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A Cornell Professor Says Decision To Send Students Home Brought A Wave Of Emotions


ITHACA, NY (WSKG) - On March 13, Cornell University suddenly announced all classes would be suspended at the end of the day. A change from a decision two days before to switch to virtual instruction after spring break. Both decisions were out of concerns about COVID-19.

Professor Jane-Marie Law had already decided to move her classes online last week.

This semester Law is teaching two classes. One has 21 students. The other, a class about food systems, has six students. Every week that class meets in her kitchen. They cook together. Then they discuss the readings and the essays the students have written.

Being physically together, being able to look each other in the eye, is also an important to the way she teaches.

"Being there in the flesh, being able to see a face looking bored or looking confused or looking intrigued or looking fascinated, is part of teaching," Law said.

Law has been thinking about COVID-19 for weeks. She’s 62 and has some health issues. That’s why she had decided to begin teaching her classes online even before Cornell’s decision. For a couple of weeks, she had been telling her students she might have to move classes online to protect herself.

It was a hard decision for her.

"This isn’t just about the delivery of information to students," she said. "This is about cultivating relationships around ideas. You know, I love ideas. My students love ideas and we meet at this point of loving ideas and it’s, it’s a really magical thing that happens when you’re teaching."

Wednesday was Law’s first online class. Her students told her it went well but they really missed being together in her kitchen.

She could see everyone on her computer’s screen and when it was over she logged off.

"And I pressed the button and they all disappeared," she said. "And I started to cry, you know. And I started to cry, you know because I thought, you know, usually we walk out and there’s 4 or 5 of them and we walk down the hall together and some of them come to my office." The professor said she wasn't expecting to feel so emotional about her students leaving campus and classes going online.

Law said she’ll miss seeing her students in person, but thinks Cornell made the right decision in moving classes online. After spring break her class was supposed to go on field trips around the region, to places like farms and the food bank. Law said none of that will happen now.

Full disclosure: Cornell University is a WSKG underwriter.