Princeton University officials expect to announce decision about spring semester in early December

Princeton University officials likely will announce a decision about how the spring semester will be conducted the first week in December, and are preparing for the possibility that the school will be able to welcome back “significantly more” undergraduate students in the spring.

University President Christopher Eisgruber informed university employees and students about the timeline for the announcement in a mid-semester email update.

“I recognize that the continued uncertainty is unwelcome, and I wish it were possible to make an earlier announcement,” Eisgruber wrote. “We have to contend, however, with factors beyond our control, including changing infection rates and their impact on the regulatory environment. Any apparent certainty that we might provide now would prove illusory because it would be contingent upon the impact of conditions that will change as the winter takes hold.”

Eisgruber said that though the early fall has gone well on campus and for many of the university’s peers in higher education, the next six weeks will provide officials with crucial information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic that will inform decisions about the spring semester. He noted that no one expected September to be the hardest month, that national infection rates have risen to near-record levels, and that New Jersey’s infection rates are rising. Things are expected to become more challenging as colder temperatures force people inside, the flu season begins, and people celebrate the holidays.

“We will continue to monitor the pandemic’s progress in American society at large and on college campuses,” Eisgruber wrote. “We are also working with the state government to determine how we can best protect our community and operate effectively as infection rates rise and fall.” 

Eisgruber said that campuses that have followed responsible public health guidance accompanied by extensive testing show no evidence so far that the virus is spreading in instructional settings or in dormitory housing. Infection rates for undergraduates at most of the institutions have been remarkably low, with the vast majority of cases that arise being traceable to off-campus social events, he said.

“I am grateful to Princeton’s students, faculty, and staff for consistently wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, and limiting unnecessary contact both on campus and at home. These simple measures are keeping people healthy and saving lives. Continued commitment to these best practices increases substantially the likelihood that we can bring back more undergraduate students for the spring semester,” Eisgruber wrote.

“In light of what we have learned from our experience and data from other colleges and universities, we are preparing for the possibility that we will be able to welcome back significantly more undergraduate students in the spring,” Eisgruber wrote. “If we are able to do so, residential life will, of course, be far more constrained than what existed before the pandemic began.”

University officials will be distributing a survey to a representative sample of students to help them assess how best to accommodate undergraduates on campus in the spring if the school is able to invite more undergraduates to return.