President Eisgruber’s message to all Princetonians on meeting the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19

March 17, 2020

Published on the front page on March 17, 2020.

Eisgruber extends thanks to students, faculty and staff and lays out how Princetonians can play a part in the effort against coronavirus.

Dear members of the Princeton University community, 

The last ten days have been unlike any other we have known.  After intense deliberation and with deep regret, we asked our faculty to put classes online and our undergraduate students to return home if able to do so.  Many other colleges, universities, athletic leagues, cultural institutions, and employers have adopted similar measures.  These measures, which were voluntary when they began last week, are now mandatory in many places, including the state of New Jersey.

People throughout the world are acting to slow the spread of a dangerous virus that threatens to strain the capacity of our hospitals and caregivers.  Princetonians are stepping up and doing their part.

My colleagues and I understand how painful these changes are.  Like you, we cherish the personal relationships, the collective projects, and the special experiences that this campus facilitates and enables.

We acted last week because public health experts made clear that we needed to do so immediately to protect not only the health and well-being of our own community but also the lives and safety of those around us.  Slowing the spread of COVID-19 depends crucially upon “social distancing” to minimize unnecessary interpersonal contact. Because undergraduate students live and study in close quarters, social distancing is unachievable on a fully residential college campus.  And because the COVID-19 virus can spread rapidly even when symptoms are mild or unnoticed, we could not delay our response:  the critical time for action was upon us.

If you are an undergraduate student, returning home immediately is the best thing that you can do to protect your own health and the well-being of those around you.  We know that this change in your spring semester, especially for seniors, requires tremendous sacrifice.  We would not have asked you to take this unprecedented step if it were not urgently necessary.  Even students who contract only a mild form of the virus might transmit it to others on campus — including not only other students but also people who are responsible for keeping our campus clean and beautiful, operating our dining facilities, coaching, teaching, or caring for the sick at our infirmary.  To protect populations and individuals who are vulnerable to the virus, it is essential to slow its spread even among younger populations who — on current, incomplete evidence, at least — might be less vulnerable.

We understand, of course, that not all of you can return home at this time.  We will continue to support those who must remain here, though we will need your help, too, at a time when activities must be severely restricted to stop the spread of the virus.

I also want to thank the graduate students who have been able to help us decrease the number of students on campus by relocating for the remainder of the spring semester.  We recognize, of course, that for many of our graduate students, Princeton University is their home.  For those still at Princeton, we will work together to make sure that you are as healthy and as safe as possible.

Even under these unprecedented circumstances, Princeton University will continue to operate and pursue its scholarly mission.  Starting next Monday, classes will resume online.  I am confident that our students, faculty, and staff will bring to bear the creativity and commitment required for this new instructional platform to succeed.  We are also working to enable research activity to proceed in a manner appropriately respectful of the need for social distancing.  None of this would be possible without the enormous commitment and talents of the dedicated staff members who are working hard on campus and remotely to meet the challenges of COVID‑19.  I encourage all of you to join me in thanking them.

Every member of the larger Princeton family, whether on campus or elsewhere, needs to take the steps essential to help slow the spread of this pandemic, including careful hand-washing and social distancing.  Slowing the transmission of COVID-19 provides additional time to doctors, nurses, scientists, and others who are on the front lines of this battle.  During a pandemic, time is a precious and life-saving gift:  if we can “flatten the curve” of the outbreak, it will increase the capacity of hospitals to care for the seriously ill, and give researchers more chances to develop medicines and vaccines that will fight the disease.

I want to close by thanking all of you for coming together as Princetonians to meet this unprecedented challenge.  I am grateful to the students who, with regret but also compassion and understanding, are returning home.  I am grateful to the faculty and staff who are enabling us to continue teaching online and to support the students who must remain on campus.  I am grateful to the alumni, parents, and others who have provided assistance and encouragement.  I am grateful to all who have accepted, in a spirit of community and care, the responsibility to make sweeping and sudden changes to their way of life to protect the health and well-being of themselves, their families, and others around them.  And I am grateful to the many Princetonians who have worked around the clock to make and implement difficult decisions as humanely as possible.

Many more questions and challenges lie ahead as we confront this virus.  We will continue to communicate with you as we go forward; I hope that you will continue to check the University website on a regular basis.

We often point to the words on the seal in front of Nassau Hall as being emblematic of our University’s spirit:  In the nation’s service and the service of humanity.  In the weeks ahead we will all have the opportunity to live that ideal, often through the small, daily choices we make.

Thank you again for your partnership, your good will, your courage, and your support as we come together with one accord to preserve the health and well-being of this University community that we hold so dear.

With best wishes,

Chris Eisgruber