President’s Blog: Welcome Back to Campus

Aug. 19, 2021

The beginning of a new academic year always brings fresh energy, and I feel especially excited to welcome you back to Princeton this month.  In-person teaching, research, and scholarship are the heart of Princeton’s educational mission.  Our people and our community are, first and foremost, what make this University a special place.

To achieve our goals and serve our mission fully, we need to cultivate the relationships that spark discovery and inspire bold ventures.  We need to be together.  I am so glad—overjoyed, really—to have all of you back on campus!

I appreciate that, along with excitement and energy, many in our community are feeling anxious this year.  The pandemic continues, and the Delta variant is causing infections to rise in New Jersey and throughout the United States.

Over the past year, we have instituted a range of measures designed to decrease risk on our campus, and I am confident that, in these difficult circumstances, the Princeton campus is an unusually safe place.  Our combined vaccination rate for students, faculty, and staff is already 95 percent, and we expect it to be even higher by the start of the semester.  Though breakthrough infections may occur, the vaccines continue to offer powerful protection against more serious symptoms of the disease.

In addition to our vaccination requirement, we are testing students as they arrive and testing the entire campus population weekly.  Students who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to isolate, and faculty and staff who test positive will be required to stay home.  I am grateful to all of you for helping to create this extraordinary environment, which offers a rare combination of protections from the pandemic.

Indeed, even before vaccines arrived, college campuses with comprehensive testing programs were remarkably safe places.  There was very little on-campus transmission last year and virtually none in classroom settings nationwide.  Research, teaching, and related activity on Princeton’s campus will be among the safest interactions that any of us will have outside of our personal homes. 

While Princeton’s primary response to the pandemic depends on testing and vaccination, we will also use masking requirements to mitigate the remaining risks when appropriate.  Masking provides a flexible tool that we can apply as needed, allowing us to respond to changes on our campus and in our community.

We believe that it is especially important to exercise caution at the beginning of our new semester, when we have a large influx of people arriving from outside the highly protective conditions that exist at the University.  We have accordingly asked all of you to mask when indoors for the first few weeks back on campus, with exceptions to that requirement tailored in light of our mission and public health considerations.  

We will continue to monitor information from our campus and from medical and scientific sources.  We hope that our high vaccination rates may allow us to relax some masking requirements after our initial period of restriction, but we also know that we might have to tighten or change requirements if things get worse.  Of course, people may choose to wear a mask even when not required to do so, and all of us should respect that choice.

I was tremendously proud of and grateful for the way all of you came together last year so that we could repopulate this campus even before vaccines became available.  With our high vaccination rates, strong testing capacity, and the ability to add additional measures such as masking when needed, we are in a far stronger place than we were last semester.  Though we will have to continue to adapt and support one another again this year, we will also be able to re-engage with the many activities that animate this University and add joy to our lives.

Welcome back!  I look forward to seeing you.