COVID-19 Roundup: President Out After College's Poor Response

SUNY installs new leader at Oneonta, which has struggled to keep the virus at bay. Keuka College closes campus and sends students home to create more isolation and quarantine space.

October 16, 2020

The State University of New York College at Oneonta has struggled mightily with the coronavirus this fall -- and those failures may have cost its president her job.

The SUNY system's chancellor, Jim Malatras, announced Thursday that Barbara Jean Morris would be replaced as Oneonta's president, starting immediately, to "finalize the college's plan for the spring semester."

Malatras put the interim head of SUNY's campus at Purchase, Dennis Craig, in charge at Oneonta. "SUNY Oneonta is at a critical juncture and Acting President Craig will bring steady, focused and collaborative leadership to the campus," Malatras said.

SUNY officials said little about the reasons for Morris's departure, except that she was leaving to "pursue other opportunities," and in a news conference, Malatras said she had left of her "own volition," according to the Daily Star of Oneonta.

Oneonta shifted to remote instruction in late August, one week into the semester, after it tested all students on campus and nearly 700 tested positive. (Unlike some SUNY institutions, it had not required tests in advance, or tested students upon their return to campus.) The university ended in-person classes and limited campus activity for two weeks to allow for contact tracing and quarantining measures to limit spread of the virus.

In a statement then, Malatras laid the blame on students breaking safety rules.

A few days later, though, the college, at Malatras's urging, implemented a "plan to send on-campus students home and cease all in-person classes and activities for the rest of the fall semester."

Keuka College, which last week said it would shift to remote learning for two weeks to try to stem the spread of COVID-19, said Thursday that it would close the campus and send students home, in large part to increase its capacity to isolate and quarantine sick students and those who may have been exposed.

The college, in New York, will send students who've not tested positive or been required to quarantine home immediately, and then other students will be sent home after they are released from quarantine or are no longer infectious.

“While the public health guidance to keep students on-campus remains best practice, the growing number of cases has made separating healthy students from quarantining populations increasingly difficult,” President Amy Storey said in a statement sent to students and employees. “County and state health officials have given their permission for the college to allow healthy students who are not subject to a quarantine or isolation order to leave campus in order to create additional isolation and quarantine capacity.”

Keuka had only one positive case in the first six weeks of the semester, but it has since seen the number of infections spike to 70, including 14 in the last day.

College officials said that a "nonsanctioned, off-campus social gathering on Oct. 3" had "triggered the onset of the current cluster."

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Doug Lederman

Doug Lederman is editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed. He helps lead the news organization's editorial operations, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Doug speaks widely about higher education, including on C-Span and National Public Radio and at meetings and on campuses around the country, and his work has appeared in The New York Times and USA Today, among other publications. Doug was managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education from 1999 to 2003. Before that, Doug had worked at The Chronicle since 1986 in a variety of roles, first as an athletics reporter and editor. He has won three National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, including one in 2009 for a series of Inside Higher Ed articles he co-wrote on college rankings. He began his career as a news clerk at The New York Times. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated in 1984 from Princeton University. Doug lives with his wife, Kate Scharff, in Bethesda, Md.

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