtime advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was given a vote of no confidence by the SUNY Faculty Senate last August after being appointed by the Board of Regents in a closed-door meeting, is the one ultimately in charge. He ruined March for all of us.
Breaks aren’t a matter of want; they are a basic human need.
Prioritizing our physical health over our mental health isn’t doing us or anyone else a service. If anything, it is reckless and irresponsible.
Chancellor Malatras, you have the ability to mandate this change; will you?
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald.