Princeton University officials: ‘Goal is to resume a fully in-person residential program’ in the fall

Princeton University officials told university employees in a memo on Thursday that the school’s goal is to resume a fully in-person residential program in the fall.

The memo, sent by Provost Deborah Prentice and Executive Vice President Treby Williams, outlines principles that will guide the university’s return to in-person operations.

“Thanks to our community’s commitment to following public health and safety guidelines, we have been able to continue our academic work and return many of our undergraduate students to campus. With the rate of vaccinations increasing weekly, we are optimistic that we will be able to provide an even more vibrant campus experience in the fall,” reads the memo. “The progress we’ve made, however, is not a guarantee that we will be able to return to full, pre-pandemic operations across the university in the summer or fall. Returning to in-person operations in all of our activities will be a complex process guided by public health experts, state regulations, and logistical realities. Some restrictions will undoubtedly extend into the next academic year.”

Prentice and Williams wrote that the university’s “guiding goal” is to resume a fully in-person residential program in the fall. “Residential, in-person teaching and research is what distinguishes academic life at Princeton. We want students, faculty, researchers and staff back on campus so that teaching and learning can return to our classrooms, studios, and labs. We also want students engaging in as full a residential life program as possible, taking part in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that allow them to learn and build community,” they wrote. “There may still be a need for some public health restrictions that impact what we can do and how we can do it, but as President Eisgruber said in his annual letter to the community, ‘We are planning for the fall with the expectation and intention of resuming fully in-person residential instruction’.”

Priority will be given to resuming teaching and research-related activities. Prentice and Williams said public health guidance will continue to inform campus policies. “We hope and expect that many of ur current public health restrictions will be lifted or significantly modified by the fall semester.  That said, the rate of vaccination or a newly emerging strain of the virus may mean that some necessary restrictions remain in place,” they wrote. “It is not difficult to imagine a fall semester in which many of us have received the vaccine but the CDC is still recommending face coverings or meaningful restrictions on travel from certain U.S. states or parts of the world. As a campus, we will continue to set our policies based on guidance issued by the CDC and the state of New Jersey. And we will continue to expect students, faculty, researchers and staff to respect those policies, regardless of their vaccination status.”

Prentice and Williams said undergraduate and graduate students should plan to be on-campus for in-person instruction next semester. Faculty members should also assume a return to in-person instruction on campus for the coming academic year.

Staff working remotely will return to campus on a rolling basis that will be determined by operational progress and the university’s needs.  Prentice and Williams said all staff members should anticipate being back at work on campus no later than the start of the 2021-2022 academic year. 

Prentice and Williams said planning for on-campus and off-campus activities will depend on changes in CDC and state guidance. “You should not plan events or gatherings until they are allowable under current campus policies. For instance, if an on-campus conference would require external participants to gather on campus or travel to New Jersey, you should not schedule or start planning that event until gathering size limits and travel restrictions are appropriately eased or lifted,” they wrote. “Because current circumstances prohibit such gatherings, please don’t begin scheduling or planning in-person on-campus conferences, symposia or meetings at this time.”

The vast majority of summer programs, including undergraduate teaching, will remain remote. Williams and Prentice said officials will continue to update the community about fall plans in the coming weeks.

“None of us could have predicted the year we’ve had, and none of us can fully predict what lies ahead,” they wrote. “We are confident, though, that with your support we will be able to provide a meaningful and rich on-campus experience for the upcoming academic year.”