By Zippy Spanjer
In an effort to keep students and parents informed of the goings-on and plans of the University for the fall semester, another series of zoom updates were held this past week. On the call, which was moderated by Dean of Students Dr. Chaim Nissel, speakers included President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman; Randy Apfelbaum, chief facilities and administration officer; Jennifer Golden, director of the office of international student services; Josh Joseph, senior vice president; Chad Austein, chief enrollment management officer; Dr. Robert van Amerongen, YU’s new medical director; Dr. Noam Wasserman, dean of Sy Syms School of Business; Karen Bacon, dean of YC and SCW; Shoshanna Schecter, associate dean of Torah studies and spiritual growth; Dr. Selma Botman, provost & vice president for academic affairs; and Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, dean of undergraduate Torah studies (UTS).
In his opening remarks, Berman addressed that the “next year is going to prove to be one of the most crucial in our students’ lives.” He established that the reopening plan was based on three essential principles: student safety (referred to as pikuach nefesh), the importance of flexibility to fit the interests of our student body, and educational excellence.
Dr. van Amerongen addressed safety and health concerns. As part of a plan to set up health perimeters, students will need to be tested for COVID-19 before arriving on campus. He described that a mobile application is in the works which will require students to answer a daily questionnaire to monitor any symptoms and identify those who might be sick. Anyone entering a YU building will have their temperature checked, and masks will be mandatory on campus. There will be a strong educational component as well, to raise student awareness for why masks and social distancing are necessary.
Botman, Wasserman, and Kalinsky discussed the semester’s academics. Botman explained that teachers have been working on improving online teaching skills through professional development provided by YU over the summer. We will know by the end of July, per student and faculty surveys, which classes will have an in-person option in October. All of the research labs and art studios will be open after holidays, except for the art studios commandeered by the Katz School. She also added that the administration is working on those having to deal with time zone differences.
Wasserman confirmed that the Fall 2020 semester’s online learning will be different than the Spring 2020 semester. There will be more asynchronous course approaches, assessments, and online discussion. Fully online classes will not have their rosters increased unless teachers and administrators are certain they’ll be able to maintain excellence, as small class size is an important component at YU. Additionally, students should feel free to reach out to the administration with any questions about general academics or specific classes, and that the administration wants to collaborate with the students.
Kalinsky then discussed the plans in store for the UTS program. For morning sessions, some Rebbeim (Torah teachers) will be holding class in person and some online. Administration is working with faculty and students to ensure that everyone ends up in a program that works for them. The batei midrash (spaces of Torah study) will be open, and night seder (evening Torah learning) and chavruta (partnered learning) learning will take place, all within social distancing protocols.
Schecter stated that relationships with students “are first and foremost!” There will also be more in-person and online learning opportunities
Students will also be allowed to shape Shabbat programming. Instead of a single large meal for each seudah (meal), there will be smaller group meals. Commuting students cannot stay on campus for Shabbat. The panelists were adamant that the student life and Shabbat plans will be “rich.” There will be multiple minyanim (prayer quorum), according to Kalinsky, which will allow enough space for the students and faculty to be spread out.
Austein is hopeful for the students’ ability to fully dorm in the Spring 2021 semester. Apfelbaum explained that all meals will be take-out and the self-serve option will be eliminated. The classrooms will have reduced occupancy and the occupancies of the bathrooms, buildings, lounges, and batei midrash are being reviewed. The commuter students will be allowed to study in the lounges and the libraries.
Golden described that the information regarding international students is fluid and that her office is constantly reviewing and updating the international students via email.
YU is communicating with the CDC for guidance regarding ventilation. The filters in the buildings have been upgraded and will be changed often and outside air will be increased to reduce recirculation, per industry-wide recommendations.