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English Department Faculty: Why Princeton should allow for remote teaching this semester

Thirty-six English Department faculty call on the University to allow for remote teaching

McCosh Hall
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authorsviews alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.

This letter was submitted to administrators on Tuesday, Aug. 24.  


From the members of the English Department Faculty

Given the surge of the Delta variant and the rise of breakthrough cases among the vaccinated, we call upon the University to reverse its policy compelling universal in-person teaching this Fall irrespective of health conditions.

Delta: What we know

The University is relying on vaccination and testing to keep the community safe. Yet new findings from studies in Israel and the CDC show that the Delta variant is twice as infectious and can overcome the protection of vaccines at rates that cannot be ignored.

According to “Nature,” studies show that vaccinated people “can carry as much virus in their nose as do unvaccinated people,” thus spreading the virus to others.

The University testing system does not protect the community against those who, infected shortly after being tested and remaining asymptomatic, will unknowingly spread the virus before being tested in the following week.


Since May 1, 2021, the CDC has tracked only those breakthrough cases resulting in hospitalization and death, classifying all other cases as “mild.” But “mild” underplays the risks of “long COVID” for patients, hospitalized or not. These include increased risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, neurological damage, chronic joint pain, acute respiratory distress syndrome, brain fog, memory loss, and chronic fatigue.

Many of us were vaccinated seven, and even eight, months ago; and for this group the vaccine’s prophylactic capacities have diminished significantly. By mid-semester, this will be true for nearly all vaccinated faculty. Booster shots for the most vulnerable will not be available until late in the semester.

Where we are

We prefer teaching in person, but the safety of the entire community comes first. Within our department alone, we have faculty who are immunocompromised, others who are living in households with immunocompromised family members, and many caring for unvaccinated children who are both vulnerable to the virus and capable of conveying it. Faculty who commute to the University on public transit will also bring the virus into the classroom.

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Risk is significantly compounded by the fact that McCosh Hall is one of numerous buildings without safe teaching spaces. None of its classrooms have adequate ventilation and, with no social distancing, students and teachers will be sitting closely together for periods of up to three hours. All day students will be crowding unventilated stairways and corridors leading to McCosh lecture halls. The windowless basement rooms have no air circulation and yet have been assigned to our faculty and graduate teachers for the coming semester. And our staff work in shared cubicle spaces that see constant traffic throughout the day.

As we now adapt to the rapidly changing risks of the Delta variant, we need a maximum degree of flexibility in our teaching. We ask Princeton to take the lead, alongside Rutgers, Rice, Tufts, the University of Pittsburgh, and others, in allowing for remote teaching. This will enable us all both to maintain the safety of our community and properly to focus our efforts on the Department’s central mission: teaching students well.

August 23, 2021


Eduardo Cadava, Philip Mayhew Professor of English 

Anne Anlin Cheng ’85, Professor of English

Andrew Cole, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature | Professor of English 

Bradin Cormack, Professor of English

Maria DiBattista, Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English 

Jeff Dolven, Professor of English

Diana Fuss, Louis W. Fairchild Class of ’24 Professor of English 

Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English

William Gleason, Hughes-Rogers Professor of English and American Studies

Claudia L. Johnson, Murray Professor of English Literature

Rhodri Lewis, Senior Research Scholar/Lecturer with Rank of Professor

Rob Nixon, Barron Family Professor in Humanities and the Environment | Professor of English

Jeff Nunokawa, Professor of English

Gayle Salamon, Professor of English and Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies

Esther Schor, Leonard L. Milberg ’53 Professor of American Jewish Studies | Professor of English

Nigel Smith, William and Annie S. Paton Foundation Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature | Professor of English

D. Vance Smith, Professor of English

Susan Stewart, Avalon Foundation University Professor of the Humanities | Professor of English

Susan Wolfson, Professor of English

Zahid R. Chaudhary, Associate Professor of English 

Sophie Gee, Associate Professor of English

Russ Leo, Associate Professor of English 

Meredith Martin, Associate Professor of English 

Tamsen Wolff, Associate Professor of English

Sarah Chihaya, Assistant Professor of English

Monica Huerta, Assistant Professor of English and American Studies 

Christina León, Assistant Professor of English

Paul Nadal, Assistant Professor of English and American Studies 

Robbie Richardson, Assistant Professor of English

Autumn Womack, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies

Sarah M. Anderson, Lecturer in English and Program in Medieval Studies 

Rebecca Rainof, Research Scholar in English

April Alliston, Professor of Comparative Literature | Affiliate Faculty in English

Anne McClintock, A Barton Hepburn Professor in Gender and Sexuality Studies | Affiliate Faculty in English

Fintan O’Toole, Leonard L. Milberg ’53 Visiting Professor of Irish Letters | Affiliate Faculty in English

Evie Shockley, Bain-Swiggett Visiting Professor of Poetry & Poetics (Fall 2021)

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that 36 English Department faculty signed this letter, not 37, as previously stated. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error.

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