A letter from President Harvey Stenger
Take pride in our resilience to COVID-19
Our lives and the vibrant rhythm of the Binghamton University campus were quickly upended this semester as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 invaded. As we saw thousands of our students return home to their families as we quickly transitioned to online education, I can attest to the many emotions we have all been feeling: disappointment, sadness, frustration, anxiety and fear. But also gratitude.
None of us expected 2020 to throw the challenges brought by COVID-19 at us, but what I have seen — beyond the rapid transition to put courses online, beyond the exodus of students to their homes, beyond the empty offices resulting from faculty and staff working from home — is resilience. Students are still taking classes, faculty are still teaching, though in different ways, and staff are still maintaining our complex campus operations.
We should all be proud of our resilience.
As this virus has fundamentally transformed how we educate our students, conduct our research and scholarship, and maintain our University operations, I have seen a tremendous amount of caring for our students — whether they remain on campus or not — and among all of those working to support them.
There are still more than 400 staff members on campus each day, cleaning areas thoroughly, receiving and sorting mail, feeding our students, maintaining our buildings and grounds, overseeing our utilities, managing our technology infrastructure, supervising our business operations, keeping us safe, and helping us stay healthy in both mind and body. These are reliable and dedicated employees, and I have made a point of visiting them as often as possible and thanking them in person — of course, all while properly social distancing — the new buzz phrase!
Yet working from home also presents its own challenges, both in terms of productivity and in terms of the interactions and camaraderie we have with our peers. Experienced distance workers tell me it’s essential to try to maintain the social and career networks that have been developed on campus, so I’ve asked our campus community to redouble efforts to communicate with co-workers and supervisors, to check in regularly, and to remember humor, even if it’s only by sending a laughing emoji.
And this is happening. As an example, I was recently made aware that a member of our CARE Team — which generally is kept busy helping students cope with difficult situations — was checking in with colleagues across campus to ensure they were coping and taking care of themselves.
As I write this letter in early April, it is still impossible to predict what will happen next, or to discern all of the challenges we have yet to face. However, I do know that one of our challenges resulting from COVID-19 is fiscal. For example, we fully committed to making our students on education-abroad programs whole, as well as to refunding room and board costs on a prorated basis to close to 7,000 students. The impact of these absolutely appropriate decisions will be significant and, as yet, we cannot know their true impact.
However, I continue to see good things happening all around me. Our Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science, Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, and Office of Emergency Management are among many others on campus that have donated crucial supplies to local healthcare providers. Our pharmacy students continue to work in critical roles in community and hospital pharmacies around the state. And researchers, in particular in Watson, have rushed to design and develop ventilators that can support more than one patient at a time, produce reusable 3D-printed N95-style face masks, and develop a process to allow N95 face masks to be used more than once with appropriate sterilization.
So you can see, though many of us have become adept at working from home, we are all working hard to prepare for the day when everyone can return to campus. In th meantime, let’s continue using Zoom for meetings — and for our social gatherings!
I also thank the many, many alumni and friends who have reached out to me and other members of the campus. I know this pandemic has affected you as well, and we appreciate your kind words of support.
As I’ve been saying since this pandemic so quickly took over our lives, we will get through this – together.
Harvey G. Stenger