At the first in-person meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) since the COVID-19 pandemic began, administrators discussed far-ranging plans for progress on fossil fuel dissociation, sustainable campus construction, and health updates.
Eisgruber delivers divestment updates
After the CPUC Resources Committee voted for dissociation from fossil fuels last spring, it submitted its proposal to the Board of Trustees. With some modifications to the CPUC proposal, the Board agreed to dissociate from the thermal coal and tar sands sectors of the fossil fuel industry and companies that promote climate disinformation.
University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 emphasized at the meeting that the decision is about University values, not politics.
“Dissociation is about living consistently with our values as a university. It is not about advocacy or an attempt to influence the political process,” he said. “The purpose of selective divestiture is to separate the university from companies whose conduct contravenes the values of the university.”
Since the Board authorized dissociation last spring, administrative committees have been formed to create guidelines for dissociation.
“Over the summer, we had a series of conversations with internal and external experts,” said Vice President and Secretary of the University Hilary Parker ’01, who is also a CPUC member.
More recently, a “Faculty Panel on Dissociation and Metrics Principles and Standards” has been formed. The interdisciplinary panel will provide expertise on economics, environmental science, engineering, and politics related to dissociation.
The panel will consider questions like how to measure disinformation and how to implement dissociation measures. Throughout the year, the panel will work with the Administrative Committee to come up with “actionable goals.”
Parker said that she expected the panel might present at a future CPUC meeting. There is also a website coming out soon with more information on this process. However, Parker did not indicate when progress on any of these goals will begin.
Divest Princeton, which referred to the University’s announcement of partial dissociation as “inadequate” in July, is hosting a sit-in at Nassau Hall to push for further divestment.
One graduate student asked if future students might have to deny funding from certain organizations that are invested in fossil fuels. Eisgruber responded that the University already turns down funding from sources that do not align with University values, and it is possible that that category will expand with new guidelines.
Community impacted by campus construction
Multiple students at Monday’s meeting asked if on-campus construction start times can be pushed later, as they are disrupting students’ sleep.
According to administrators, there is no plan to do so long-term, as the University negotiated times with laborers before beginning construction. Construction must also hit certain milestones before winter weather makes work more difficult.
However, the University has scheduled specific times during particularly stressful weeks, including reading period and exams, when construction schedules will be more sensitive to student’s needs.
Demolition of the art museum will cease in November. In the meantime, the University will soon hold meetings with residents of Dod Hall and Brown Hall — those most affected by the art museum construction to discuss the accommodations.
Though the art museum construction is the most prominent on campus, the University has several other ongoing construction projects.
Executive Vice President of the University Treby Williams ’84 detailed the construction of two new residential colleges, currently named Residential Colleges 7 and 8, that will add approximately 1,000 beds to campus. This will allow the University to expand the student body by 10 percent.
There will also be a new parking garage east of Jadwin Gymnasium that will fit about 1,500 cars. Other new constructions include new buildings for Environmental Studies and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (ES + SEAS), and the Thermally Integrated Geo-Exchange Resource (TIGER) building.
Much of the construction is happening with the goal of reducing the University’s carbon footprint. Solar panels have been installed over the west-side parking garage and lot to increase the University’s use of solar energy.
“We're going from 4.5 megawatts to 16.5 megawatts of solar energy that will provide annual electricity demand of about 19 percent of our campus,” Williams said. “We are also doing a major infrastructure project which is moving us from carbon-based heating technology to a hot water energy system, and that's driven by electric heat pumps, by thermal storage, and by geoexchange.”
This work will involve a lot of vertical construction that will help remove heat from the ground over the summer and store it for use in the winter. Some of it will be implemented by 2023.
Administrators discuss COVID-19 cases and masking
One new concern on campus is the spread of respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms to COVID-19. Assistant Vice President of Environmental Health Services Robin Izzo said that in the past two weeks, 140 community members have submitted symptomatic COVID-19 tests and only one has come back positive.
The members of CPUC expressed satisfaction with how few COVID-19 cases the University has experienced recently. They urged University community members to submit COVID-19 tests the next day if they forget the test on their designated day.
Izzo also explained that they are hoping to launch a new tool this week that will remind people to submit their tests if they missed their scheduled test date.
Nolan Musslewhite ’25, a sports contributor for the ‘Prince,’ submitted a question asking if there are specific benchmarks in the COVID-19 dashboard that would loosen restrictions on masks. There are no specific benchmarks, according to the administrators.
As of now, cases remain low, there are no clusters, and there has been no transmission associated with in-person teaching. The positivity rate is at .08%, below the University’s .1% threshold for “low risk.”
Izzo also claimed that the undergraduate vaccination rate rose from 98 to 99 percent and the graduate student vaccination rate rose from 97 percent to 98 percent, although neither of these changes are designated on the University’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Izzo did advise caution, though.
“The cautious news is that surges can happen and that we still have high case rates in the surrounding community,” she said.
Almost all of the cases on campus are among vaccinated community members, and Izzo said that the Delta variant has accounted for all COVID-19 cases on campus.
Furthermore, the increased activity on campus from last semester means increased energy devoted to contact tracing. Izzo said that where people used to report one or two close contacts, most are reporting closer to 10 or 12 now.
In response to a question from Isabella Shutt ’24, a ‘Prince’ news contributor, Izzo explained that if the reopening of eating clubs to all students last weekend were going to affect transmission, we would expect to see a spike three to six days later — by the end of this week, but the spike could appear as late as 14 days after the parties.
Eisgruber also explained the University’s current mask mandate by saying that the University is looking at how other schools are handling COVID-19 and learning lessons from them. He referenced “bursts” on other campuses — even campuses with testing and vaccination — where there are rapid spikes in COVID-19 cases that require severe restrictions like virtual instruction, to-go food containers, and limited gatherings.
“We don't want to end up there,” he said. “Let's continue this masking that allows us to have a relatively normal term with all the activities that bring us the joy and learning and growth that we want from a college campus.”
Eisgruber urged community members who submit questions to actually attend the CPUC meeting.
New dean introduced, changes to CPUC announced
New Dean of Faculty Gene Andrew Jarrett ’97 was also introduced at the meeting. After graduating from the University with a degree in English, Jarrett has had a long career in academia, teaching in English departments and acting as an academic administrator. Jarrett was also named the William S. Tod Professor of English at Princeton.
“I'll always reaffirm the value of our faculty to the wonderful experiences of Princeton students and to the enterprise of scholarly research and innovation that continue to have an impact on the world,” Jarrett said.
At the start of the meeting, University Provost Deborah Prentice also introduced some changes to CPUC itself.
One addition was made to the charge to the Naming Committee. Whereas the committee always advised those considering changes to names, they are now charged to “proactively develop a list of names [and/or historical events/milestones]” to inform the University’s ... named programs, spaces, positions, or other forms of iconography,” according to a slide from the meeting.
They also decided to change the name of the Resources Committee of the Board of Trustees to the University Advancement Committee of the Board of Trustees.
CPUC was first created in 1969 with the goal of having a group of high-level administrators, students, faculty, and alumni to discuss any issues that are important to the University community.
New items can be added to the CPUC agenda by contacting someone in the executive committee, including Secretary of the Council Christine Gage.
The next CPUC meeting will be held on Nov. 8 at 4:30 p.m.
Marissa Michaels is an Associate News Editor at the 'Prince' who often covers town affairs and campus events. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @mmichaels22.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include corrected information about several points addressed during the meeting. The ‘Prince’ regrets these errors.