ONEONTA, N.Y. — The president of a state university forced to close its campus when more than 700 students and faculty tested positive for COVID-19 has resigned.
Barbara Jean Morris, president of the State University of New York Oneonta, told her superiors last week of plans to “pursue other opportunities,” SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras announced Thursday.
Malatras announced an interim president, Dennis Craig, who was previously interim president at SUNY Purchase in Westchester County.
Little was said about Morris during a news conference Thursday. The college president was under fire when the number of COVID-19 cases ballooned shortly after the arrival of students for the fall semester.
In response to a reporter’s question, Malatras said, "Her decision to resign was of her own volition."
The outbreak was blamed on students who’d attended parties and ignored social distancing and face-covering regulations.
Because of the flare up in cases, in-person classes were canceled for the remainder of the semester and students moved to online instruction. On-campus housing was closed.
It was the only campus of 64 colleges and universities in the SUNY system forced to take such drastic measures, though others have suspended in-person learning for smaller periods of time.
Malatras said it’s not yet known if students will return to campus for the spring semester, though officials are working toward that goal. He said students and parents "have expressed interest" in resuming traditional college life.
"We'll have to be more vigilant than ever," he said.
Craig told The Daily Star the call to come to Oneonta was "sudden.” He admitted that the circumstances are challenging.
"I don't have any illusions or misconceptions about the difficulty," he said.
Local officials attended the news conference after a meeting with Malatras, Craig and other SUNY officials.
"I'm quite encouraged and I hope things will improve," said Oneonta Town Supervisor Robert Wood. He noted the importance of the college to the town's culture and economy, adding, "I hope they're successful and are able to get things going."
Robert Cairns is managing editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.