Updated Sunday, March 18th at 9:05 p.m.
Columbia and Barnard and moved all course instruction online for the remainder of the semester, and many students have now evacuated campus to return home for the spring. With new updates coming in every day to a community that now spreads across multiple countries, Spectator has compiled all the vital information and news updates regarding the University’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Here’s what you need to know:
Hundreds of workers in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville were laid off in the last two weeks following orders to close all nonessential businesses and limit restaurants to offering takeout and delivery only.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the order on March 16, leaving independently-owned businesses in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville—along with businesses all over the city—at risk of financial ruin. Earlier that same week, Columbia said it would continue remote instruction for the remainder of the semester, and, following the diagnosis of an affiliate with the coronavirus, closed its dormitories to all but those in need of emergency housing. With Columbia students leaving campus in droves with no foreseeable return date, many businesses in the neighborhood—who depend on students as a significant source of revenue—feared impending closures.
The Spectator contacted 50 businesses—including grocery stores, restaurants, and cafés—out of the roughly 200 businesses in Morningside Heights and Manhattanville. About 30 of them responded, reporting over 370 layoffs and crippling declines in sales due to the COVID-19 precautions.
For the “essential” businesses that were permitted to stay open during the pandemic, owners had—and continue to have—a crucial decision to make: Do they close their doors, allowing their employees to receive unemployment benefits, or stay open and cut their workers’ hours to do so?
This past weekend, administrators evacuated 300 to 500 students from the International House’s South building, a space intended for communal living and social contact between its residents.
This move follows an announcement that a staff member in the house—a non-affiliated residential community that houses over 700 Columbia graduate students from approximately 100 countries—had contracted COVID-19. At the time the case was confirmed, the house—which operates independently of the University—was deemed an “at risk” area, and administrators said that many residents likely came into contact with the staff member.
But according to experts, for students who have or are expected to have come in contact with COVID-19, their evacuation would present an increased risk in the spreading of the virus.
The scheduled Commencement ceremony for the class of 2020 will be canceled for the foreseeable future, University President Lee Bollinger announced in an email to University affiliates on Friday afternoon. While graduates will receive their degrees on May 20, there will be no formal congregation to celebrate students walking the stage.
Barnard announced that they would also postpone the College’s commencement for a later time, according to an email sent by President Sian Beilock.
The University’s announcement comes in light of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that events with more than 50 people be canceled for the next eight weeks in order to prevent the transmission of the new coronavirus. According to experts, the rate of the outbreak may require more stringent containment measures, including strictly enforced social distancing, for about two months. However, there is still uncertainty regarding when the outbreak will abate given a lack of available testing and knowledge about the virus.
Over 40 universities across the nation have announced that they will postpone or cancel their commencement ceremonies. Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University have stated that they will stage their commencements virtually, though details have yet to be finalized.
Columbia saw its last notable disturbance of Commencement in 1968, when the ceremony was moved to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine from Low Plaza following the 1968 protests. Commencement was also canceled in 1775, when the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War forced King’s College President Myles Cooper to flee to England.
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, all classes will be moved to a pass/fail grading system and classes will be canceled for the three days following spring break, according to an email from University President Lee Bollinger sent to University affiliates on March 20. Students will not be able to opt out or uncover their grades at the end of the semester.
President Sian Beilock released an email shortly after assuring that Barnard would follow the same grading policy and class schedule as Columbia.
The move to universal pass/fail, which is usually not allowed for classes counted toward one’s major, concentration, or Core requirements, comes following a move by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Smith College toward similar alternative grading scales. Though students typically may not apply courses they choose to pass/fail toward their major requirements, all courses taken this semester will count.
“This, of course, does not reflect a reduction in expectations, but rather an acknowledgement of the severe complications of this unusual moment,” Bollinger wrote in his email.
All students remaining in on-campus housing will be relocated to buildings adjacent to the South Lawn, an area that largely consists of dormitories typically designated to freshmen, Columbia Housing wrote in an email Thursday afternoon. The announcement comes as New York University is evacuating its housing in order to potentially accommodate hospital patient overflow, and the state turns toward campuses to accommodate COVID-19 patient overflow.
