Barbara Jean Morris, the president of State University of New York Oneanta, has resigned after photos of students partying in quarantine dorms went viral and the public university reported the worst covid outbreak of any in the state.
The resignation is one of the most high profile in the coronavirus crisis, which has brought turmoil to schools, colleges and universities around the U.S. as they try to struggle to balance campus life with public health.
In September, more than 700 students at Oneonta tested positive for covid-19, resulting in in-person classes being shut down for the fall semester. State officials sent a virus-control crew to the university to try and stop the outbreak from spreading to the rest of the city, located about 170 miles northwest of New York City.
Morris came under fire after saying the school wanted to identify students for discipline and possible suspension in viral photos that showed students “violating strict safety protocols” at the school, Times-Union reported.
Photos on social media of partying students angered parents, staff members and town residents. Posts were widely circulated about students being removed from dorm rooms in the middle of the night by men in hazmat suits, NYT reported.
Students switched to remote instruction and moved out of on-campus housing after quarantine. Some remain in off-campus housing in the community.
SUNY Oneonta is the only one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities that was forced to take such drastic measures, the Daily Star reported.
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said Morris “informed me that she was pursuing other opportunities”.
The Oneonta outbreak was blamed on students who ignored social distancing and mask regulations, allowing the virus to spread through the campus.
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“We’re in this together, but we must all recognize that this is a serious situation and no time for celebration. This type of reckless behavior must be stopped,” Malatras tweeted in early September. “I urge the @SUNY_Oneonta administration to take immediate action and stop behavior like this going forward.”
Students’ responses were mixed on the news of Morris’ resignation, according to comments at AllOtsego.
“Oh my God! She was so good and well respected-I am so surprised.This is a tradgedy” Natalie Ciccariello said.
“She was a failure that was in way over her head,” JM Barberio replied. “Don’t know what it cost to get her out of there, but well worth the expense.
But don’t just blame Morris for the trainwreck that occurred at SUNY Oneonta’s botched semester opening. Blame the people who approved a horrible plan. Blame SUNY, New York’s horrible governor (Dictator) and the small minority of few irresponsible students.”