University administrators answer questions about COVID-19 response over Zoom| March 30, 2020
In a virtual meeting on Monday, administrators expanded on the University’s reasoning behind the recently-announced grading policy and reiterated the University’s commitment not to lay off workers during the coronavirus crisis.
The Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) met at 4:30 p.m. to address many community concerns about COVID-19. President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and other administrators discussed the University’s COVID-19 response and spoke on issues ranging from financial aid adjustments to commencement plans to an audience of at least 150 community members watching over Zoom.
The administrators present addressed various concerns, as well as questions about long-term contingency planning. In response to a question about whether the University will be able to function normally by Fall 2020, Eisgruber said that he is optimistic.
“It’s optimism that again depends on us as a society taking on the responsibilities we need to take on,” he added.
Eisgruber also did not rule out a commencement for the Class of 2020. He explained that the University’s late commencement date gives the administration until mid-April to decide on a course of action to recognize graduating seniors.
Robin Izzo, Executive Director of Environmental Health and Safety, said that there is a team of more than 50 people from across University departments working on the COVID-19 emergency management response.
Members of the team have been meeting daily since late January. According to an update from Izzo, University Health Services (UHS) is now aware of 47 community members who have tested positive for COVID-19.
In his plea for students across the globe to embrace social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19, Eisgruber said, “These changes are difficult, but they are critical.”
To a question that asked why students on campus are not allowed to meet with family members or friends in their dorm rooms — despite such activity being allowed under orders issued by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy — Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun explained that dorm rooms are not large enough to maintain proper social distancing practices.
“We don’t see it being appropriate in the size and scale of our dormitories,” she said.
Though acknowledging students’ concerns about the severity of punishments for social distancing protocol violations, Calhoun said the University “had to be insistent upon compliance” for public health purposes.
If a student on campus is in violation of guidelines, they may be asked to leave their on-campus housing.
In response to a question about on-campus students going hungry or paying for food out of pocket due to dietary restrictions, Vice President of University Services Chad Klaus requested that any students with dietary restrictions contact Susan Pierson and Campus Dining. They are working to address dietary needs on a case-by-case basis.
A group of administrators is beginning to investigate the possibility that some students would need stay on campus into the summer, but no decisions have been made.
University Provost Deborah Prentice explained that all students who returned home — including those on financial aid — are receiving full rebates on housing costs for the remainder of the semester, since those on financial aid may encounter additional costs after leaving campus.
The University made this decision “recognizing that those living costs will be borne outside of the University for the remainder of the term,” Prentice said.
Students can also apply to the University for hardship funds for special circumstances upon returning home. Eisgruber also assured students that the financial aid office will reevaluate any new need from families who have been financially affected.
At present, the University already offers loans to any families who need them at favorable rates and extended terms under the Princeton Parent Loan Program.
Many student employees are continuing to work remotely, and student employment will accommodate those who cannot. There is not, however, a clear plan yet for addressing students who lost summer internships or jobs on which they were financially dependent due to the coronavirus, but the administration is looking into the issue.
In regards to staff, Prentice added that the University has no intention of laying off University employees as similar institutions have done recently.
“All of our staff remain on full salary,” she said. “We are committed to our human capital and we want to keep everyone on full salary as long as we can.”
All presenters commended the University staff for their work — and in particular, Prentice lauded staff members who have changed their duties in light of not being able to do their normal tasks. Staff members remain on campus in essential roles.
In response to a question about remote course quality, Prentice said that the University will not be making any refunds on tuition and said that online classes “retain the rigor and the coverage of the material.”
“What hasn’t changed is our commitment to providing high quality instruction,” she added.
Deputy Dean of the College Elizabeth Colagiuri also clarified some details as to how the new University policy regarding PDF (Pass/D/Fail) classes came about — a policy announced on Friday.
According to Colagiuri, the Faculty Committee on the Course of Study heard two proposals on PDF policy from the USG Academic Affairs Committee last Tuesday, both of which ultimately passed.
One proposal was to make the PDF option available for all courses and to allow professors to make courses PDF only. The other was to let a passing grade satisfy any University requirement, including distribution, language, concentration, and certificate requirements.
The Committee added a policy amendment that will allow students to decide on PDF or drop a class until Dean’s Date on May 12 and another that leaves thesis deadlines in the hands of individual departments.
While the Committee did discuss a retroactive PDF option, which passed as a USG referendum December, Colagiuri said they decided against it because they felt it would invalidate passing grades — since the only reason not to retroactively remove a “P” would be subpar performance.
Some students had advocated that the University make all courses PDF-only due to concerns over equity in the transition to online schooling. On the other hand, some students were worried that not receiving a grade in certain classes might hurt their chance of being accepted to medical school.
Colagiuri maintained that “the community was quite divided,” based on the hundreds of emails the administration received from students, parents, and faculty.
Additionally, administrators said that while some medical schools may require grades, they believe that all admissions teams will be understanding of the unprecedented circumstances that students are facing.
“Our goal throughout all of the deliberations around grading policy was to increase the flexibility of our PDF policies to the maximum extent possible,” Colagiuri added.
The registrar is in the process of drafting notations for transcripts designating the extenuating academic circumstances of this semester.
Colagiuri also assured students that their normal academic resources are available to them. If anyone, including students sick with COVID-19, need accommodations, they can reach out to their Director of Studies or the Dean of their residential college.
Furthermore, the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning is conducting individual and group tutoring sessions for the classes that it normally offers, and is also offering faculty individual consultations to improve online teaching. The Writing Center is also conducting virtual sessions.
In their responses to student questions, presenters emphasized that these are unprecedented times requiring flexible responses.
“We’re going to do everything we can to support our community,” Eisgruber said.