It is now more than month since we moved the major part of our operations to remote delivery. It has not been easy, and a lot of the transitions we’ve been required to make have taken a toll on our sense of well-being, both collectively and individually. I want you to know that I am so grateful to you for demonstrating what can be done under less than ideal circumstances.
Many of you are not only responding to the demands of business as usual, but going beyond that, to offer suggestions for improvements that we can make to the way we work in the short, medium and longer term, and I’m grateful to you for these suggestions. We’ve been able to make some changes to timelines for important reports and other aspects of our work. Other deadlines are not moveable, and I’ve appreciated your understanding about these issues. I know that we are all thinking about what the future holds for us as a college, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of the work we are doing to plan for the next academic year.
As you know, we cannot predict how COVID-19 will develop over the coming months and all of the effects it will have on our work. We don’t know when we’ll be able to return to normalcy. We don’t even know what the new “normal” will ultimately look like, and this uncertainty can make all of us upset and anxious. I wish that I could provide clarity about what the fall semester will look like, and how we will re-open campus, but we do not yet have enough information to make definitive statements.
President’s Cabinet and I are deeply committed to transparency. Since this pandemic arrived, we’ve been sharing what we know, when we know it. I will continue to communicate with you whenever we have updated information available. Being part of the SUNY system offers us some protection and guidance; we are luckier in that respect than some of the private colleges who must make decisions on their own and with more limited consultation. For example, SUNY has arranged for twice weekly calls with all of the SUNY presidents. In addition, SUNY provosts, SUNY student affairs VPs, and SUNY administration and finance VPs and budget officers are meeting regularly with their counterparts across the system. SUNY has established more than 10 working groups to look at everything from health and safety to best practices in other key areas, such as academic support, social and emotional wellbeing, research, infrastructure, etc. Collectively, we will chart a way forward, one that might be regionally based, or whole-system based.
While we do not yet know when we will resume traditional instruction, we have begun preparing for that day. I’ve asked Emergency Manager Fred Rion to chair a committee to develop an action plan for “Bringing Brockport Back.” The committee has representation from nearly 20 different departments on campus. Its task is to ensure that, when our campus community does come back together, we can do so safely and effectively. I know we all look forward to that day.
This group will develop a plan that will speak to preparations to open campus in the fall under several different scenarios. All of these scenarios will have the primary objective of providing a high-quality education to our students. All scenarios will focus on keeping students, faculty, and staff as safe as possible, following guidelines that are continuously set and updated by agencies such as the CDC, SUNY System Administration, and the State of New York to mention a few.
I’m sure you’ve all read about the deep economic impact COVID-19 has made. It has led some of our colleagues at other Rochester-area institutions to have to make some difficult decisions. We have taken a series of short-term steps to mitigate the economic impact COVID-19 has had on our campus, which I outlined in my April Newsletter. SUNY has issued guidance to campuses regarding our future budget planning, and we are in the midst of complete scenario planning that looks at potential cuts to state appropriations. Joint Planning and Budget Committee will help us work through the options, which must be a mixture of some cuts as well as finding ways to increase revenue. We will be creative and resourceful in these efforts out of a desire to do everything we can to protect our community. Part of what we must plan for is a likely reduction in the number of students who choose to undertake undergraduate, residential learning. All of our projections show a five-year decrease in student numbers, so we will need to redouble our efforts in graduate and online learning in the years to come.
The unknown is often unsettling. Please know that you don’t have to go through this alone. If you missed my conversation with two of Hazen’s mental health counselors, I encourage you to go back and watch. We discussed several mental health tips that I hope will be helpful. Faculty and staff should also be aware of our Employee Assistance Program. EAP coordinators are available to help identify resources for employees to address a number of concerns, including anxiety, stress, isolation, and financial concerns. These services are confidential, voluntary, and free.
We’re here to help each other through this. I hope you can take advantage of some of the support mechanisms that SUNY Brockport can offer. Know that my thoughts and well-wishes are with all of you and your families each day. I’m proud to be a member of the SUNY Brockport community, and I’ve never valued it more.
Thank you for all that you do to help Build a Better Brockport.