Princeton U. to undergrads: Return home and stay there for the rest of the semester

Princeton University officials announced on Wednesday night that all undergraduate classes will move online for the remainder of the semester and all undergraduates should remain home for the duration of the semester because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’ve all had a very tumultuous week, as the news about COVID-19 changes moment by moment. We appreciate your patience as we’ve worked diligently and carefully to make decisions and arrangements to address the impact of this international public health crisis on our campus. This unprecedented situation forces us to guide campus behavior by making tough calls on a daily basis, which must then be refined as we gather more information each hour from public health officials,” wrote Jill Dolan, dean of the college, and W. Rochelle Calhoun, vice president for campus life, in a letter to students Wednesday night.

‘We write to refine our guidance now.  We realize this is not how you want to conduct your Princeton semester. We know you’re heartbroken at the prospect of leaving your friends, professors, and other campus colleagues. And we know this is not how you expected to study and participate in campus life at Princeton. We’re so very sorry the coronavirus has proliferated and changed everyone’s lives so dramatically, for now,” the letter reads. “But our number one goal during this crisis is to ensure the health and safety of our students and community. We know that these policies will cause serious disruptions.  We’ll continue to work with you and our faculty and staff to mitigate the impact of these necessary public health decisions.”

All students who are able to must return home and stay home for the rest of the semester. “University settings like Princeton present unique challenges during a pandemic, because of the density of students living and studying in close quarters. Large, highly concentrated numbers of students living on campus will increase the chance of rapid transmission of the coronavirus. Furthermore, our capacity to quarantine those who are sick and those who have been exposed is extremely limited,” reads the letter.

“The more students who leave campus, the more we can decrease the potential health risk to the larger community. The more students who leave, the easier it will be to care for those who may become ill and to manage the eventual impact of this virus,” reads the letter.

Officials said that for a variety of reasons, some students cannot return home, and officials will work with those students to ensure they can remain on campus.

“Returning home represents a vital gesture of care for those who can’t leave campus,” reads the letter. “We appreciate your generosity and your understanding as you support your fellow students and other more vulnerable members of the campus community.”

Students who are currently participating in university-sponsored study abroad programs may not return to campus unless they meet certain criteria.

Undergraduates will be able to meet their academic requirements remotely. Students who remain on campus will also receive their instruction online. On-campus social activities and interactions will be severely limited as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the disease, officials said.

Students are only permitted to remain living on campus until the semester ends if: They are seniors who must conduct lab or other Princeton-based research for the senior thesis; they are facing housing insecurity, homelessness, or a precarious living situation; they are facing financial insecurity; they were previously certified “independent for the purposes of financial aid”; they are athletes still in competition and are required to be on campus; they currently reside in “family housing”; they are international students who have immigration, travel, and/or visa restrictions; they students whose homes are in countries currently designed at warning levels 2 and 3, and USDOS Levels 3 and 4 for COVID-19; or they are international students whose homes are in areas with extremely limited internet connectivity.

Students must register to stay on campus. Card access will be deactivated for other undergraduates by March 19. Students have been asked to pack and leave the campus by themselves in such a way that they don’t need help from parents to leave.

All classes, lectures, seminars, labs, and precepts will move to virtual instruction beginning Monday, March 23 and will remain virtual through the end of Spring 2020, including exams, school officials said.  

“We realize that some of your coursework will be significantly hampered by this teaching format. We’ll help your instructors accommodate this shift in the best possible way. As we continue remote instruction, we’ll guarantee that you’ll be able to complete your Princeton academic work for the spring semester,” reads the letter.

School officials are studying a variety of strategies to alleviate stress for students and faculty, including pass/fail options for the whole semester, re-weighting midterm examinations, and other policy adjustments.

“The campus is confronting an enormous disruption. Please bear with us as we assess the best and most equitable way to move forward, and know that we have your academic interests and the integrity of your Princeton degree front of mind,” reads the letter.

The university is prepared to provide financial assistance to students who need it for travel, and room and board will be reimbursed at a pro-rated rate to take into account the period for which students are not on campus.

For students who remain on campus, to promote social distancing, meals will be available from campus serveries to box up and take back to dorm rooms or to eat on site. Whether or not a student is on a meal plan, the student must remain on campus. Meals will be available for free. All eating clubs and co-ops will be closed. Members of clubs and co-ops will be able to eat meals from the serveries on campus.

All student organization events will be canceled, postponed, or held remotely. Other campus events will also most likely be canceled or postponed. No final decisions have been made yet about commencement or reunions, officials said.