Cannon Green was quiet in May 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic began and students were sent home.
Sameer A. Khan
‘Where schools and universities have started to bring back students, COVID cases have rapidly followed,’ President Eisgruber ’83 wrote

Princeton’s fall semester will now be virtual for all undergraduates, President Eisgruber ’83 said in an Aug. 7 announcement to the campus community explaining the reversal from the original plan.  

“With deep regret and sadness, I write to update you about our plans for the fall, and, in particular, to explain why Princeton has decided that its undergraduate program must be fully remote in the coming semester,” Eisgruber wrote. “In brief, the pandemic’s impact in New Jersey has led us to conclude that we cannot provide a genuinely meaningful on-campus experience for our undergraduate students this fall in a manner that is respectful of public health concerns and consistent with state regulations.”

Princeton’s original plan for the 2020-21 academic year, released July 6, invited all undergraduates back to campus for one semester — freshmen and juniors in the fall and sophomores and seniors in the spring. Most classes were expected to be virtual, with a limited number of in-person courses available. Returning students were to be tested for COVID-19 and required to wear face coverings while indoors, except for when they were in their dorm rooms. At the time, Eisgruber cautioned that it was possible “matters will get worse” and the University would need to alter its plans.

Citing the recent rise of cases in New Jersey, he noted it would be difficult to provide a “positive and safe on-campus experience in the fall.” New Jersey remains in phase 2 of its reopening plan, meaning limits are in place on indoor gatherings and activities such as the use of indoor dining areas and gyms. 

“We will continue to accommodate on campus those students whose situations make it extremely difficult or impossible for them to return to or study from home,” Eisgruber wrote. “We will also accommodate a very limited number of students with previously approved exceptions recognizing their need to be on campus for specific aspects of their senior thesis research or other work essential to their degree programs.”

Graduate students can still return to campus as planned. First-year and junior students in need of emergency housing must apply through TigerHub by Aug. 12. 

Princeton joins a handful of universities that have altered their fall plans in recent weeks. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education database, as of Aug. 7 nearly 5 percent of colleges have announced plans for fully online instruction in the fall, with another 24 percent opting for primarily online instruction and 16 percent adopting a hybrid of online and in-person classes.

Dean of the College Jill Dolan and Rochelle Calhoun, vice president for campus life, also emailed students to explain what the update means for the fall semester. They noted the new deadline is Aug. 12 for sophomores, juniors, and seniors to request a leave of absence and first-years to request to defer their start at Princeton. The add/drop period also has been extended to Aug. 12. In addition, there will be two town-hall meetings to discuss the updates on Aug. 11 and Aug. 13. The University’s modified schedule, beginning Aug. 31, remains unchanged. 

Despite the shift to fully online instruction, Dolan and Calhoun encouraged students to continue their education. “We realize that some of you might have good reasons to pause your progress toward your degree,” they wrote. “But if you’re able to continue your studies, our faculty and staff and students have worked hard this summer to plan virtual courses and co-curricular experiences that are innovative, creative, and exciting. And we’ll continue to support you as actively and comprehensively as we do when you’re on campus.” 

Eisgruber said he hoped to be able to bring students back in the spring, with priority given to the Class of 2021. “We look forward to that day, and until then we will work together with all of you to sustain this special community in the face of the unprecedented challenges we’re confronting together,” he wrote.