The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authors’ views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.
Over the last week, several undergraduate and graduate students have written to senior academic administrators and the medical staff at University Health Services (UHS) to express their concerns about the University’s decision to proceed with in-person teaching and learning as we begin the spring semester. Some have also signed a petition requesting remote options for teaching and learning throughout the full spring semester. We have heard these concerns and would like to use this space to respond and provide additional context around our commitment to maintaining in-person instruction for the spring.
This commitment is informed by the significant educational benefits associated with this mode of learning; the success we have already had over the fall semester with our mitigation efforts; and recommendations based on up-to-date modeling of infection rates that were made by the University’s public health team, which includes clinical and faculty experts. We have benefited from the fact that our spring semester starts later than most of our peers. Additionally, the University’s phased return of undergraduate students and staff following the winter break has allowed us to begin the semester with confidence in our ability to support all students and faculty.
The petition submitted to us claimed that “fully vaccinated and boosted students on our campus have had severe infections that required emergency care.” In fact, in our two years of managing this pandemic, we are not aware of a single undergraduate or graduate student infected with COVID-19 and placed in isolation by Princeton’s Global and Community Health who has needed significant medical intervention, emergency care, or hospitalization for acute COVID-19. According to UHS, only one student over the past two years was sent to the emergency room for COVID-19, and that student was sent directly back to our campus for isolation, without any medical intervention. The nurse practitioners at UHS follow every single Princeton student – undergraduate and graduate – who they know is isolating for COVID-19, whether that student is on our campus, in another state, or in another country.
We expect the increase in COVID-19 infections on our campus due to the omicron variant to be temporary. As we have already announced, faculty have full discretion to switch to remote formats of instruction temporarily if they must isolate or if a critical mass of students in a class they are teaching must isolate.
But in light of our vaccination and booster requirements, our masking requirements, and our current twice-weekly testing requirements for all students, we continue to believe that our mitigation efforts are sufficient to continue with the in-person learning that is so central to our mission. To date, we have found no indications of on-campus spread of COVID-19 in environments where all present are appropriately masked.
We remain fully committed to residential, in-person teaching for all students this semester. At the same time, we will be following the data closely as the semester proceeds. As is always the case, students who have specific needs about which they would like to speak to a medical practitioner may reach out to UHS directly. The Office of Disability Services is similarly available to all students with questions about disability accommodations. Undergraduate students may also contact their residential college staff about any additional concerns; graduate students may be in touch with their departments and programs and with the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School. Faculty with questions about in-person teaching and learning may reach out to the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.
We wish all members of the University community a successful start to the spring semester.
Cole M. Crittenden is the Acting Dean of the Graduate School. Jill Dolan is the Dean of the College. Gene A. Jarrett is the Dean of the Faculty.