Buffalo State students have many questions after announcement to close in-person classes

Mar 11, 2020

Starting March 14, SUNY Buffalo State is cancelling all classes and won’t resume them until March 30. This comes in response to fears of the coronavirus spreading at a faster rater through large public gatherings. From March 30 on, instruction for the remainder of the semester will be by remote methods. Nick Lippa spoke with students who are asking, ‘What comes next?’

Students talking in SUNY Buffalo State's student union
Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

Buffalo State’s student union, located at the heart of its campus, is a place to study, eat and talk to friends between classes. Wednesday afternoon, conversations sounded a little bit like this:

“I had a class today and my professor, he has been a professor at Buff State for about like 30 years. So he's been here a really long time and he was really concerned about having to switch over online because our classes in person, he doesn't use Blackboard or any of the online tools,” said social studies education major and junior Joseph Montgomery. “The news actually broke during my class and he was really concerned about what he was going to do. How he's going to teach the class. He had no idea what to do.”

His twin brother, math education major and junior Nick Montgomery added:

“Yeah, it's kind of the same thing. I actually had a class like half an hour ago and my teacher got an update about Governor Cuomo talking about how the schools are getting canceled on the 19th. And she's super worried about going online because she's just never done it either. And I'm sure that's a big concern for a lot of professors like whether they don't know how to use it or they just want their kids in class in general. I feel like it's going to be a problem, but people adjust.”

One of the big challenges for SUNY and CUNY schools during this time frame of over a little two weeks will be preparing teachers and making sure everyone has access to online class materials.

There are financial questions as well. A friend of the Montgomery twins, economics major and junior Ikenna Chukwuma stated his concerns.

“They paid for a whole semester of dorm here, but they did not live here for a whole semester. Maybe half,” he said. “So is there going to be a refund in order? Is there going to be some reimbursement?”

Chukwuma said it’s going to be tough, but believes the action is necessary.

“I think Cuomo made a good choice because with people going to the city and going home for spring break, coming back it would spread rapidly like wildfire. Especially because in the city they've got a bunch of different cases,” he said. There's no case in Buffalo right now and I think the best thing to do is to keep it that way. By having kids go on spring break and then come back, it's going to be inevitable for the virus to end up in here.”

Buffalo State released a statement addressing concerns saying facilities will remain open for the time being among other things.

Fellow Bengals,

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of uncertainty and concern, and we have been reminded about what matters most: our students, colleagues, friends, and family. As you may have heard this afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to move all SUNY and CUNY instruction to distance learning for the remainder of the semester. I am writing to you today about Buffalo State College’s plans to begin spring break a week early and move all classes to remote instruction starting Monday, March 30, and continuing through the end of the spring semester.

To clarify: We will cancel all classes March 14–20, and expand spring break to two weeks—from March 14 to 29—to allow our faculty and instructional designers dedicated time to work together to prepare for the switch to remote instruction. The final day of in-person classes this semester will be Friday, March 13. Classes will resume via remote instruction only on Monday, March 30.

Buffalo State College will remain open during this temporary interruption of in-person classes. Staff members will continue to follow regular work schedules, and faculty members will continue to present coursework to their students—albeit in a different format. Students, please know that our interim provost, deans, chairs, and faculty members will work tirelessly to make any accommodation necessary to ensure that your academic progress is not slowed by this decision. If you are on track to graduate this semester, you will stay on track to graduate. Coursework after March 30 will be delivered through a variety of platforms, including services like Blackboard or Zoom, conference calls, or other methods. And yes, we also recognize that studio and lab work, as well as student teaching, will be difficult to replicate, but again, our faculty members are discussing creative alternatives for those classes.

Because we will no longer hold in-person classes after March 13, we recognize that many of our resident students will choose to return home. Our Residence Life and Student Affairs teams are readying plans to assist students and families with their departures. If some personal items must be left behind in residence halls until a later date, we will make those accommodations.

We also acknowledge that some students, including our international students, will choose or need to remain on campus over spring break and for the remainder of the spring semester. We will make every effort to accommodate those students; however, students and families should be aware that services such as dining may be reduced or significantly altered to limit large gatherings in campus spaces.

To be clear, as of March 11, there were no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Erie County or affecting the Buffalo State College community; however, please know that we remain in close consultation with the Erie County Department of Health not only regarding response plans in the event that a member of our community should test positive in the future, but also regarding guidance for large gatherings and events. We are reviewing guidance and plans to limit the size of social gatherings and events on campus. Further information on this issue will be forthcoming.

Right now, like you, we have many more questions than answers. We will do our best to answer those questions and provide follow-up information in the coming days via e-mail and on our website. For now, we felt it prudent to share this information with you as soon as possible. I would ask for your continued patience and understanding as we work together through this significant shift in operations. This is an unprecedented challenge for Buffalo State, but together we can meet it.

Sincerely,

Katherine Conway-Turner
President
Buffalo State College

One important thing to highlight is, “If you are on track to graduate this semester, you will stay on track to graduate.”

Graduation is a major concern for students in several departments. Especially students that have an art/production/music/lab component to them.

“I'm definitely frustrated because I feel like there's a lot at least in our major and in other arts majors that you can't really do online. You have ensembles and stuff that you cannot do over Skype or zoom or whatever. So it's definitely really frustrating because I feel like I'm losing a lot in my education,” said music education major and freshman Skylar Graham.

Buffalo State, along with several other SUNY and CUNY colleges, will have to find a compromise or get creative for students in ensemble classes to complete their intended course instruction.

“No one has talked about it as far as ensembles go,” said Graham. “The only classes that have talked about it (to Graham) have been like the non-music ones. And they've all said, ‘Oh, we'll just Skype or we can FaceTime this and/or the other thing.’ But for aural perception where we all sing together? How is that going to work with the one on one with the teachers? I don't know.”

Buffalo State is aware of this challenge, but no specific solutions have been planned yet:

‘We also recognize that studio and lab work, as well as student teaching, will be difficult to replicate, but again, our faculty members are discussing creative alternatives for those classes.’

Media production major Arash Omari is a senior this year and has several lab classes that he’s waiting to hear how he’ll be able to finish.

“Well, I'm working on two separate classes that require Avid Media Composer which is a several thousand dollar software, which I cannot afford,” Omari said. “And I need to do these projects here at Buffalo State because all these projects are hosted on our internal server.”

One of Omari’s peers, communications studies major and senior Ryan Kirkpatrick, is in the same boat.

“I wouldn't say I'm shocked considering that Cornell and Syracuse are operating under the same measures and announced this a couple days ago,” Kirkpatrick said. “However, I think it's just happening so urgently. And we don't know the repercussions of doing such a thing, especially being in a major where I have to use editing software. And if I don't have access to that I can't get my work done. And I'm just kind of concerned about how this is going to actually turn out because it's moving so quickly. We don't really know what's going to happen.”

Weeks ago, Omari, Kirkpatrick and other students were talking with teachers in a joking matter something like this would happen. March 11 it became a reality.

“We were all sitting in a room and our friend immediately said Cuomo is closing all the schools March 19. And the immediate reaction was like, ‘Oh, my, oh my god, what's happening?’ It's kind of an unbelievable thing,” Omari said.