As of Thursday afternoon, over 5,200 people in New York had tested positive for the new coronavirus, with 3,615 of those people located in New York City. There have been a total of 29 deaths in New York, 22 of which have been reported in the city. As the number of positive coronavirus cases increases nationwide, the ability of the country’s healthcare system to manage the growing pandemic has been called into question. An analysis done by the Harvard Global Health Institute has shown that there are many parts of the United States with far too few hospital beds in relation to the anticipated number of COVID-19 cases.
Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s op-ed in the New York Times, which advocated for using existing facilities like military bases and college dormitories as temporary medical centers, universities have been alerted to the possibility of health care efforts tapping into their various medical resources.
To that end, on March 16, New York University undergraduates received an email explaining that students were asked to leave their campus housing as part of a state-wide effort to provide overflow bed settings to accommodate for “overwhelming numbers of sick patients.” However, Columbia has not yet announced plans to turn its housing into facilities for patient use.
The first member of the Barnard community has tested positive for coronavirus, Barnard President Sian Beilock confirmed in an email Wednesday night. The announcement added that the community “will continue to see a growing number of COVID-19 cases in the Barnard and Columbia community.”
On March 12, Columbia and Barnard students were first asked to vacate their on-campus housing assignments by March 30. But following the first positive COVID-19 test of a Columbia affiliate on Sunday, Columbia students who did not have exigent circumstances were told to evacuate by Tuesday, leaving many in a flurry to move out of their dormitories by that date.
Directly following Beilock’s first announcement, she sent out another email to all students who had not reported an explicit decision to leave campus, once again urging all those who can leave campus to do so and those staying to take extra precautions.
For several days, Columbia seemed to remain steadfast amid a series of announcements that other colleges—including Harvard University, Amherst College, and Cornell University—were forcing students off-campus in light of the growing coronavirus outbreak. On March 12, University President Lee Bollinger and Barnard President Sian Beilock first encouraged students to leave, if circumstances allowed them to do so, by March 30.
But on March 15, the tone shifted: Bollinger announced that the first University affiliate had tested positive for COVID-19 and Columbia students would have to evacuate campus and check out of their housing assignments for the remainder of the semester by March 17. Only those students facing circumstances such as travel restrictions to their home countries, safety issues at home, or visa restrictions would be permitted to stay. Barnard did not specify a new move-out deadline but reiterated that students should move out as soon as possible. Both offered financial assistance to anyone in need.
Prior to Columbia’s announcement, some students had remained on campus as they considered their options. Many others had left for spring break under the impression that they would soon return to campus to see their friends and coordinate storage for their belongings.
Over the next few days, hundreds of students, both on campus and around the globe, rushed to evacuate campus and remove all their effects from their dormitories. Across social media, questions came in flurries: How quickly would Columbia approve housing requests? Would housing refunds be provided? When would emergency funding be distributed?
The first member of the Columbia community has tested positive for COVID-19, University President Lee Bollinger announced in an email Sunday morning. In light of the growing number of confirmed cases in New York City, and the looming threat of domestic travel restrictions, Columbia is now asking for a significant reduction of students in residence halls.
Prior to this announcement, Columbia and Barnard sent notices to students asking that all students able to leave their rooming accommodations do so by March 30. Dodge Fitness Center had originally announced that it would operate under a revised, limited schedule; however, as part of its preventative efforts, the University will be closing the center, along with other non-academic spaces that invite large groups of people such as St. Paul’s Chapel, effective immediately.
The University has now emphasized the need for all students who are capable, including those at the medical campus, to evacuate their dormitories by Tuesday, March 17.
The email also encourages deans of schools and department chairs to only conduct essential research in person. At the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Bollinger urged for the suspension of student clerkships and rotations and the aggregation of medical resources to support a predicted influx of coronavirus cases.
