The calls by some for SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris to leave have come to fruition.
We can’t say we are sad to see her go.
Morris told SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras last week of her intention to resign, the chancellor said Thursday. Although Malatras said, “Her decision to resign was of her own volition,” we can’t help but think she may have seen the writing on the wall.
Her handling of the return of students this fall was abysmal.
Her reopening plan, which, to be fair, was approved by then-Chancellor Kristina Johnson and the SUNY board, included no COVID testing requirements for returning students.
But that didn’t make SUNY Oneonta unique. Most of the other SUNY campuses didn’t require testing either.
SUNY Oneonta is the only one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities that was forced to shut down in-person learning for the semester, though others have seen suspensions of in-person learning for two-week periods during increases in COVID-19 cases.
So why was Oneonta so hard-hit?
When a clear policy deterring bad behavior by students was not issued, students felt free to party and gather.
Morris refused to meet with city and town leaders to work on a plan to help ensure the safety of students and local residents. She refused to give returning students a letter from Mayor Gary Herzig encouraging social distancing and mask wearing and being good neighbors, saying it would make it seem the city was not welcoming the students and would be bad for town-gown relations.
We’re pretty sure that ship had sailed within the first week, as cases emanating from the campus community skyrocketed, and local residents began to look at the students as disease-spreaders rather than a positive influence on the community.
Morris was slow to discipline misbehaving students, and when testing was finally required, it was really too little, too late.
More than 700 SUNY Oneonta students have tested positive for the coronavirus. Luckily, community spread was minimal, thanks to the quick actions of Herzig, Malatras and the state.
We feel bad for Malatras, whose first official day was after the outbreak began.
But he’s been on top of the situation from the beginning.
While a search for a replacement for Morris is underway, Dennis Craig will lead the college. He most recently served as interim president at SUNY Purchase. His appointment was approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees about an hour before the announcement.
Craig said Oneonta presents different challenges because the college and the community are “joined at the hip.”
He said the two are “inextricable linked, for better or worse,” and added, “We want it to be better.”
Herzig said he was encouraged by Craig’s comments. “I think President Craig has that mix of partnership and commitment,” he said. “We all want the college to be open for the spring, but we have to do it safely.”
We still don’t know what the spring semester will bring, but if students are to return, we have much more confidence in current leadership at the local and University level than we did when the fall semester began.