On March 11, Provost Deborah Prentice and Executive Vice President Treby Williams emailed all faculty and staff members the following:
A year ago this week, Governor Phil Murphy declared a public health emergency in New Jersey in response to the growing threat from COVID-19. The twelve months since have tested all of us, and tested our University, in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We are proud of everything each of you has done to keep Princeton going, and to allow us to continue to meet our commitment to world class teaching and research under these trying circumstances.
The progress we have made in understanding and responding to this pandemic has been nothing short of extraordinary. Thanks to our community’s commitment to following public health and safety guidelines, we have been able to continue our academic work and return many of our undergraduate students to campus. With the rate of vaccinations increasing weekly, we are optimistic that we will be able to provide an even more vibrant campus experience in the fall.
The progress we’ve made, however, is not a guarantee that we will be able to return to full, pre-pandemic operations across the University in the summer or fall. Returning to in-person operations in all of our activities will be a complex process guided by public health experts, state regulations, and logistical realities. Some restrictions will undoubtedly extend into the next academic year.
Last April, we wrote to share the principles we would follow to navigate this pandemic. Today we are reaching out to share the principles that will guide our return to in-person operations.
Our guiding goal is to resume a fully in-person residential program. Residential, in-person teaching and research is what distinguishes academic life at Princeton. We want students, faculty, researchers and staff back on campus so that teaching and learning can return to our classrooms, studios, and labs. We also want students engaging in as full a residential life program as possible, taking part in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that allow them to learn and build community. There may still be a need for some public health restrictions that impact what we can do and how we can do it, but as President Eisgruber said in his annual letter to the community, “We are planning for the fall with the expectation and intention of resuming fully in-person residential instruction.”
Prioritizing Teaching and Research. Preparations for the fall semester will prioritize operations that directly support our in-person teaching and research operations. In the last twelve months, we have reinvented almost every aspect of our operations. We are looking forward to returning many of those operations to a pre-pandemic footing, but those changes will not happen immediately. That shift will take careful planning, and certain activities will resume more quickly than others, with a priority given to teaching and research related operations.
Public Health Guidance Will Continue to Inform Campus Policies. We hope and expect that many of our current public health restrictions will be lifted or significantly modified by the fall semester. That said, the rate of vaccination or a newly emerging strain of the virus may mean that some necessary restrictions remain in place. It is not difficult to imagine a fall semester in which many of us have received the vaccine but the CDC is still recommending face coverings or meaningful restrictions on travel from certain U.S. states or parts of the world. As a campus, we will continue to set our policies based on guidance issued by the CDC and the state of New Jersey. And we will continue to expect students, faculty, researchers and staff to respect those policies, regardless of their vaccination status.
It is impossible to predict exactly which restrictions will be lifted and when. A great deal of uncertainty remains about the course of the pandemic in the coming months. We will continue to communicate in the weeks ahead about the fall, and how our planning will affect different parts of the campus and our community. Based on the principles we have laid out and informed by what we do know about the progress of vaccination, we can share the following general guidance for fall planning:
• Undergraduate and graduate students should plan to be on-campus for in-person instruction next semester. Additionally, graduate students should plan to be on-campus for research, except where approved by the Graduate School to be in absentia through the normal approval process.
• Faculty should assume a return to in-person instruction on campus for the coming academic year.
• Staff working remotely will return to campus on a rolling basis as determined by operational progress and need. That said, all staff members should anticipate being back at work on campus no later than the start of the 2021-2022 academic year. Additional details will be provided as they become available regarding when and how various departments will shift their operations to support the principles outlined above. These details will include guidance on the process for a return to campus for those staff members who have been working remotely.
• Planning for on-campus and off-campus activities will depend on changes in CDC and state guidance. You should not plan events or gatherings until they are allowable under current campus policies. For instance, if an on-campus conference would require external participants to gather on campus or travel to New Jersey, you should not schedule or start planning that event until gathering size limits and travel restrictions are appropriately eased or lifted. Because current circumstances prohibit such gatherings, please don’t begin scheduling or planning in-person on-campus conferences, symposia or meetings at this time.
• The vast majority of summer programs, including undergraduate teaching, will remain remote. Any typical on-campus instruction—from the Freshman Scholars Institute to the Scholars Institute Fellows Program to the Princeton University Preparatory Program—will remain virtual for summer 2021. Because University-sponsored travel remains prohibited, activities such as international language courses and Global Seminars must also remain virtual.
We know you will still have many questions about the fall. We will continue to communicate with you as we are able to provide more clarity. None of us could have predicted the year we’ve had, and none of us can fully predict what lies ahead. We are confident, though, that with your support we will be able to provide a meaningful and rich on-campus experience for the upcoming academic year.
Thank you for everything you have done to keep this community moving forward over the past year. We are lucky to have all of you here at Princeton, and we could not have made it this far without your hard work, flexibility, good humor, and dedication to our mission. We can’t wait to see all of you, and to be able to celebrate our successes and work through our challenges in person.