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Administrators discuss fall plan reversal at USG Town Hall

<h6>Mark Dodici / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Mark Dodici / The Daily Princetonian

Last updated on August 14.

“Princeton was just not going to be the Princeton that we wanted for you,” Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun said to over 700 attendees of a Town Hall on Tuesday, explaining the University’s sudden shift to fully-virtual instruction.

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During the event, which was hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), administrators answered questions about the University’s dramatic change in plans and how it will impact students. Calhoun, Dean of the College Jill Dolan, and other administrators also responded to student concerns involving financial aid, spring semester planning, leaves of absence, and storage. 

Calhoun noted that per New Jersey’s travel advisory, over half of the students invited back to campus would have been required to undergo a 14-day quarantine — many in non air-conditioned rooms — due to traveling from a certain state or territory, or from abroad. She also said that because the eating clubs will be closed, campus dining would have been “pretty restrictive.” Residential halls would be unable to utilize common spaces, per New Jersey mandate.

“With all of those factors we just felt that the experience that we would be able to create was even subpar to the experience we had envisioned for the fall with just half of our students,” Calhoun said. 

Dolan said that academically, they had hoped in-person instruction would be possible for returning students. A week before the announcement was made, the University released specific plans for “hybrid” instruction for first-year students — including multiple in-person seminar classes. However, this was premised on New Jersey moving to stage three by the start of the semester, which Dolan said looks very unlikely. 

“Since most teaching would be remote anyways, we decided that the best option would be a remote semester,” Dolan said.

Looking forward to the spring semester, Dolan reiterated prior plans to prioritize sophomores and seniors during the town hall. Soon after, Dolan issued a correction, writing in a statement to USG on Wednesday that she misspoke.

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“I said that as far as I knew, the plan hadn’t changed. But in fact, if any students are able to come to campus in the spring, the University will prioritize seniors,” Dolan wrote to USG on Wednesday. “We don’t at this point know which, if any, other classes of students will be invited back. Plans change quickly, as you know.” 

During the event on Tuesday, Dolan also said that the University “[has] been planning for a summer session and what that would entail. It might be a way for students to make up classes they were not able to take during the year and it may be an opportunity for students to gain back time at campus that has been lost.”

Update: On August 12, the University hosted a separate meeting for parents and families, during which administrators provided some more details about a potential summer session.

“Princeton is planning two 6-week summer sessions for Summer 2021. This is entirely new and still in development. We hope it will provide an opportunity for students to take courses on campus,” according to meeting notes

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During the USG Town Hall, administrators also addressed concerns involving leaves of absence and admissions deferrals. Dolan clarified that continuing students may be granted a one- or two-year leave depending on enrollment constraints. Requests can be rescinded for returning students, but per Dean of Admission Karen Richardson ’93, “only first-year students who are required to take a two-year leave would be able to rescind.”

Dolan noted that while on a leave, students will not have access to University resources such as the library and cannot attend virtual events.

“When you take a leave of absence, you are not a formal part of the University community,” she said. “Taking a leave of absence means separating from the University. No student employment or research funding will be available. That’s our standard practice.”

Update: During the Town Hall, Dolan also said that students on leave may not “be in touch with faculty members.On August 14, she issued the following clarification in a statement to The Daily Princetonian:  

"Today, several faculty members have written to me to object to a quote the Prince published in which I inadvertently said at the student town hall last Tuesday that students on leave could have "no contact" with faculty members. Allow me to clarify: Students on leave and their professors can certainly continue to communicate with one another as they wish and according to the generous spirit of intellectual engagement and respect that I hope founds all these relationships.

I simply meant to emphasize that when they take a leave-of-absence, students' access to University resources is curtailed. As a result, students cannot expect faculty to continue to advise their junior or senior independent research during the student's leave. And students on leave are not eligible for student employment or research funding. They can, however, access certain programs in the Center for Career Development. Let me refer you once again to the TimeAway website for further details.

I do apologize for the imprecision of my speech at the town hall and any consternation it might have caused either faculty or students."

Additionally, University Deputy Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told the ‘Prince’ on August 13 that “The Center for Career Development, Chaplains and the Davis Center may work with students on leave as resources allow.”

During the student question portion of the town hall, Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Robin Moscato also addressed concerns related to the unchanging amount of expected family financial contributions despite a 10 percent decrease in tuition.

“The way that we run our financial aid program in terms of determining what families are expecting to pay isn’t based on what we cost. Usually, cost of attendance can go up but students on financial aid are buffered due to their expected financial contribution staying the same,” Moscato said. “This is an extraordinary circumstance where tuition has been reduced but that doesn’t change how the office calculated the expected financial contribution. The biggest change for this year is that we have waived the student contribution of $3,500.”

Moscato clarified that parent contributions remain unchanged despite any adjustments to the cost of tuition or lack of room and board fees. 

Calhoun added that the University will cover the costs of storage for items students left on campus in March. For students who left items in study abroad storage, Calhoun said that more information will be coming soon, but the University intends “to support students whether in continuing storage or to have them returned.”

For courses requiring materials that would typically be provided in the classroom, Deputy Dean of the College Elizabeth Colagiuri noted that kits and materials will be sent to students’ addresses that are listed in TigerHub. She added that Labyrinth Books will cover the cost of two shipments of textbooks. 

Labyrinth will open Aug. 15 and remain open for students until the middle of September, according to Colagiuri. She suggests first-years do not order books until class selection on Aug. 25, and all other students order their coursebooks on or soon after the 15th.

The Town Hall was held via Zoom on Aug. 11.

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