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Faculty Face Challenges as SUNY Goes to Distance Learning


Friday, March 13, 2020   

ALBANY, N.Y. - Faculty at SUNY campuses are moving quickly to make the transition to distance learning as classrooms close down in an effort to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that City and State University of New York campuses will switch to online learning for the majority of classes through the end of the academic year.

Fred Kowal is president of United University Professions, the union representing SUNY faculty. He says developing a college course for online teaching typically takes months of preparation, but they have one week.

"We are working very closely with SUNY," says Kowal. "They understand the scope of the challenge and that's good because what is being undertaken is massive."

Yesterday, the University at Albany announced that a student there has been confirmed to have the new coronavirus. The switch to online learning will go into effect next Thursday.

Kowal notes that SUNY is allowing some latitude in how it approaches the transition, especially for classes that may require students to be on campus to complete their course work.

"Whether it's a dance program at Brockport or a dairy-herd management course at Cobleskill or obviously our medical students at the four medical campuses," says Kowal.

He adds that while the health and safety of faculty and students are the top priority, the academic quality of the university system also must be maintained.

Kowal points out that no one can predict how long it will be necessary to maintain the steps now being taken to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

"We are approaching it as a temporary situation, an emergency situation and as a way of ensuring that students can get through the remainder of the semester," says Kowal. "Then, working with SUNY, hopefully we'll be looking at a fall semester that will return to normal."

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