Rutgers University officials are still weighing plans for the fall semester

Rutgers University President Robert Barchi issued an update to students, staff and faculty on Tuesday regarding plans for the fall semester.

Graduate education will return to a combination of in-person and remote education in September, Barchi said in an email to the Rutgers community. University officials are still assessing the final status of undergraduate education for the fall, he said.

“Rutgers faces a unique set of challenges, located as it is in the region with the highest level of infection in the world—meaning that even as the number of cases continues to decline in New Jersey, the residual level of cases remains much higher than almost anywhere else in the country. Further, we are conducting our planning in a rapidly changing public health environment, with the real possibility of a rebound in COVID infections and the uncertainty of evolving state orders and guidelines limiting face-to-face instruction constraining our actions.” Barchi said. “Because of these factors, the evaluation of how best to bring people safely back to our campuses over the coming weeks and months will remain a fluid process, with some decisions deferred until further information on these factors becomes available.”

The university’s COVID-19 task force has been looking at a variety of ways to repopulate Rutgers in the coming months. Rutgers has moved forward to reopen elective and ambulatory practices at Rutgers Health. Outpatient care will continue to increase as much as possible with social distancing. Barchi said telemedicine also will continue to play a major role in outpatient activities. Elective surgeries and procedures are being performed at a pace that will approach pre-crisis levels in the next few weeks, Barchi said, adding that he hopes research capacity at the university will approach 100 percent by the end of August.

“A core part of our mission in serving the state and country is the research activity of our faculty, staff, and students. During the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of our research has been exemplified both locally and nationally by the impact of the Rutgers COVID-19 saliva test,” Barchi said. “We are moving aggressively to reopen all of our faculty research venues in a staged manner over the next eight weeks and are presently moving toward 50 percent capacity in our labs. As we move forward, we will announce procedures for all investigators and staff working in and around lab facilities to be screened before returning.”

Graduate education will return to a combination of in-person and remote education in September, Barchi said. “Much of graduate education depends on research activity, and we must do everything we can to help our graduate students achieve the timely completion of their studies,” he said. “For this reason, graduate education will be prioritized for access to campus facilities wherever possible—again, in absolute adherence with state and federal guidelines, testing expectations, and strict plans for protective distancing.”

Professional education will also return to a combination of in-person and remote modes at the discretion of chancellors. Professional students will be given priority access to campus facilities when feasible, and health sciences professional students will have access to training at university healthcare delivery sites.

Telecommuting policies for university employees have been extended through the end of June, and officials hope offices can safely be repopulated in September. The university is developing a testing and contact tracing program as a critical component of repopulating campuses.

“Within the next week, we will issue an extensive document that provides comprehensive guidance on what will be required to ensure every Rutgers space and building has adequate protection and ample social distancing, including staffing rotations, traffic flow signage, sanitation, and face-covering expectations,” Barchi said.

School officials are still assessing the final status of undergraduate education for the fall semester and will make a final decision about the scope of in-person education by the first week of July, Barchi said.

Barchi noted that instruction in some undergraduate disciplines must be delivered in-person such as the arts, engineering design projects, and undergraduate clinical instruction. “Our current thinking will prioritize in-person instruction in areas like these while respecting state and federal health and safety guidelines concerning the density of students who can occupy the campus,” he said.

“We acknowledge and are sympathetic to the frustrations of our undergraduate students and their families as they seek clarity about arrangements for the fall semester,” Barchi said. “Because of the complexities created by adhering to protective distancing guidelines in our residence halls, dining facilities, and transportation system, undergraduate education remains the most difficult area of planning.”