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ELE professor ‘overstated the situation’ when telling students that ‘all teaching will be online’ out of ‘enthusiasm to improve’ instruction

The facade of a beige building and glass door with the background of a grey sky.
Engineering quadrangle entrance.
Albert Jiang / The Daily Princetonian

Editor’s Note: At 7:05 p.m. on June 23, Electrical Engineering concentrators received an email stating, “for sure all teaching will be on-line” in the fall. At around 8:40 p.m., after receiving comment from the University, the ‘Prince’ published this piece with the following headline: ‘All teaching will be online’ in the fall, writes ELE director of studies to students; U. maintains, ‘Planning continues in real time.’ At 10:05 p.m., James C. Sturm, the professor who had sent the email, responded to a request for comment from the ‘Prince,’ clarifying that he had no inside information about fall planning and had overstated the situation. This story — and its headline — have been comprehensively updated to reflect this response.

In a an email to all electrical engineering (ELE) concentrators on June 23, professor and ELE Director of Undergraduate Studies James C. Sturm wrote that fall semester teaching will proceed online “as it was in the latter part of the spring.”


“The state of the fall semester will be announced by President Eisgruber in early July, but for sure all teaching will be on-line as it was in the latter part of the spring,” Sturm wrote to students.

In a statement to The Daily Princetonian several hours later, after his original message had circulated among a number of student groups, Sturm clarified that he “overstated the situation.” Sturm added that he “should have said on-line teaching ‘is a strong possibility’“ and has no inside information about what Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 will announce in July.

In early May, Eisgruber sent a letter to the University community on May 4, which asked “faculty members to begin planning now under the assumption that their classes will be online in the fall.” Pointing to this letter, Sturm clarified that the ELE department and others “are continuing such planning and on-line course improvement, through the rest of the summer if necessary.”

Sturm sent the initial email to all ELE concentrators at 7:05 p.m. with the subject line “Looking for paid [students] help to develop better on-line EE teaching for the fall.” In the email, he wrote that the ELE department is soliciting concentrators to work with faculty to improve the student experience. The department is also collaborating with the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and the Council on Science and Technology, according to Sturm.  

“This will go well beyond just ‘technology’ issues (such as a better Zoom), with a goal of restructuring our teaching approaches to result in increasing engagement and better learning outcomes in this new world,” he wrote. “It is important that you collectively (our ‘customer’) be an integral part of this process.  Surely you will bring a dimension that the faculty can’t.”

In his statement to the ‘Prince’ three hours later, Sturm wrote that he overstated the situation in his “enthusiasm to improve our online teaching should it be necessary.” 


“I should have said on-line teaching ‘is a strong possibility,‘“ Sturm added. “I’ve been working hard on such planning since May, so that has led to my enthusiasm for the planning.”

When originally asked to comment on the accuracy of the email, University Deputy Spokesperson Mike Hotchkiss referred the ‘Prince’ to a recent comment made by Spokesperson Ben Chang: “Planning continues in real time as we look towards announcing our plans for the undergraduate teaching program this fall.”

The University is still “on track,” according to Chang, to make a comprehensive announcement about the state of the fall semester in early July. 

Chang further noted in an email to the ‘Prince’ that recently released N.J. guidelines for reopening colleges require universities to “make accommodations for students who cannot be on campus, which will require online options.”

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In his follow-up message, Sturm further clarified that “online teaching and students on campus are entirely separate issues.”

A student interviewed by the ‘Prince’ expressed a sense of uncertainty surrounding the fall semester after reading the email from Sturm.

“I kinda had to read it a couple of times because it’s still really vague as to what capacity online teaching is going to take place,” wrote electrical engineering concentrator Ben Herber ’22 to the ‘Prince.’ “Though I really am happy that EE [electrical engineering] is making sure to plan ahead and involve students in making it better because it reinforces how much I know my [department] cares about me and everyone else in our department.”

N.J. new cases and deaths caused by the novel coronavirus peaked in early April and have declined significantly since. However, several states have reported their highest numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic in the last week. As of June 23, over 120,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 according to the Center for Disease Control.  Still, around 65 percent of colleges nationwide are planning to hold classes in-person, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Last updated at 10:51 on June 23.