Union webinar signals reduced restrictions on students


Michael Rosenbaum

Union’s testing center in Hale House is the location for students to test twice weekly

Michael Rosenbaum, News Editor

Union College’s return to in person classes comes after a delay in the start of in-person classes by one week. As part of the return to the campus, a webinar for students and parents led by President David Harris, Dean Fran’Cee Brown-McClure and Dean Michele Angrist was held to address student questions. The main message of the webinar is that this winter term is going to be more like this past fall term rather than last winter. 

So far, there remains no stated threshold for a return to online classes or to re-implement any restrictions on dining or access to facilities including the gym. President Harris, speaking during the webinar, noted that while the New York State Government had previously been an arbiter in the particular thresholds of when schools would shut down, the choice is now held by the Union College administrators. As such, the college has stated that it will remain in person as long as it is reasonably safe to do so. While no specific definition for this was given, President Harris acknowledged that the amount of infections and the proliferation of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 led the college to anticipate a high level of infections during the term.

Part of the webinar was a justification of Union’s current COVID-19 policies. Three proactive policies–boosters, pre-arrival tests, and continued contact tracing–were spoken about. According to Dean Brown-McClure, pre-arrival screening for COVID-19 had prevented over 100 students from returning to campus with COVID-19. Dean Brown-McClure also noted that Union would continue to pratice contact tracing, despite concerns from other colleges that such measures are ineffective against the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Regarding boosters, Union College’s Community Standards Office emailed an extension to the deadline for students to have submitted proof of vaccine boosters the day after the webinar. According to Phil Wajda, Director of Media and Public Relations, the decision was made to postpone the deadline to give more time to get boosters. More booster clinics were made availible to students. Union College has not extended either booster clinics nor testing to the rest of Schenectady.

As part of Dean Brown-McClure’s promise that this winter term would resemble this past fall term more than the winter of 2021, restrictions on student activities are being rolled back. Restrictions on dining capacities, for instance, have been mostly removed following Friday, January 14. This removal of restrictions has also spread to Rathskeller, although that space will not have regular service owing to labor shortages. With Union COVID-19 testing center currently where overflow seating for Rathskeller once was, it is unclear how seating will work in that space. Club activities are also resuming in person, including sport clubs. Currently, there is no plan to modify the dates of the end of the winter term or start of the spring term, but it was acknowledged that spring term is too far away to accurately predict what spring term will look like.