Columbia and Barnard will move all course instruction online for the remainder of the semester, according to announcements sent by University President Lee Bollinger and Barnard President Sian Beilock on March 12. In following communications to students, both Columbia and Barnard encouraged students to return home unless circumstances strictly prohibited them from doing so.
The University will remain open, and certain services, including dining halls, libraries, and fitness centers, will remain in operation. However, those services will have restricted hours and altered functionality. For more information, visit the “Staying on campus” section of this page.
The University’s decision to shift to online courses follows the World Health Organization’s declaration of COVID-19 a pandemic. President Donald Trump has since declared a national state of emergency and announced a ban, effective March 14, on the flight entry of foreigners who have been in any of 26 European nations in the 14 days before their scheduled arrival in the United States. Effective March 17, those travel restrictions will also extend to the United Kingdom and Ireland.
In New York City, over 2,000 cases have now been confirmed, and officials announced the city’s first death on Saturday. Medical professionals in the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation are planning for a surge in coronavirus cases, and as a prevention measure, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an indefinite ban on all public gatherings of more than 500 people.
In a previous email, Bollinger stated that travel restrictions have been put in place for affiliates who have traveled to severely affected areas. The University has suspended all domestic and international business travel, and students from Barnard’s and Columbia’s study abroad programs have all been asked to return.
Preliminary actions began in early March when the University urged student groups to cancel nonessential organized events of more than 25 attendees on campus. Among the canceled events were the annual John Jay Dinner, at which Columbia College presents six alumni with an award for “distinguished professional achievement,” and the two weekends of Days on Campus, at which newly-admitted students have the opportunity to shadow classes and meet their peers. Barnard has canceled all events for the rest of the semester.
On March 13, Bacchanal was officially called off in light of the coronavirus outbreak. This cancellation comes after a tumultuous journey over the concert’s cost and location that led to one of the most popular and anticipated headliners the annual event has seen in recent years: rapper Gucci Mane and experimental musical duo 100 Gecs.
According to a University spokesperson, Columbia will continue to monitor the evolving COVID-19 developments and will be making a decision in the coming weeks about Commencement ceremonies.
The Ivy League has decided to cancel all practices and competitions for spring sports, league administrators announced on March 11. For winter sports and individual players in postseason competitions, institutions have the jurisdiction to decide whether their athletes will participate.
This announcement follows Columbia Athletics’ notice from the day before, which stated that practices, competitions, and travel for spring sports would continue for the foreseeable future, with limited in-person attendance at any public events. Now, following the league’s decision, spring teams such as the men’s tennis team, which has won the Ancient Eight crown for six consecutive years, will no longer have the opportunity to compete.
The Ivy League also announced that it was canceling the 2020 Ivy League Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments scheduled to take place from March 13 to 15 in Cambridge, Massachusetts soon after Harvard said it would be closing its campus to students. The decision garnered significant controversy from many Ivy League teams, many of whom began circulating an online petition calling for the tournaments to be reinstated. Basketball is one of the most viewed and sponsored sports in the league, as it has a strong alumni base and streams games live on ESPN Plus.
Amid these decisions by Ivy League universities, the NCAA scrambled to find ways to salvage the postseason tournaments. However, it finally admitted defeat and canceled its biggest event of the year on Thursday. Had March Madness occurred, No. 1 women’s team Princeton and No. 1 men’s team Yale would have automatically qualified.
In light of the pandemic, studies have found that universities may see a decline in international students in the near future due to suspended visa services and canceled standardized testing assessments like the SAT or IELTS and TOEFL English language tests, which evaluate English language proficiency in non-native speakers.
Columbia is in a more sensitive position than many—it has one of the highest numbers of international students in the nation and supports more than 15,000 international students and scholars. Many of these students comprise large portions of the student body in Columbia’s master’s degree programs, particularly in the School of Professional Studies, whose class of 2018 was 48 percent international students.
Admission of international students is need-aware, meaning a student’s ability to cover tuition expenses is a deciding factor in admission. According to the University’s most recent financial report, contributions of student tuition dollars to the University’s revenue is among the top revenue drivers and accounts for more than that received from returns from the endowment, government grants, and other private donations.