A change in leadership was announced on SUNY Oneonta’s campus on Thursday.
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras relayed the news that Dr. Barbara Jean Morris resigned from her position as president of SUNY Oneonta.
Dennis Craig has been appointed as interim president while a search for a permanent president is ongoing.
“Barbara Morris, the former president here informed me that she was pursuing other opportunities and I wish her well,” Chancellor Malatras said to a small group gathered. “But we thought at this critical moment in time we needed someone focused full-time on SUNY Oneonta.”
Less than two weeks into the start of the fall semester, SUNY Oneonta was forced to switch to full remote learning and send its students home.
By then, the school had recorded over 500 coronavirus cases.
Malatras said that Dr. Morris handed in her resignation last week to pursue other opportunities.
“Clearly there were problems on campus. I’ve said that,” Malatras explained. “I think everyone in the community would agree that there were problems collectively but now we want to move forward. But when she (Dr. Morris) offered her resignation we accepted it.”
Dennis Craig is currently the vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at SUNY Purchase.
He also served as interim president of the college and organized Purchase’s reopening this past fall.
“There’s no one perfect solution, but I think we have learned that testing is extremely important,” Craig explained. “Done at regular intervals and done well is very important in order to try to keep ahead of this.”
It was widely criticized that students returning to SUNY Oneonta in the fall were not tested before arriving on campus.
There were also no testing sites set up at the college besides the health center.
SUNY Oneonta is so far the only SUNY campus forced to shut its doors for the rest of the semester due to COVID-19 cases.
SUNY Oswego and SUNY Cortland both had to switch to remote learning for two weeks after COVID-19 cases spiked, but were able to resume in-person classes after the 14 days.
Although it is still unclear if students will return for the spring semester, Craig says it is important for the school to restore trust not only with students and their families, but also the surrounding community.
“I think people need to know when and how frequent communication will take place,” Craig said. “I found in many different types of crisis events, telling people there will be regular updates.”
Newly appointed student advocate John Graham says he also looks forward to making connections with student leaders before they potentially return in the spring.
“There are three scenarios in the life of a college,” Graham explained. “College is either headed into a storm, in a storm, or coming out of one. Right now we’re coming out of one and that’s what we’re doing right now. And that’s our focus at Oneonta.”
Local government officials also showed their support at the press conference Thursday for this change in leadership.