Planning for Fall Courses

Planning for fall 2021 courses: Calendar update, suggested language for syllabi, Academic Assessment Day, other topics

Donald G. Nieman, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

Fall 2021: Returning to in-person instruction


A. Campus safety and returning to in-person instruction
B. Academic Assessment Day
C. Academic Calendar
D. International student arrivals
E. Courses

A. Campus safety and returning to in-person instruction

For the fall 2021 semester we look forward to a return to the in-person teaching and learning experience that our students value highly, while recognizing that our community continues to face challenges related to the ongoing pandemic. Students will not have the option to participate in courses remotely and faculty members will not offer a remote option for students who indicate that they do not want to join in-person courses for the semester. Similarly, instructors should plan to offer their courses in the classroom as scheduled and do not have the option to choose to shift to remote instruction. Office hours should be conducted in a way that facilitates access and communication. If instructors elect to hold office hours via Zoom, they should maintain regular office hours and be accessible via Zoom during those times.

The University will continue to follow public health recommendations to provide a safe environment for all. The guidelines and information provided here are in response to instructor suggestions and questions. Please consider how the issues addressed here (and others that arise as you prepare for the semester) could be addressed directly in the syllabi that you provide to students at the start of the semester. Stating policies clearly in your syllabi and articulating consequences for students who fail to comply will help students understand your expectations and prevent difficulties.

The University is committed to doing all we can to maintain a healthy campus while offering the in-person education that students find most effective. We know that vaccination is the first and most important step for individual and community health. Infections are significantly lower among those who are vaccinated, and it is rare for vaccinated individuals to develop serious illness or require hospitalization. As a result, a high rate of vaccination slows the spread of the virus. Consequently, we have aggressively encouraged students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated; have required vaccinations where permitted; and have achieved a high rate of vaccination among our students. 

All students living on campus are required to submit proof of full vaccination or be approved for a medical or religious exemption, regardless of FDA vaccine approval status, as a condition of moving into their rooms. Students with approved exemptions must wear face coverings regardless of the campus-wide policy in effect at any point during the academic year. They must also participate in surveillance testing at least weekly. Failure to comply with surveillance testing will result in sanction after two missed test dates, which may include removal from campus and classes. 

Off-campus residents who have not received an exemption or submitted proof of full vaccination status prior to FDA approval must wear face coverings at all times and participate in surveillance testing at least weekly. Failure to comply with surveillance testing will result in sanction after two missed test dates, which may include removal from campus and classes. After FDA approval of a vaccine — which news reports suggest will occur soon — students will have 35 days to submit proof of completing a vaccination series. Failure to comply will result in deregistration and removal from campus.

Students were given the opportunity to request medical or religious exemptions by July 23. Exemption requests received after July 23 will be considered only if there is a change in medical status. Approved exemptions currently constitute less than 1% of the overall student population.

The Decker Student Health Services Center will continue to provide diagnostic testing for symptomatic students, free of charge, and has added weekend hours that will continue as long as there is demand for service. Contact tracing will continue following identification of positive cases and campus will maintain spaces for isolation and quarantine of on campus residing students.  

Faculty and staff are required to submit proof of full vaccination or to participate in surveillance testing at least weekly. Any faculty or staff member who has not submitted proof of full vaccination must wear a face covering regardless of the campus-wide policy in effect at any point during the academic year, unless they are eating/drinking or alone in a private space/office.

B. Academic Assessment Day

Looking ahead to the start of the semester, we know that our incoming cohort of undergraduates has not had the kind of high school experience that past cohorts have had, and many of them have faced extraordinary challenges in completing their high school studies. One big objective for all of us this fall will be to help provide them with feedback and support as they make the transition to college-level studies.

At the suggestion of faculty members on the Road Map Steering Committee, an addition to our academic calendar this fall is Academic Assessment Day, to be held Monday, Sept. 27. Faculty leaders on the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and groups of department chairs discussed and broadly supported this addition, in particular because of its potential to help our new students receive academic and other support services at a point in the semester when intervention and support initiatives have the best chance of success.

Academic Assessment Day consists of two parts:

  1. For all lower-division (i.e., 100- and 200-level) undergraduate courses, we are asking faculty to provide some kind of substantive academic assessment or feedback to students by Sept. 27. This might come in the form of quizzes, one or more writing assignments, a unit test or other means that makes sense for your course and subject matter. Many of you already design your courses to provide this kind of early assessment and feedback for students, so this requires no changes to your course. For others, this might mean adding something to the course or changing the timing of a test. 
  2. The second part of Academic Assessment Day is identifying the students who are at risk. Many of you have already participated in our Early Alert initiative, telling us about students who are not attending class, whose participation is cause for concern or whose academic performance suggests that they may not be successful in the course. We’ve taken faculty feedback and suggestions and incorporated them in a new response mechanism that will be introduced to faculty at the start of the semester. Your feedback through this new Advise Platform will help us to provide academic support, tutoring and other interventions early enough in the semester to make a difference for students who need some help. 

C. Academic Calendar

We’re back to our regular academic calendar and schedule of courses. 

