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CUNY Reopening Documents Preempt New CDC Guidelines

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A week before the CDC announced the lifting of distancing and masking requirements for fully vaccinated adults, adjunct professor David Alm offered words of caution when asked to comment on CUNY reopening policies for the fall semester.

“In COVID times, four months is an eternity,” Alm said presciently.

Documents shared with The Athenian Wednesday from Hunter College’s union, the Professional Staff Congress, reveal that CUNY administration was planning for the easing of restrictions as early as May 4.

Schools “should be prepared for guidance that will facilitate additional capacity by reducing the social distancing requirement,” said one document.

While the university system has not released concrete plans for the fall semester, Hunter President Jennifer Raab called for “patience and flexibility,” in a letter shared via email with the Hunter community.

The documents asked campuses to plan for social distancing reduced from the previous CDC guidelines of six feet to three feet. Proposals of how each school plans to do so are due to CUNY central by June 15.

The Hunter College office of communications did not respond to requests for comment on the school’s reopening proposal.

It now appears that CUNY schools may be able to meet Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodríguez’s recently announced intent to return to as close to 60% capacity as possible this fall.

That announcement, sent only to administrators and the PSC at the end of April, took some by surprise.

“We had heard that, something like 25% of us would be back in person and that the bulk of us remain asynchronous or online,” said Hunter PSC chair Jennifer Gaboury.

In addition to catching Gaboury off-guard, English department chair Sarah Chinn said guidelines for her department from Hunter changed with little explanation.

Chinn was told by Hunter Dean of Arts & Sciences Andrew J. Polsky that, “despite many adjunct faculty’s unease about returning to campus, 80% of English 120 sections would be in person.”

“This was quite different from what we had been told earlier, which was that faculty could elect to teach in person, hybrid or online,” Chinn said via email.

CUNY’s remote work agreement shared with The Athenian grants faculty members the ability to work from home with a supervisor’s approval. It also stipulates that with just seven days notice the agreement may be terminated and the employee called back to work on-site.

Prior to the CDC’s announcement Gaboury described numerous concerns about reopening campus with such a relatively large number of people.

“I have already been witness to a few different conversations about things like, I don’t want to call campus security to my class if XYZ,” Gaboury said, referencing professors’ fears of becoming the enforcers of mask-mandates and social distancing guidelines.

It is unclear if the new CDC guidelines will impact mask-wearing on campus. Despite Governor Cuomo’s recent announcement that CUNY and SUNY students will be required to be vaccinated, Matos Rodríguez said vaccine exemption information would be released shortly.

The documents suggest that even if distancing requirements are reduced, masking would still be required on CUNY campuses.

On Monday Governor Cuomo said masks will still be required in New York schools, but did not specifically mention CUNY or SUNY systems in that announcement.

“I don’t see how we can stop wearing masks if we don’t know everyone is vaccinated,” said Hunter student Nicole Vulovich expressing concern that exempted people could put the larger community at risk.

Both Gaboury and Journalism program director Sissel McCarthy said that the goal has always been to get as many people back on campus safely, and that changing guidelines are to be expected.

“I can’t be too mad right now about the ways in which they are implementing a whole new goal, but this is significantly more people than they had planned to put on campus,” said Gaboury.

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