College campuses “a little bit like a Twilight Zone episode” as fall semester begins

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Months of planning were tested by reality on Monday. The University at Buffalo, Buffalo State College, and Canisius College were among the colleges and universities to resume on-campus learning Monday in the face of the coronavirus pandemic as the Fall 2020 semester began.

“I’ve never had the first day of classes feel like this,” said Dr. Dan Dentino, the Vice President for Student Affairs at Canisius. “It’s a little bit like a Twilight Zone episode.”

On Monday, for the first time since March 23rd, students returned to classes on the Canisius campus. Dentino says about 70% of the classes there this semester involve a hybrid model, by which students will learn both in person and virtually.

“Several of our classes were held outside (Monday),” Dentino added. “It’s fun seeing students walking back and forth.”

At Buffalo State, the number of students with confirmed cases of the virus increased to eight, with another four faculty and staff members having tested positive. Still, the fall semester began there as well.

“It doesn’t feel the same. Not at all,” admitted Buffalo State President Dr. Katherine Conway-Turner.

Conway-Turner said about 75% of classes this semester will be conducted remotely, far from normal for Buffalo State. Senior Tanisha Simmons expects students will have to re-learn how to learn.

“If you are using more technology and you do have to be in front of a computer more, you sometimes have to solve your own problems a little bit,” Simmons said.

The Buffalo State campus was noticeably missing the normal buzz of the first day of a semester. Amirr Chirtiani, a freshman from New York City, said it wasn’t how he expected his first day of college to look growing up.

“You probably would have expected to see more people outside and stuff like that,” Christiani said. “As you can see, there’s not that many people outside. It’s kind of weird.”

“There’s generally lots of activity,” Conway-Turner said of the first day of classes. “However, we’re starting in the middle of a pandemic. We’ve done everything we can to minimize interaction.”

Meanwhile, at UB, Provost A. Scott Weber said he felt confident the university had created a plan to successfully begin the fall semester Monday.

“We’ve really spent five months planning very thoughtfully,” he said.

In a statement, a UB spokesperson said Monday that the university will soon collaborate with Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse to conduct pooled surveillance testing. Weber said details would be released some time in the next week.

“We’ve been working to think through a pretty thoughtful and objective plan for surveillance testing for a couple of weeks,” Weber said. “We are moving in that direction. We were clearly going to do it. What we’re really trying to make sure is it’s scientifically defensible.”

Dr. Philip Glick, president of the Buffalo HSC Chapter of UUP, a union representing college faculty, said he was unaware surveillance testing was in the works. He added he was hopeful the college would conduct baseline testing of students, faculty, and staff, something that didn’t happen.

“As we learn more and more about COVID,” Glick argued, “we know between 40% and 60%, maybe even 80% of young people may be asymptomatic for 3-14 days with COVID.”

“The reason we’re not doing (baseline testing) is because based on the best guidance we’ve been given by our health, safety, and wellness committees, it was felt that would not really provide a significant level of protection to the campus versus, if you will, our daily attestation, people wearing their masks, and social distancing,” Weber replied.

Some schools, like SUNY Fredonia and Niagara University, started classes last Monday.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.

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