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Administrators detail plans for anticipated return to normalcy in the fall

<h5>Mark Dodici / The Daily Princetonian</h5>
Mark Dodici / The Daily Princetonian

Since mid-March, the University has expressed its intention to invite all students back for a fully in-person fall 2021 semester. At a town hall yesterday, administrators spoke in more detail about what that might look like.

During the April 6 event, hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government, a group of 16 University administrators answered questions about all aspects of campus life regarding this spring, summer, and fall — from commencement guests and exams to housing and vaccinations. For next fall, the administrators present at the event said they expect campus life to return to a sense of normalcy and expressed hope that residential life, dining, eating clubs, breaks, grading, financial aid, and athletics will return to pre-pandemic norms.

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“I think a year ago our message would have been, you know, plan for us to not look normal, and if we are able to look more normal, we will let you know,” said Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Brent Colburn. “I think the message that everyone should take out of tonight is assume that that will be a residential experience on campus.”

“There may be some modifications, but as you're making mental plans, it would take something very unusual at this point...for us to be in a position where we're really looking at rolling things back,” he added.

While daily life in the fall will be determined by the course of COVID-19, Director of Health Services Robin Izzo said she hopes that the University will not have to enforce social distancing. It is unclear if there will be a testing protocol, according to Izzo. She indicated that if there was mandatory testing, it might be less frequent than it is this spring.

The University has not yet decided whether it will require students, staff, and faculty to be vaccinated by next semester.

There is not yet a timeline for when an official announcement regarding the fall will be made, but the University expects to invite all students, staff, and faculty to campus in the fall, and will require that students attend class in-person if possible. As usual, first-years and sophomores would be required to live in University housing and upperclassmen have some additional housing and dining choices but would be expected to have access to campus.

According to Vice President for University Services Chad Klaus, there is a “decent chance” that the University will be required to have isolation housing, but University Housing has yet to determine where isolation housing may be located in the fall and is waiting to conduct room draw until they have more health guidance from the state. So, room draw might be delayed further this semester until that information becomes clear, said Klaus.

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With this anticipated return to campus, Klaus said Campus Dining plans to return to typical protocol, with each dining hall serving different options and a more diverse array of food. Eating clubs are also set to reopen in “full swing,” according to Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun.

The Davis International Center will also work with students who need exceptions to the on-campus requirement, including international students living in areas where they cannot get a visa, added Director of Global Safety and Security TJ Lunardi.

Academic policy is set to return to normal; courses are expected to be held entirely in person. The unlimited P/D/F grading policy that has been in place for the last three semesters will revert back to the policy of allowing students to elect only one P/D/F grade each semester, contributing to four allowed during a student’s time at the University.

Financial aid will also return to pre-pandemic policies, and there will no longer be a 10 percent reduction in tuition as there was in the 2020-2021 academic year. The $3,500 expected student contribution will return as well, as regular student employment will be available on campus.

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The academic calendar currently includes a full week for fall and spring break. Both were substantially shortened in the 2020–2021 academic year.

During the town hall, Dean of the College Jill Dolan and Calhoun acknowledged the toll that this semester has taken on students’ mental health. They pointed out that factors like the shortened spring break and on campus online learning have negative effects on students’ mental health.

“This year has been so taxing on so many of us for so many different reasons,” Calhoun said. “Some folks talk about it as the double pandemic, the virus and then, you know, the race and racism that has been sort of prevalent in our minds and in our experiences over this past year. So we really appreciate that all of those things are additive to the level of academic stress that students are experiencing.”

Dolan assured attendees that faculty members were encouraged to scale back examinations and assessments, not to assign work over break, and to provide self-scheduled exams. However, she acknowledged that some professors did not listen to that advice.

“I very much hope that faculty are getting the word and are being very clear about what their expectations are aware of how difficult this semester has been for students,” Dolan noted. “That said, we know that students are stressed and anxious.”

Spring and Summer

Regarding the remainder of the spring semester, Vice President and Secretary of the University Hilary Parker ’01 expressed optimism that all graduating seniors will be invited to commencement and allowed to invite two guests each — whether or not these guests are participating in  the University testing protocol. Details are still being worked out with the state, but she said the administration plans to make a more detailed announcement in the next week.

Seniors will have 48 hours after commencement to vacate campus, regardless of whether commencement occurs on May 16 or May 17, the rain date; exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

All other students on campus must sign up for a move out date and time through the move out website. Move out for non-seniors will take place from April 28 to May 15, and once each students’ move out time ends, they will no longer have access to dorms or campus facilities. While administrators are requesting that students leave campus once they no longer have exams with the goal of preventing traffic congestion on campus, Johnson said this process will rely on an honor system.

Off-campus storage companies will not be allowed access to campus, so students should plan to use campus storage, according to Director of Housing Dorian Johnson. The University will not cover storage costs but can assist students on financial aid, he said.

Regarding vaccine distribution this spring, Izzo explained that the University is prepared to be a vaccine clinic, but the state first has to designate it as one before the University can distribute vaccines. Everyone in New Jersey ages 16 and older will be eligible for a vaccine on April 19. However, the Princeton area has not been provided many vaccines, according to Izzo.

For students able to be vaccinated elsewhere, Dolan cautioned students to avoid scheduling vaccine appointments close to their spring exams to avoid negative side effects of the vaccine hurting exam performance.

One student asked if international students from areas that do not have vaccine access could be prioritized in a campus vaccination campaign if it occurs on campus this spring. Izzo explained that New Jersey would first have to decide if the University is allowed to prioritize certain groups. Izzo is working with a committee to discuss prioritizing high-risk students and people with limited access to vaccines including some international students.

For the coming summer, the administrators explained that University travel guidelines are unlikely to change beyond the regulations announced last month.

Currently, the only students allowed on-campus summer housing are those who need continuous housing and rising seniors who need campus access for thesis research. At the town hall, Deputy Dean of the College Elizabeth Colagiuri said that the University does not expect to expand the population allowed on campus over the summer.

Summer financial aid grants will not be provided by the University but only directly through host programs. However, students will be able to work on campus over the summer, according to Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Mellisa Thompson. Applications for external summer courses are due on April 19.

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