March 18, 2021
Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) President Anthony E. Munroe led two virtual town halls—one for students on March 17 and another for staff and faculty on March 18—to provide updates on BMCC’s transition to in-person classes and services in Fall 2021.
The student town hall on March 17 hosted over 360 attendees and opened with a talk by Vice President for Student Affairs Marva Craig, who looked back on the closing of the BMCC campus in March 2020, due to a New York State stay-at-home directive in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was hard for us to see the light at what appeared to be one of the darkest tunnels in our history but this is BMCC, and we have a rich history of being resilient, rebounding and remembering,” said VP Craig.
Referencing the AIDS crisis in New York City, the attacks of 9/11 and Super Storm Sandy, she added, “It is with this backdrop of a rich history of resilience that BMCC is preparing to return to our buildings at 199 Chambers Street, Murray Street, CUNY in the Heights and more.”
President Munroe also welcomed the student audience and led a moment of silence to remember those who lost their lives to the Covid virus.
“I know that taking classes through Zoom is not the ideal setting that you had hoped for when you decided to enroll at BMCC, but I can assure you that we are doing our best to make your learning experience a rewarding one,” President Munroe said. “Since the start of the pandemic, BMCC has remained committed to creating the best possible experience for you, our students; strengthening our culture of care inside and outside the classroom, and creating the conditions under which all of you can learn.”
President Munroe also pointed out that as the rollouts of vaccines continue and reports show the rate of infection going down, “We must continue to be vigilant and follow CDC recommendations, like washing our hands regularly, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask.”
He added that the campus community’s participation in the town halls “will play a critical part in our decision-making process, as we plan the college’s reopening in Fall 2021.”
The faculty and staff town hall, held the next day on March 18, was opened by Acting Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Erwin J. Wong, who also referenced BMCC’s resiliency after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
“We survived, and we came back,” he says. “We’re resilient, we’re compassionate, we care. We will come back. Many of you have asked how that is going happen, and today we will provide you with information on how that will happen, but we need your input as well, to move forward.”
President Munroe spoke next to the more than 470 faculty and staff, leading, as he did at the student town hall the day before, a moment of silence for those who have fallen victim to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The president also acknowledged the work faculty and staff have done in the last year, “to keep students on the path to earning their degrees. Teaching in the virtual world has not been ideal. Challenges have affected people emotionally, physically and psychologically.”
Despite those challenges, he said, faculty have created a culture of care in their classrooms and staff have provided services that have enabled students to continue their studies and stay strong in a difficult time.
Planning goals for Fall 2021 prioritize the health of every BMCC community member
In each of the two town halls, Assistant Vice President of Campus Planning and Facilities Jorge Yafar provided details on the Fall 2021 reopening plans that ranged from classroom re-design to enhancing air ventilation systems.
Screen sharing a series of charts and images, AVP Yafar stressed that the planning goals for the Fall 2021 reopening are first and foremost, to protect the health and well-being of every member of the BMCC community.
Those planning goals, he said, adhere closely to Centers for Disease Control (CDC), New York State and New York City Department of Health guidelines, as well as CUNY safety protocols.
“We’re reimagining our college campus and programs, and building on what we have learned in the many months we’ve spent providing remote learning and services,” AVP Yafar said.
Campus reopening committees at BMCC have focused on health protocols, vulnerable populations, safety protocols, facility operations, specialized programs and access control, he said.
AVP Yafar also talked about communication and transparency in the messaging that has been sent out to the BMCC community in the past year, and resources including the Reimagining BMCC website, which includes a COVID-19 Dashboard with updates on the number of positive cases within the BMCC campus community.
A layered approach to safety protocols includes hand-washing, UVC technology and more
Regarding safety protocols, AVP Yafar stressed that the college is taking a “layered approach,” including the Everbridge health self-screening required by every person who enters the BMCC campus.
Other safety measures are the ultra-violet light technology used to sanitize indoor air and surfaces including the handrail on escalators, as well as continued use of face coverings, social distancing and getting vaccinated.
In each town hall, Chair of the Health Education Department Leslie Rennis spoke on issues surrounding the decision to get vaccinated, such as personal rights versus the public good, having a “healthy living toolkit,” doing research and asking questions.
A poll survey, presenting one question at a time throughout each of the town halls, responded to the topics at hand.
Regarding vaccination, the student poll showed that 13 percent have already gotten the vaccine, and 39 percent plan to get it. Thirty percent reported being hesitant about getting the vaccine, and 18 percent said they don’t plan on getting it.
On the same subject, faculty and staff reported that 28 percent already gotten the vaccine, 36 percent plan to do so, 25 percent are hesitant to get the vaccine, and 11 percent do not plan to be vaccinated.
BMCC is committed to improving indoor air quality
Another important topic presented by AVP Yafar was the college’s commitment to protecting indoor air quality, as the buildings are repopulated.
In short, he said, the plan is to augment existing air filtration systems on campus with ultra-violet (UVC) technology that is effective in sanitizing the air, especially in high-density spaces such as classrooms, the BMCC Library, dining areas, restrooms, locker rooms and elevators.
Another focus is on increasing classroom size and configuring desk patterns to maximize distance between students. Also, AVP Yafar said, his team is exploring ways to create quiet study seating spaces that employ attractive barriers to ensure student safety.
In outdoor spaces, AVP Yafar said there will be greater utilization of terraces and courtyards at the 199 Chambers Street campus.
While many services remain virtual, others have been delivered in-person all year
AVP Yafar explained that while there has been steady access to the Panther Pantry and hot meals since BMCC switched to remote learning—and the Information Resources and Technology (IRT) team has continued to distribute laptops, iPads and media arts equipment—most other services have been offered virtually.
A related poll invited the student audience to weigh in on support services they would like to see offered in-person, including tutoring, counseling, health services, food pantry, child care, cafeteria, financial aid and academic advisement.
Results showed the area with the highest percentage of votes for in-person delivery was tutoring.
Likewise, 64 percent of faculty and staff selected tutoring as a service more effective in person; 56 percent selected counseling and 44 percent picked the library.
The final reopening plan will incorporate community feedback and be contingent on CUNY and New York State approval
Moving on to discuss the ratio of in-person to remote classes since March 2020, AVP Yafar explained that Nursing, Allied Health, Theatre and Music courses have continued to be offered in person, with around 500 students.
Over time, in-person courses have been increased to include some Mathematics, Continuing Education courses, as well as limited Music course sections held in Fiterman Hall, bringing the number up to 900 students taking in-person courses on the BMCC campus.
The poll question relating to this part of the presentation asked students how they would prefer to attend class; in-person, virtually or a mix of both, and the highest percentage of student votes was for a mix of both, at 51 percent.
A similar survey question asked faculty and staff—given what they had learned in that day’s town hall—how they would they prefer to work at BMCC.
In response, 52 percent said they would prefer to work virtually, and 43 percent expressed a preference for a mix of both in-person and virtual scheduling.
In both town halls, AVP Yafar clarified that the final Fall 2021 reopening plan “will incorporate input from many constituents, is subject to change as the situation continues to develop, and we must also gain the approval of CUNY as well as the state of New York.”
For more information, visit the Reimagining BMCC website.
- Virtual town halls held March 17 and 18 presented the Fall 2021 reopening plan to the BMCC community
- More than 375 participants attended the Student Town Hall on March 17 and more than 470 participants attended the Faculty and Staff Town Hall on March 18
- Speakers included Assistant Vice President of Campus Planning and Facilities Jorge Yafar, who presented detailed plans for the Fall 2021 reopening, including UVC technology to sanitize surfaces and air quality, increased utilization of outdoor spaces and more