Note that on Tuesday, Oct. 12, Thursday classes will meet. Tuesday classes will NOT meet on Oct. 12. This may be a bit confusing, but this schedule has been designed to provide 14 class meetings for each day of the week over the course of the semester, thereby assuring that our classes have sufficient contact hours to meet credit-hour standards. For classes on a Tuesday/Thursday (T/R) meet pattern, there will be no changes. The changes affect courses that meet either only Tuesday (T) or Thursday (R), but not both (TR).

D. International student arrivals

International students are eager to join us on campus this fall. However, many of them have been struggling to get visa appointments, complete vaccination series or overcome other travel challenges to get to Binghamton before the start of the semester. Policy requires international students to join in-person classes no later than the add/drop deadline (Sept. 9); if you have an international student in your course, consider how you can accommodate a student who may have no choice but to arrive after the semester has already started. Helping them get off to a good start will be a big factor in their successful adjustment and degree completion. Thank you for your help and support for these members of our campus community.

E. Courses

Below you will find sample language or examples of ways to respond to various situations. Consider how you may want to include or adapt what you find here in your own syllabi. In some cases, sample consequences for non-compliance are listed [in square brackets] as examples; feel free to use them or modify them for your course, but be sure to include any such consequences in the syllabi for all students so they are informed of expectations and consequences.

i. General statement suggestion for courses
Binghamton University follows the recommendations of public health experts to protect the health of students, faculty, staff and the community at large. Safeguarding public health depends on each of us strictly following requirements as they are instituted and for as long as they remain in force. Health and safety standards will be enforced in this course.

ii. Face coverings and other safety measures
Current rules require everyone to wear a face covering that completely covers both the nose and mouth while indoors (unless they are eating or alone in a private space like an office). A face shield is not an acceptable substitute. Classroom safety requirements will continue to be based on guidance from public health authorities and will be uniformly applied across campus. If these requirements change, a campus-wide announcement will be made to inform the University.

Classrooms in the Lecture Hall and some other large halls are equipped with microphone connections; faculty who are teaching in these spaces and would like to use a microphone should contact the Center for Learning and Teaching if they do not have their own microphone. For instructors who are teaching in spaces where communication while wearing a face covering presents a challenge, please contact the Center for Learning and Teaching. The CLT  is exploring personal microphone solutions that can help. Instructors must follow all applicable campus requirements for use of face coverings, including while teaching. Instructors who have specific technology needs for teaching can use the form found at to request it. 

We recommend that your syllabi:

  • indicate that the University recommends and supports swift action and clear consequences if a student’s non-compliance risks the safety of others.
  • state how you will handle an in-class instance of inadvertent non-compliance or an in-class instance of deliberate non-compliance. 
  • state what the consequences for non-compliance will be.

The academic and course-removal sanctions listed here are provided because the Provost’s Office considers them to be valid responses if a student puts the safety of others at risk; you may indicate that in your syllabi. Non-compliance with safety requirements constitutes a public health risk and a disruption of the learning experience. You may choose to establish classroom policies that prohibit eating and drinking; longer classes could include a short break.  

[Sample language: If you forget your face covering or it does not meet these requirements, you will be asked to leave the room immediately. You may not return until you meet the requirement.

Instructors should address what happens if the student misses a graded assessment due to being asked to leave the classroom for not having a proper face covering. For example, instructors may say that [the student will receive a zero on the assignment. Or, instructors may have a policy of dropping one quiz, etc.]          

If a student does not comply with the requirements or the instructor’s direction, the instructor [will immediately cancel the remainder of the class session and inform the dean’s office, which will work with the Student Records office to issue a failing grade (“F”) for the course regardless of when in the semester the incident occurs. The dean’s office will also inform the Office of Student Conduct.] If you choose to impose this penalty, it should be explicitly stated in your syllabi, like other things that affect grading.  

If a student’s refusal to comply is a second offense, the Office of Student Conduct may recommend dismissal from the University.           

If the rules for health and safety measures change, the campus will be notified and the new requirements will take effect.

iii. Illness/quarantine
Students should be reminded to stay home if they are ill and seek prompt medical evaluation if they experience symptoms of COVID-19. Early case finding will benefit the entire campus. This should apply to faculty/staff as well. 

Decker Student Health Services does not have the resources to issue individual notes confirming illness. Please do not require this of your students.  

If students become ill or are required to quarantine, instructors will deal with them on a case-by-case basis as they would when dealing with cases of influenza or other illness that keeps a student from attending class. We encourage instructors to contact the Center for Learning and Teaching for ideas and support in helping these students to keep up with the course. Instructional designers and other academic support personnel can help tailor academic support to the course and to specific student needs.

Please remember that instructors may not ask students about their vaccination status; see above for an explanation of the New York vaccination requirement implementation and other health and safety information. Health and safety decisions and policies will be made and announced at the University level; instructors do not have the latitude to modify these policies or impose additional restrictions or requirements for specific courses or other contexts. 

If instructors become ill or are required to quarantine/isolate, they should work with their department chair to find the best way for their course(s) to move forward during the time of their absence from the classroom.