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U. admin talks anti-racism, COVID-19 at first fall CPUC meeting

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

On Monday, Sept. 21, the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) resumed its regular meetings via Zoom. During the meeting, administrators commented on the Department of Education’s recently-announced investigation into the University, gave an update on campus COVID-19 protocols, and spoke briefly about plans for the spring semester.

President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 told attendees that the University has not altered course in response to the federal investigation, which seeks to determine whether the University has discriminated on the basis of race since Eisgruber took office in 2013. The Department of Education has justified the investigation by claiming that statements Eisgruber recently made about the persistence of systemic racism on campus “admitted racism.”

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On campus, students have begun eating indoors in dining halls, and all have completed mandated travel quarantines. Campus updates for spring 2021 are projected to be released in early December.

Q&A Session

The meeting’s Q&A session — which consisted of pre-submitted questions and live questions submitted through Zoom — kicked off with a question from a student on the University’s policies for ensuring staff will have enough time to vote in November’s general election.

“The University takes seriously the duty and responsibility to vote,” Executive Vice President Treby Williams said. “We encourage flexibility among managers and employees to ensure that employees can cast their votes, and this includes ability to vote after, before, and during work hours if necessary.” 

Another student asked about the potential impact of the decision by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to investigate the University’s admission of past racist practices, to which Eisgruber replied that there would be no changes in the University’s current plans to combat systemic racism.

In response to a group of graduate students inquiring about reparations to descendants of slaves, Eisgruber confirmed that Nassau Hall is considering no such plans.

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A question from another group of graduate students suggested that a number of University contractors had been laid off since March and had not received any benefits, and asked if the University was aware of this. 

Williams responded that the University only employs contractors from three different groups: Compass Group, First Transit, and American Campus Communities. According to Williams, the first two groups furloughed some of their employees over the late spring and summer and have provided benefits and unemployment eligibility, and the third group have not furloughed or laid off anyone. 

“I want to thank all of the workers who have been flexible about assignments in a way which has allowed us to productively employ them,” Eisgruber added. 

COVID updates

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Following the Q&A session, Provost Deborah Prentice provided a brief COVID-19 update. According to her report, all undergraduates and most graduate students are, by now, out of travel quarantine, and indoor dining has resumed in the Butler-First and Proctor dining halls. In addition, Dillon Gymnasium and the pool are now open for approved students — by reservation only and following strict social distancing and cleaning protocols. 

According to Prentice, 30 University teams continue to plan and implement new strategies for the academic semester, ranging from online teaching innovations and research continuity to community support and campus operations. 

Julia Garaffa ’23 asked about the University timeline for decisions regarding instruction next semester, but Prentice responded that there is no firm timeline beyond an announcement in early December. The University is developing scenarios that would involve bringing back different numbers of students to campus, and current plans would be unaffected by an early vaccine announcement. 

Anti-racist initiatives

In the last section of the meeting, four officials gave presentations on their respective fields of anti-racist initiatives. 

Dean of the Faculty Sanjeev Kulkarni provided an update on faculty and pipeline diversification. He underlined the University’s progress in diversifying its graduate student body as well as a postdoctoral fellowship program. Kulkarni claimed that diversifying the faculty would require more time, but that the University hopes to ramp up its pace. 

After Kulkarni’s update, Executive Vice President Rochelle Calhoun touched upon issues regarding education, training, and professional development. She mentioned the University’s ongoing efforts to engage on issues of race with the community.

She also encouraged community members who experience acts of racism to contact Vice Provost Michele Minter or to submit an anonymous report. 

Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Jim Matteo focused on issues of supplier and contractor diversity across all facets of the University. He said the University has been diversifying its supplier base since 2015, with an emphasis on expanding competitive bidding, particularly by reaching out to new firms. 

Finally, Prentice talked briefly about the University’s developing plans to make a Princeton education available to a wider range of learners, but underscored that the project is only in its infancy. As an example of a similar project, she cited the University’s prison teaching initiative. 

Eisgruber closed the meeting by thanking the local community for high levels of compliance with COVID-19 regulations. 

“It takes every single person,” Eisgruber said. 

Additionally, Eisgruber said that community members should not place undue emphasis on individual CPUC meetings to track the University’s anti-racism work. He stressed the continuous, but gradual, nature of the changes being undertaken by the University.

CPUC plans to provide updates every following meeting on COVID-19 and the University’s anti-racism initiatives. According to Provost Prentice, the council will provide updates on the ad hoc committee on sexual climate, culture, and conduct in November, as well as a report from the resources committee on a divestment proposal.

The next CPUC meeting will be held on Nov. 9, 2020, at 4:30 p.m. EST.

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