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U. evaluates options for fall term, including online instruction

<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The University is evaluating a variety of options for the 2020–2021 academic year, including the possibility of remote instruction, according to an announcement on Thursday, April 23.  

The Academic Year 2021 Coordinating Committee, chaired by Provost Deborah Prentice, will make the final decision. The University has not yet set a date for settling on a plan of action.


“The global coronavirus pandemic gives increased vitality and urgency to Princeton’s teaching and research mission, even as it requires us to find new ways to pursue this mission,” Prentice said in the press release.

Universities across the country are grappling with financial, educational, and public-health concerns, as they determine how to structure the fall semester.

On Wednesday, Harvard University announced in an email to students and faculty that it will resume teaching and research in the fall, whether on-campus or virtually.

In an April 26 op-ed published in The New York Times, Brown University President Christian Paxson, the former Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, wrote, “The reopening of college and university campuses in the fall should be a national priority.”

Campus research and residential life

Per the University’s statement, the Coordinating Committee’s work is guided by the principles of “ensuring the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff; restoring teaching and research activities to normal operations, safely but as soon as possible; sustaining the University’s commitments to access and affordability; and retaining and supporting Princeton’s talented workforce.”


In addition to the Committee, groups within the University are exploring the logistics that would be required to restart different facets of the campus community. A group of faculty led by Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti is developing guidelines for how on-campus research could be resumed.

“The proper time for implementing the phased resumption of on-campus research will be determined by the University’s leadership taking into account the health and safety of our faculty, students, and staff,” said Debenedetti in the press release.

The University’s statement also notes, “Plans to resume on-campus research are separate from decisions about when the University could safely resume undergraduate teaching.” 

Debenedetti did not respond to request for comment.

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University Executive Vice President Treby Williams ’84 is leading the Coordinating Committee’s work on planning campus operations. In the announcement, she emphasized the importance of considering all possible options.

The University’s statement further articulated that the “nature of undergraduate residential life on campus will depend on factors such as the availability of COVID-19 testing, public health guidance regarding social distancing, state rules on group gatherings, and the availability of quarantine and self-isolation facilities on campus.”

Additionally, the Office of the Dean of the College and the Office of Information Technology are exploring how virtual instruction can continue if necessary. 

“We’re thinking through how to teach and learn in more creative, dynamic and interactive ways should we have to continue virtual instruction,” said Director of the McGraw Center Katherine Stanton in the announcement. “We’ll consider the ways we can leverage new and emergent technologies.”

Colleges plan for an uncertain fall

As the University drafts contingency plans for the fall, there is no shortage of examples to follow.

Boston University announced a COVID-19 recovery plan earlier this month, which includes five panels investigating how campus life, undergraduate and graduate programs, research, and residential life will be further impacted by an online semester. 

“The plan’s overriding goal is to define what a residential research university will look like in the early days of the post-pandemic world,” said President Robert Brown in a statement released by Boston University.

San José State University (SJSU) has released a plan that stands out from others. Per an email sent to faculty and students on April 22, SJSU willl offer online or hybrid online and on-campus courses.

Many of the other California colleges are still deciding on their course of action. Stanford University, for instance, will make a decision in May and is considering delaying the fall quarter until winter. 

In announcing Harvard’s decision to reopen, Harvard Provost Alan Garber affirmed that Harvard had considered a number of plans.

“A range of scenarios has been and will continue to be evaluated for the fall, from fully restored on-campus activities — a ‘normal’ return to campus — to delaying the opening of the University until next spring semester,” Garber wrote, according to The Harvard Crimson. 

Cornell University expects to announce a final decision in June. 

‘What I want more than anything else is for us to go back’

For students interviewed by The Daily Princetonian, the precarity of the fall semester has been a source of stress. Some say that in the event of an online-only fall semester, they would attempt to take a gap year. 

Magdalena Poost ’22 is one of those students.

“Part of why I chose Princeton was the opportunity to study abroad,” she said. She added that it also depends on what “trade-offs are put in place to discourage people from gapping.” 

“I am on full financial aid, so a reduction in tuition or anything like that wouldn’t entice me to stay enrolled online,” she added.

Ethan Magistro ’23 also said he would consider taking a gap year, but if circumstances don’t allow him to do so, he expects the University administration to offer compensation. 

“After all, tuition pays for the location we’re in, the people we see, and the resources we have,” he said. “With just online classes, the amount charged for attending is just not fair.” 

Emily Della Pietra ’23 expressed sadness over losing time on campus but acknowledged that “no amount of wanting a college experience can change the reality of COVID-19.” 

“What I want more than anything else is for us to go back in the fall, even if it means life on campus would change a bit, like everyone wearing masks,” she said.

Della Pietra, an aerialist, jokingly added that she might just “drop out and join the circus.”