January 14, 2021

Spring 2021 Semester Update from President Bollinger

Originally distributed to the Columbia community via email on Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I write to welcome everyone to the spring term. Classes across the University resumed this week, and, while the circumstances are extraordinary, the eagerness to re-engage with our colleagues and with ideas is the same as ever (perhaps even more so). That we are able to continue our essential work of research, education, and engagement is the result of countless acts of creativity, determination, and bravery of so many within the institution, and to all of you we extend our deepest gratitude.

We have now arrived at what probably will be the most precarious moment in managing the pandemic. The weariness of months of prolonged isolation and disruption remains, while the promise of a return to normalcy with the commencement of vaccinations beckons. Meanwhile, the recent surge of infections in New York City and around the country makes abiding by public health guidelines all the more critical. The hard fact is that we are still several months away from the point when enough of the population will be vaccinated—including in our own community—and the benefits of this astonishing scientific achievement will be garnered. We must gird ourselves for this last period.

This spring term our residential undergraduate population has nearly doubled to just under 1800 students; still, of course, far below our capacity. To navigate this re-entry, all students living in Columbia dormitories are subject to applicable quarantine requirements upon arrival on campus. Hybrid and in-person courses will not resume until Monday, January 25, when the quarantine process is complete. All undergraduate and graduate classes will be taught remotely for the first two weeks of the term.

There will continue to be strict enforcement of the requirement to test residential undergraduate students twice a week and residential graduate students once a week, following the gateway testing for anyone accessing the campus. We have strengthened our disciplinary policies for violations of the Columbia Compact and instituted new access restrictions to ensure that students, faculty, and staff who have failed to undergo gateway testing and other required precautions are prohibited from using campus facilities. For students who are living off campus, as well as faculty and staff, everyone must also adhere to the terms of the Columbia testing program.

With respect to vaccinations, the University is working with our partner NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital to vaccinate eligible CUIMC healthcare workers and others in sequence in accordance with State and City guidelines and eligibility criteria. Additionally, many in our community will be inoculated in the coming weeks at other locations. Clearly, we want to see this program of vaccination achieved as quickly as supplies and regulations allow. We all should be prepared both to follow the rules scrupulously and for moments of uncertainty, even confusion, as the national program takes hold and the new administration announces revisions.

We are living through a period with a confluence of profound challenges, many the product of long-unresolved societal issues. American democracy’s very character is being tested. My deepest hope is that Columbia will continue to rise to the moment, in every possible way.

One of the most enriching aspects of academic life derives from the fact that it is characterized by palpable beginnings and endings, offering fresh starts and life-determining passages. At this moment, it feels as if those two elements, both on the campus and in the nation, are happening at once. I suspect this situation will bring anxieties as well as joys, and I hope we can find in one another strength and solace.

Welcome to the spring term of 2021.

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger

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