Message from President Eisgruber on Fall 2021

May 20, 2021

Dear Princetonians,

On May 16, we completed an extraordinary semester by holding one of the most unusual Commencement ceremonies in Princeton’s history.  The proceedings in Princeton Stadium may have lacked the intimacy of the traditional events on Nassau Hall’s front lawn, but they were nevertheless deeply moving, joyous, and memorable.

We now look ahead to what I expect will be a much more normal fall semester.  I write today to supply some details about our planning.

Before I turn to that topic, however, I want to thank everyone in our community who enabled us to pursue our teaching and research mission safely and responsibly this spring.

I want to start with our undergraduate and graduate students.  We invited all of them to campus this spring because we believed that they had the discipline and community spirit required to live and learn consistent with public health guidelines.

Our students surpassed even our high expectations.  Their care, and their sacrifices, kept our campus healthy and our community safe.  Indeed, the University’s on-campus infection rates were consistently lower than rates in the surrounding region.

I also want to offer special thanks to Princeton’s staff, faculty, alumni, parents, and friends.  Our staff’s dedicated and creative response to the pandemic enabled us to support our students in some of the most difficult circumstances the University has ever faced.  Our faculty members’ energetic and innovative adaptation of their teaching and research carried forward the University’s mission and sustained its excellence in a time of crisis.  And Princeton’s alumni, parents, and friends provided critical encouragement and support even while they coped with COVID-19’s impact on their own lives and families.

These remarkable efforts have helped us persist through the past year and laid a firm foundation for the coming fall.  We can enter next semester confident that this community’s fortitude, resilience, and care will allow us to address challenges successfully as we restore normal operations and navigate what we hope are the closing stages of this pandemic.

Our successful effort to control the spread of COVID-19 on our campus this spring is one of many reasons for our optimism about the coming year.  Most importantly, scientists have rapidly produced a collection of safe and effective vaccines that protect against COVID-19. These vaccines are now readily available in the United States.  Returning our lives and campus to normal depends on achieving high vaccination rates.  A vaccination protects not only your health but the health of our community.

With vaccination as the foundation for a safe campus environment and optimism that social distancing restrictions will be lifted, we are planning a fully residential program for the fall.  While we cannot yet provide complete details, the baseline expectation should be normalcy.  In most areas, and especially in those essential to our teaching and research mission, you should anticipate that Princeton University will be operating very much as it did before the pandemic struck.

  • We expect enrolled students to be in residence; we expect teaching to be in person; we expect to have a full roster of extracurricular and co-curricular activities; and we expect the University’s staff to resume on-campus work and operations.
  • We plan to return to our normal academic schedule, including week-long fall and spring breaks as in years past.  Opening Exercises are scheduled for Sunday, August 29, 2021, and the first day of classes is Wednesday, September 1, 2021.  Other relevant dates appear on the registrar’s website.
  • We expect that our residence and dining halls will operate at normal capacity.  We also expect that the eating clubs will be open.

Despite our hopes for normalcy, some restraints will remain in the summer and will extend into the fall.

  • We are requiring all students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and to provide proof of vaccination by August 1, 2021, in order to enroll for the fall semester.
  • We are considering ways to increase vaccination rates across campus, including a potential vaccination requirement for faculty and staff.  For now, we are asking everyone who works at Princeton to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to upload their vaccination status to VacStatus.
  • We appreciate the desire of vaccinated faculty and staff to return to their offices in advance of the fall term.  However, at present, New Jersey public health regulations continue to restrict our ability to fully repopulate University buildings.  We anticipate that the State will relax these restrictions over the coming weeks as vaccination levels rise and infection levels drop.  We will let you know when changes to the regulatory environment permit us to loosen current University restrictions.  Until that happens, however, we must ask faculty and staff to continue abiding by previously approved reopening plans.
  • The University’s new travel guidelines, which take effect on May 24, 2021, are now more permissive, but substantial restrictions are likely to remain in place through at least the end of the calendar year.
  • We anticipate that some public health measures, including periodic asymptomatic testing and face mask requirements in certain settings, may remain necessary in the fall.  The nature of these measures will depend on the state of the pandemic; they could change over the course of the semester.  We expect to provide additional information as the fall term approaches.
  • We do not yet know what kinds of on-campus gatherings will be possible in the coming academic year, nor do we know whether we will need to limit visitors to campus.  We therefore continue to ask that you refrain from planning in-person academic conferences or other events until further notice.

Despite these significant caveats, I anticipate that the semester that begins in late August will resemble a “normal” year (if there is such a thing at Princeton!) far more than the difficult and distanced 2020-21.  That is because we now have what we all hoped for last spring: safe and effective vaccines, created and delivered more rapidly than any other in human history.

Our teaching and research mission requires that we seize the opportunity that the vaccines have given us.  We must do everything possible to restore the full and vibrant Princeton community we so cherish.  Given what we accomplished over the past year, I am confident that we will lean vigorously into the far more welcome challenges that lie ahead.

I look forward to seeing you—and not just on a Zoom screen—in the fall.  In the meantime, please let me give you one assignment for the summer.  This has been an epically tough year, so make sure to find time for a real vacation.  You deserve one, and we want you back refreshed, recharged, and ready for an energetic semester as August ends and September begins.

With warm best wishes from Nassau Hall,

Christopher L. Eisgruber