July 1, 2020
Dear Members of the Albany Law Community:
Over the past several months, Albany Law School has been working to prepare for the fall semester. Our goal is to bring our community back to campus safely, providing as many of the in-person learning, social, and professional development opportunities that define the Albany Law experience, while abiding by safe practices and government guidelines. At the same time, we are committed to providing equally rich opportunities for the members of our community who for health or other reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic are unable to attend in-person activities.
Toward these ends, a task force comprising 30 members of the faculty, administration, and staff, with input from a student advisory board, have developed a detailed, phased plan that will gradually and cautiously allow Albany Law to welcome those students and faculty ready to return to in-person classes the opportunity to do so, as scheduled, on August 24, 2020.
This plan, summarized below, is a living document. As we have seen, circumstances are evolving rapidly. The plan, as it is written today, is subject to change in response to New York State guidance revisions, technological or pedagogical considerations, or a shift in the public health situation facing our state or region. Any changes will be communicated to our community quickly.
Of course, safety concerns, government guidelines, and a general sense of caution require that we implement safety protocols and contingency plans that will change much of how we operate in the fall semester.
In deciding on our plan, the Task Force considered hundreds of questions and dozens of possible academic options. We consulted experts in pedagogy, online learning, medicine, public health, and safety. We attended scores of webinars and weighed heavily surveys of our own faculty and students. In the end, the Task Force presented and Albany Law School has adopted a Return to Campus Plan that is, in our view, the best, most flexible option for our community and continued academic excellence given the many challenges we face as a result of the global pandemic.
The Return to Campus Plan,
which is available on our website, includes the following key components:
- A phased reopening of the law school campus and gradual return to extracurricular activities and events.
- Fully remote options for students and faculty, who, for reasons related to COVID-19, elect to participate remotely. Individuals who know now that they will elect a remote option for fall 2020 are asked to notify the school by July 15. (More information to come.)
- An August 24 start for fall on-campus classes, with classes not previously approved as distance education courses to be taught synchronously, using technology to allow attendance by both in-person and remote students and faculty.
- A return to fully remote classes for the week following Thanksgiving, November 30 through December 4, followed by remote exams.
- Strict safety protocols, including physical distancing, face coverings, hand hygiene, and cleaning procedures.
- Widespread testing and contact tracing.
- Remote work plans for staff members where possible without compromising excellence in student services or operations.
- Strict limitations on visitors to campus and official travel.
- Contingency considerations for decreasing, even shutting down, on-campus operations, and the flexibility to move to remote teaching, as necessary to protect the health and safety of our community.
- A commitment by all students, faculty, and staff physically present on campus to share responsibility for protecting each other’s health and safety.
The work implementing the plan has already begun.
Investment in teaching technology and pedagogy:
The law school has invested in intentionally designed classrooms with sophisticated cameras, microphones, and monitors that will allow for students and faculty to teach and attend classes together, remotely or in-person as needed. The law school has also hired expert personnel to train and assist faculty in designing their courses and maximizing technology to provide excellent learning experiences for students. Laptops will be required; processes are in place for students to apply for emergency funding or financial aid to help bridge any potential technology gaps.
Alterations to and repurposing of physical space:
The law school has reconfigured its physical space to limit the number of people and reduce density in all common spaces, including classrooms, the library, the foyers, and the cafeteria. Doing so has limited our ability to schedule larger classes. For that reason, the gymnasium (which can hold up to 60 people with physical distancing) has been repurposed to be used for classes and as a study area during the fall semester. The Boardroom will be used as a classroom. Other open spaces, such as the foyers, the cafeteria, and unused classrooms, have been modified, to serve as study and meeting areas for students.
Alterations to class schedules:
To facilitate physical distancing, the Registrar has made certain changes to class schedules and assigned rooms. Start times are staggered and locations have been moved. In addition, for some large classes, the Registrar will divide those students attending in person into two groups, with each group rotating daily between in-person and remote attendance.
Alternatives to cafeteria food service for fall semester 2020:
Cafeteria food service will be suspended for the fall semester. The law school has arranged for a variety of food trucks to provide food service outside of the law school buildings on weekdays. The law school has also set up a tent outside the 1928 Building for food delivery and consumption. The Pharmacy cafeteria is open to Albany Law students, faculty, and staff.
Acquisition and widespread distribution of PPE, cleaning, disinfectant, and hygiene materials:
The law school has acquired large supplies of face coverings, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and other cleaning materials. Face coverings will be distributed to individuals. Cleaning and hygiene supplies are readily available throughout the buildings.
Investment in health screening tools:
All students, staff, and faculty will be required to conduct a daily health screening for symptoms and exposure to the coronavirus before entering campus. To facilitate this effort, the law school has invested in digital screening tools that will be distributed for use by all faculty, staff, and students.
Collaborations for testing and contact tracing:
To facilitate COVID-19 screening, contact tracing, and testing, the law school has entered into an agreement with the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences for on-campus testing, and an agreement with Albany County for contact tracing.
Anticipated timeline for phased opening:
To help community members plan, the law school has adopted
an anticipated timeline for the fall semester. While the timeline could change depending on the status of the pandemic, government regulations, and public health and safety concerns, it represents the law school’s current plan.
The full Return to Campus Plan is detailed and multifaceted. It includes sections setting forth protocols and policies for health and safety, academics, student life, infrastructure, communications, and legal and human resources. We will hold separate webinars for students, faculty, and staff in the coming weeks.
I commend the Task Force on its excellent, thoughtful, and time-consuming work. The Return to Campus Plan provides layers of safety, based on public health guidance. Until there is a vaccine, there is, of course, no guarantee that community members will avoid the coronavirus. But with careful thought, and the commitment of our community to follow the protocols to protect one another, the plan presents the best option for Albany Law School to come together as one community, with flexibility for all members, as we navigate the global pandemic.
All the best,
President and Dean
Do you have a question about Albany Law School's Return to Campus Plan?
Submit it here. We will consider all questions as we send additional communications about the fall 2020 semester.