August 12, 2020

Princeton and Rider Among Universities To Keep Students Off Campus

By Anne Levin

Princeton University’s announcement last Friday that no undergraduates will be on campus for the fall term marked a reversal of an earlier plan that would have brought students back in shifts. Other area universities have also revealed details about the fall semester, some of which are revisions of previous plans. Rider University announced Tuesday afternoon that it will move to entirely remote instruction for the fall semester.

“With deep regret and sadness, I write to update you about our plans for the fall, and, in particular, to explain why Princeton has decided that its undergraduate program must be fully remote in the coming semester,” Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber wrote in a letter to the campus community. “In brief, the pandemic’s impact in New Jersey has led us to conclude that we cannot provide a genuinely meaningful on-campus experience for our undergraduate students this fall in a manner that is respectful of public health concerns and consistent with state regulations and guidance.”

The University had previously planned to host sophomores and seniors starting late this month, while the classes of 2021 and 2023 would be on campus starting in January of 2021. But with infection rates soaring around the country and nearly two million cases reported over the last month, things changed.

“First, the health risks to the campus and surrounding populations appear greater now than they did just a month ago,” Eisgruber wrote. “Reopening efforts in New Jersey and elsewhere have demonstrated how difficult it is to contain the disease.  Where schools and universities have started to bring back students, COVID cases have rapidly followed.”

Should the school be able to welcome back students in the spring, the highest priority would be members of the class of 2021. “We hope we will also be able to bring back additional students.  We cannot, however, make any guarantees,” Eisgruber wrote. “We will communicate with you about the spring semester in the weeks and months ahead.  Please know that we are doing everything we can to make possible a residential semester in the spring.”

Rider’s “Resolved and Ready” plan was built on the premise that New Jersey would have moved to Stage 3 of its multi-phase reopening plan by the start of the academic year. But that has not happened, and the school is planning on all-remote instruction for the entire fall semester. Still, students who have received confirmation of on-campus housing can continue to live at the school if they choose to do so, Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo wrote in a letter to students.

“This fall we will continue to provide quality student services to meet student needs. Offices will be staffed, as necessary, to support student and operational needs,” Dell’Omo wrote. “As has been the practice during remote learning in late spring and summer, all campus offices will also be accessible remotely via email, phone, and Zoom interfaces. These include all of our student support services such as the Student Navigation Office, Registrar, One Stop Services, Financial Aid, Academic Success Center, Center for Career Development and Success, Residence Life, Student Accessibility and Support Services, Student Health Center, Counseling Services, and Center for Diversity and Inclusion, just to name a few.”

There are limited exceptions that may be made to the all-remote rule, for a small number of science labs and computer labs. A decision will be issued soon, Dell’Omo said. No theatre, dance, and music classes can be offered in person during the continuation of Stage 2.

The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) also revised its plans for fall. While originally scheduled to have some students on campus in the fall, Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent decision to keep New Jersey in Stage 2 of reopening places too many restrictions on campus operations. As a result, all fall 2020 courses will be offered remotely. The school will house a small number of residential students on campus and will further reduce in-person, on-campus activity.

“To the incoming Class of 2024, I know this is not how you envisioned spending your first semester of college, especially after ending your senior year of high school remotely,” wrote TCNJ President Kathryn A. Foster. “Please know that we are developing new Welcome Week plans for you. Consistent with state
guidelines, we hope to augment virtual orientation experiences with in-person visits to campus to learn about services and meet with classmates, staff, and others in socially distanced settings. First-year students and incoming transfers will receive an email in coming days outlining plans for virtual and possible in-person options.”

Rutgers University held a COVID-19 International Students Town Hall on Tuesday morning, August 11, addressing fall 2020 academic issues and concerns. While the school in New Brunswick is open and operating, classes are given remotely — with the exception of clinical instruction. The University has developed a testing strategy using risk assessments as part of a return-to-campus program, and is also taking other action to mitigate the virus.

To give families a financial break, Rutgers has reduced fees by 15 percent, which means at least a $300 reduction in term bills over the academic year. “New Jersey has suffered immensely from the virus and its devastating effect on our economy,” President Jonathan Holloway wrote to the community last month. “No one in the Rutgers community has been immune from the impact of the pandemic. Many in our community have lost loved ones, fallen ill themselves, stayed home to care for their families, or felt the financial impact of lost jobs and closed businesses. Rutgers remains committed to doing everything it can to help our students, our community, and our state persevere through this crisis.”