University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and other administrators addressed a range of topics at Monday’s Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) meeting, including updates on vaccination, dining options, efforts to fight systemic racism, contact tracing, and fall 2021 campus plans.
In the past week, 43 undergraduate students were placed in quarantine after being identified as “close contacts” of students who tested positive for COVID-19, Executive Director of Environmental Health and Safety Robin Izzo said at the meeting. Izzo added that during the same period, 26 students were in isolation after testing positive.
In response to an inquiry about vaccination, Izzo told attendees that the University has not yet received any vaccine doses from the state of New Jersey.
“We do expect to receive vaccines from the state when it becomes more available, so probably when we get more into Phase 2.” Izzo said. “The timing of that is really tough to predict, so I can’t really say with any certainty whether we will have this by the end of the semester or not.”
In a January statement to the Daily Princetonian, Health Officer of the Princeton Health Department Jeffrey Grosser wrote that Phase 1C vaccinations would arrive “by early spring.”
“For now, we are working with the town and with other health departments to try to make it more convenient for people who are in the current phase that allows the vaccine,” Izzo said.
In response to a student question later in the meeting, Izzo told attendees that contract workers, such as those from Restaurant Associates, will be included in University vaccination efforts.
Riley Martinez ’23 inquired about dietary options in light of student concerns, particularly from vegetarian and vegan students on campus.
Executive Vice President Treby Williams explained that given the closure of eating clubs and co-ops, many more undergraduate students than usual are on a University meal plan and eating at campus dining halls.
“Things are not normal,” Williams said. “We don’t have the same kind of capacity for supplies, for preparation, for delivery, that we have in normal times. That being said, of course we want to accommodate people’s dietary needs to the extent that we can.”
“We can do better and are committed to doing that,” Vice President for University Services Chad Klaus added.
Both Williams and Klaus said that they have heard concerns from the student body about dining services. Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun added later in the meeting that she and Smitha Haneef, Assistant Vice President of University Services, will be “meeting with a group of students to consider their concerns.”
Two CPUC undergraduate student members, Juan Nova ’23 and Julia Garaffa ’23, inquired about in-person courses and labs, respectively.
Eisgruber cited his current experience teaching 12 students in a facility built for 60, and stated that efforts are underway to provide faculty with opportunities for “meaningful in-person contact” even as most courses remain virtual. He also mentioned the possibility of in-person office hours and events later this spring, “as we get more opportunity to do things outdoors.”
Provost Deborah Prentice responded to Garaffa’s question about in-person lab research by saying that the Office of the Dean of the College and the Office of Undergraduate Research are both “working on” the question.
“We know how important it is for students, and we’ll get there if we can,” Prentice said.
Racial equity initiatives
Two student CPUC members inquired about the University’s prioritization of long-term institutional goals amid a comprehensive COVID-19 response, as well as the relative strength of racial equity initiatives alongside a University-level commitment to free speech.
Eisgruber, who has spoken widely about the need for free speech, said that the University is committed to addressing “multiple crises at the same time.”
“There’s opportunity as well as challenge in the confrontation with racism that we are all going through as a nation and as a world, and we need to seize that opportunity,” Eisgruber said. “There’s no vaccine, there’s no injection, that ends that particular crisis. It’s not a one-year or two-year initiative. So this has to be work that is sustained, and sustains us, over a period of time.”
“Both are top priorities,” he added, referring to the COVID-19 response and ongoing efforts to address systemic racism.
Drawing on previous critiques of the University’s free speech policy, a later question asked more pointedly how the University “can be dedicated to fighting racial equity ... when it constantly turns its face from inequity on its own campus in favor of free speech.”
Eisgruber disagreed with some aspects of the question. In response, he made the case that while “censorship and suppression are the wrong ways to confront speech,” it is important for everyone to know right from wrong and “counsel” peers on inclusivity. Days earlier in his State of the University letter, Eisgruber wrote that the University’s core value is “truth-seeking, not free speech per se” — adding that the institution should not “treat all opinions as equally legitimate.”
In response to a panelist’s question about how the University’s COVID-19 plan will respond to new strains of the virus, Izzo and Eisgruber cited “non-pharmaceutical interventions” like hand-washing, masking, and social distancing as good ways to protect against infection, no matter the strain. Eisgruber also mentioned that the University has consulted an epidemiologist as new variants arose to ensure adequate planning for quarantine and isolation.
To one student’s query about room draw for the 2021-22 academic year, Klaus said that room draw will not occur during its typical early-spring window, as administrators hope to wait until plans for fall 2021 are clearer.
“We might have to do more than one [room draw],” Klaus said.
Another attendee asked about plans for virtual reunions, after the University’s recent announcement that this year’s reunions and 2020 commencement — postponed from last spring — will be virtual.
Vice President for Advancement Kevin Heaney said that teams are working to construct a new virtual reunions program, adapting the event from last year’s virtual event based on campus and community feedback.
Finally, a question from newly-elected USG president Christian Potter ’22 concerned plans for a return to on-campus normalcy in fall 2021.
Eisgruber reiterated that an on-campus fall is “the presumption we’re making,” while acknowledging that any change in public health could rapidly alter plans.
“My bet is that we’ll be much more normal,” Eisgruber said. “But I can’t give you any guarantees.”
The meeting took place as a Zoom webinar at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 8. The next CPUC meeting is scheduled for March 22.