Princeton president: University will move to virtual instruction following spring break

Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber announced Monday morning in a letter to students, faculty and staff members that the school will move to virtual instruction after spring break and decrease the number of gatherings on campus because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Spring break begins Saturday and ends March 22.

“Since I last wrote to you, the epidemic has progressed. Though we continue to believe the risk of transmission on our campus is currently low, we know that community spread is occurring in various parts of the United States, including in the state of New York, which has declared a state of emergency. University campuses in the Ivy League and elsewhere are adapting policies in response,” wrote Eisgruber.

“While much remains unknown about COVID-19’s epidemiology and impact, our medical advisers tell us that we should proceed on the assumption that the virus will spread more broadly and eventually reach our campus,” Eisgruber wrote. “They also tell us that the best time to put in place policies to slow the spread of the virus is now, before we begin to see cases on our campus, rather than later. Acting now will also give students who wish to do so the option to stay home after spring break and meet academic requirements remotely.”

Eisgruber said the university will begin instituting a series of policies and practices this week based on the concept of social distancing in order to mitigate the growing risk of transmission. 

“Our goal is to decrease the number of instances that require community members to gather in large groups or spend extended periods of time in close proximity with each other. To achieve this goal, we will virtualize any activities, such as lectures, seminars, and precepts, that can be put online,” he wrote. “We will continue to support, where possible and subject to appropriate restrictions, research, educational, and campus life activities that require physical presence. These measures are being taken to help ensure the health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff, and to decrease any potential impacts on the larger community.”

Social distancing will include a mandatory, temporary move for all lectures, seminars, and precepts to virtual instruction starting on Monday, March 23. The university is also encouraging students to consider staying home after spring break. Students who choose to remain home after spring break will be able to meet their academic requirements remotely.

“Though we recognize that a personal, “high touch” educational environment is one of Princeton’s great strengths, we also recognize that these are extraordinary times that require exceptional measures to deal with a health risk that affects us all,” Eisgruber wrote. “For that reason, we are creating, supporting, and mandating alternative ways of meeting our academic and other programmatic requirements in ways consistent with social distancing.”

The university will also limit the number and size of campus gatherings and meetings, and restrict university-sponsored travel. Information will be provided this week about virtual instruction, as well as how the new policies will impact daily operations, Eisgruber said.

“We understand that these and other measures will cause significant disruption and inconvenience to the campus community, but we strongly believe that actions taken now will have the greatest chance of decreasing risk, and that the potential consequences of not acting could far outweigh these short-term disruptions,” Eisgruber wrote.

The new policies will be in place through Sunday, April 5. School officials will reassess the policies as that date approaches and communicate any changes as early as possible.

“We will continue to work with our local, state, and federal partners to address the impacts of COVID-19 based on the best available public health expertise and recommendations,” Eisgruber wrote. “I appreciate that these measures impose significant restrictions and costs on projects that matter tremendously to each of us.  I also understand that people may have different views about how to respond to the risks and uncertainties that we face, but I ask all of you to join in supporting these policies, which address a threat affecting us all.”

The university web page about the coronavirus caused confusion across campus late Sunday night and early Monday, according to the student newspaper the Daily Princetonian. A university spokesperson told The Daily Princetonian that the information on the page was revealed inadvertently. The new information on the web page went live again after 9 a.m. Monday.