Princeton University goes fully remote for Fall 2020

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Here is the press release:

Dear Princetonians,

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.  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 and guidance.

When I last communicated with you, just over a month ago, we anticipated welcoming undergraduates from the Classes of 2022 and 2024 to campus in late August.  We noted at the time, however, that we would continue to monitor the course of the pandemic, and that we might have to change our plans if it worsened.  In the weeks that followed, infection rates soared around much of the country, with nearly 2 million new cases reported over the last month.  This development had two serious adverse consequences for Princeton’s ability to provide undergraduates with a positive and safe on-campus experience in the fall.

First, the health risks to the campus and surrounding populations appear greater now than they did just a month ago.  Reopening efforts in New Jersey and elsewhere have demonstrated how difficult it is to contain the disease.  Where schools and universities have started to bring back students, COVID cases have rapidly followed.

People throughout this University have done outstanding work to prepare the campus to receive students safely, but the risk of widespread contagion and serious illness remains.  Moreover, even if we successfully controlled on-campus spread of the disease, transmission rates might rise statewide or in our region.  We might then have to send undergraduate students home again or impose exceptionally severe restrictions on their mobility and interaction with one another.

Second, the persistent spread of COVID-19 compelled New Jersey to preserve and augment restrictions that it expected to ease.  New Jersey, like most states, has instituted a phased approach to managing public activities during the pandemic.  In early July, New Jersey had reached stage 2 of its reopening plan, and officials were optimistic that we could soon move to stage 3.  The state, however, had to pause its plan to avoid the spikes of infection that occurred in other states as they reopened.

Instead of loosening regulations, New Jersey justifiably imposed some new ones.  For example, over the past month New Jersey has roughly tripled (from 12 to 34) the number of states whose residents must quarantine for 14 days after arriving in New Jersey.  We believe that Governor Philip Murphy and his administration have skillfully and responsibly managed the extraordinary challenges of COVID-19 and the risks it poses to New Jersey, and we appreciate their attention both to the pandemic and to the complex needs of the higher education sector.

New Jersey’s careful approach has helped to keep the pandemic in check, but public health principles and state guidance still limit very substantially what we can do on campus.  For example, they prevent or severely constrain our ability to provide several key elements of residential life, including indoor dining, student gatherings, and access to indoor common spaces and gyms.  Colleges and universities have not yet received general authorization to teach in-person classes.  Moreover, many out-of-state students now face strict quarantine requirements upon their arrival in New Jersey.

Read the rest here.