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Cornell University Restricts Accommodations For Faculty Seeking Remote Teaching

Cornell University Restricts Accommodations For Faculty Seeking Remote Teaching

“Scholars questioned the legality and the wisdom of Cornell’s stance in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Why is it that everything related to this pandemic has been all or nothing? Why can’t people and organizations meet in the middle, based on reason?

Inside Higher Ed reports:

Cornell Says No Remote Teaching as COVID Fears Persist

Cornell University said this week it will not consider any faculty requests to teach remotely instead of in person, not even from those seeking accommodations for chronic illnesses or disabilities.

Scholars questioned the legality and the wisdom of Cornell’s stance in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to individuals with disabilities who are qualified to fulfill the “essential functions” of a given job.

Michael Kotlikoff, Cornell’s provost, and Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education, said in a letter to faculty and instructional staff Wednesday that Cornell has determined that face-to-face instruction is vital to the resumption of “normal operations.”

“In-person teaching is considered essential for all faculty members and instructional staff with teaching responsibilities,” Kotlikoff and Nishii wrote. “Accordingly, the university will not approve requests, including those premised on the need for a disability accommodation, to substitute remote teaching for normal in-person instruction. For individuals with disabilities, the university routinely works to explore a wide array of possible workplace accommodations. Any faculty member in need of any disability-based accommodation should contact the Medical Leaves Administration office (MLA). For individuals who are not able to perform the essential functions of their position because of a disability, MLA can advise them of other options, including the availability of a medical leave.”

Some criticized the policy as unfeeling toward faculty who are immunocompromised or who have other medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe outcomes should they contract COVID-19.

WAJ adds — in response to pushback, the Provost sent the following statement Friday night to the faculty:

Dear Cornell faculty and staff,

As a follow up to Wednesday’s virtual town hall, in which a number of faculty and staff expressed concern about our approach to in-person operations for the fall semester, I wanted to provide some additional context.

Cornell cares deeply about our faculty and staff, who have demonstrated tremendous resiliency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We remain steadfastly committed to offering a wide range of individualized accommodations as we resume in-person operations this fall. These accommodations include a medical leave. We urge all faculty and staff with questions to contact the Medical Leaves Administration office (MLA).

Individual academic and administrative units at Cornell may, at Deans’ and unit leaders’ discretion, choose to offer additional options for faculty and staff with extraordinary circumstances that prevent them from teaching and working in person this fall. Those options may include a reduction in work hours, a temporary reallocation of teaching duties, and/or short-term or partial remote instruction.

The university has a long history of working closely and compassionately with faculty and staff seeking workplace accommodations for disability, personal, and family reasons.

As has been repeatedly demonstrated over the course of the pandemic, the university has taken a rigorously scientific, carefully tailored and highly responsive approach to pandemic-related health risks. We place the highest priority on campus and community health. We recognize that faculty and staff have been, and will continue to be, an integral part of our efforts.


Michael I. Kotlikoff


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Morning Sunshine | August 14, 2021 at 4:22 pm


The double-think is unsettling. To even attend classes, you need a vaccine, ostensibly to protect the immunocompromised and elderly. But if you’re in a risk group, you can’t learn or teach remotely because being in-person is essential to the function of the school, even though they spent a year and change doing full-remote classes. And as breakthrough cases of covid become more common, the vaccines that were mandated to protect high-risk groups will fail to do so.

There is no science, logic, or empathy found in these decisions.

    henrybowman in reply to SeymourButz. | August 14, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    I could see a conservative school putting a similar rule into place to prohibit unscientific malingering (e.g., the Chicago Schoolteacher’s Union). But Cornell is hardly a conservative school, plus this decision bleeds heavily into dangerous ADA territory. This cannot end well.

Making decisions that make no sense is one of the reasons why Cornell is the best place to send our future government leaders.

What, are they finally realizing that ‘remote teaching’ is a total and complete scam and they’re working a handful of hours a week and effectively taking years-long vacations at the school’s expense?

    healthguyfsu in reply to Olinser. | August 15, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    That’s a ridiculously uniformed stance. There are those of us who had to put in extra hours to record lectures in advance then sit there with students who had questions (if they were even paying attention).

    Some of us did not want remote teaching but had no choice.

Given my personal experience, this is typical Kotlikoff.

I’m not understanding the context. In the pre Covid universe the folks with comprised immune systems were at risk. These folks now have been offered a ‘booster’ vax unavailable to the general public. They can still presumably choose to wear a mask even an N95 which might offer some actual protection. Social distancing and crowd flow into lecture halls or class rooms seem easy to add.

If these folks want to conduct remote teaching as the accommodation they are off their rocker. The University counter offer of a sabbatical or leave seems reasonable. Professor’s have a course load, office hours for advising and mentoring students in person.

These folks seem to want to dictate to the employer what accommodation they will accept. IMO, that’s the mark of an unreasonable request amounting to my way or else. Eff that and eff them. Go back to your place of employment or resign. Plenty of of lower ranking faculty members will gladly take your place.

It appears that Cornell is going after the Professor since he is remote teaching due to his wife’s health. This started before Covid.

Professor Jacobsen – We will keep you and your family in our prayers.

That looks like a bell tower in that picture. How can they stand such a white supremacist Christian structure on the campus ?????

    lawgrad in reply to dunce1239. | August 17, 2021 at 11:27 am

    Cornell has been non-sectarian since its founding. The bell tower was a part of the University Library since it was originally designed by William Henry Miller. The bell tower is functional, because locating the bells at the top of a tower allows the sound to be carried to a large part of the campus.

I think this relates to this:

They are probably seeking to force PhDs to ‘vaccinate’ for Covid.