This is the missive you have been waiting for. Thank you again for your patience over the past three months as we continually monitored an evolving situation and planned for fall 2020. I am pleased to outline in this missive our aims and approach to the semester, which enable both an on-campus and remote experience, with primary focus on the core of our mission to educate our students and facilitate their path to receiving their degree.
Let me start with four fundamental recognitions.
First, the plan for fall 2020 reflects this moment. Variables mentioned in previous missives—the virus, state policy, and people’s compliance with health and safety measures—affect what we can and will do this fall. The plan is predicated specifically on Governor Murphy’s determination that New Jersey is ready to move from Stage 2, our current classification, to Stage 3 of the “The Road Back” plan for reopening the state. Until recently, the governor has indicated that signs look positive for our reaching Stage 3 in the coming weeks, but recent upticks in negative health metrics may delay this determination.
Second, even at Stage 3, permission from the state to reopen comes with a set of directives, most notably that we reduce capacity on campus to prevent spread of the virus. As described in last week’s missive, the NJ Secretary of Higher Education released on June 18, 2020 the “Restart Plan for All New Jersey Colleges and Universities,” which provides extensive guidance and directives for fall 2020 planning. It also requires higher education institutions to submit their plan to the Secretary of Higher Education for 14-day review prior to implementing any college restart plan.
Third, the plan recognizes that there are members of our community—students, staff, and faculty—who are keen to return to campus and an in-person experience. It also recognizes that there are those who, for a variety of compelling reasons, prefer to continue to engage remotely. Our plan accommodates both groups. The semester to come, which we label “TCNJ Fall Flex,” features considerable flexibility in instructional modes and operations. Students and faculty—and to the extent possible, staff—will have choice in how they work, teach, and study.
Fourth, because protecting the health and wellbeing of all members of our community is a paramount goal, the plan for fall 2020 reflects the nature and seriousness of this pandemic. COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus spread between humans through droplets passed at close range or from contact with an infected surface. Activities entailing high human density and high in-person contact or proximity are consequently high risk. Activities entailing low human density and low in-person contact or proximity reduce that risk to tolerable levels. The on-campus elements of the plan permit and require low-risk activity and restrict or prohibit high-risk activity.
Taken together, these recognitions lead to my fundamental decision to allow, but notably restrict, on-campus activity in the fall. In short, TCNJ will:
- limit the size of groups, indoors and outdoors; cancel all external events and large college events, including Homecoming and Parents and Family Weekend
- require anyone on campus to commit and adhere to health and safety protocol, including observing six-feet physical distancing, wearing masks if medically able, maintaining personal hygiene, and conducting daily health checks
- reduce density and proximity in the workplace, and allow telecommuting and flextime for employees where possible
- reduce density and proximity in the residence halls through assignment of single occupancy rooms only
- reduce density and proximity in classrooms through configuration and instructional mode
- reduce density and proximity in facilities on campus, including dining halls, study areas, the library, recreation center, and the student center
- cancel or require a virtual solution for any high human density, high in-person contact activity. This applies to meetings, business and social events, club and organization activities, recreation and athletics (varsity, intramural, club), and extra-curricular performance activities (e.g., music, theater).
Below I elaborate on these and other elements of the plan as prelude to more detailed information and updates on our TCNJ Fall Flex website. The site, still under construction, will be live on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.
Fall 2020 will operate as scheduled, with classes beginning on August 25 and exams ending on December 15. Fall break will be moved from October 12–13 to November 23–24, creating a weeklong Thanksgiving break, November 23–27. Students will leave campus after classes end on November 20 and complete the semester remotely thereafter. With the exception of residential move-in (addressed below), the remainder of the calendar is intact and can be found on the college’s website.
Return of Employees
To begin preparations for fall, TCNJ is planning for a phased return of employees to campus starting this summer. Employees will take an online “return to campus training module” to learn about health and safety protocol and workplace changes.
- Staff. Essential employees have been working on campus since mid-March, typically on staggered schedules. Starting August 8, 2020, TCNJ will begin a phased return to campus of employees currently working remotely. Pursuant to the college’s Flexible Work Arrangements Policy, where possible and agreed to by the employee and the supervisor, employees may arrange for telecommuting (remote work) or flextime scheduling (variations in start and departure times or length of the workday or workweek) for fall 2020.
- Faculty. Pursuant to the college’s Flexible Work Arrangements Policy, TCNJ will approve the request of any faculty member (full time, adjunct, temporary, or other) to perform their duties through telecommuting (remote work) in fall 2020. Faculty who wish to return to campus for research and scholarly activity may do so starting July 7, pursuant to instructions provided via email in coming days from incoming Provost Jeffrey Osborn.
A top priority for TCNJ Fall Flex is bringing together our dedicated faculty and talented students to continue the high-quality education for which we are known. All courses will be offered in one of two ways: by remote instruction only or by combined in-person and remote learning, a model known as flex. There will be no “in-person-only” courses. A student may choose to take all courses, including flex courses, virtually. By July 10, the Academic Readiness Task Force will provide to faculty a set of guiding principles for flex instruction together with templates for course design and redesign.
Regardless of mode of delivery of their courses, students can expect small, dynamic classes featuring personalized and engaged learning with TCNJ faculty. Nearly all TCNJ faculty are participating this summer in workshops to enhance their technical and design capacities for high-quality remote instruction. You can expect a level of quality exceeding that of this spring’s emergency version, which was developed by faculty with only two weeks’ notice. To further enhance remote education, all classrooms are being outfitted with new technology to enable high-quality remote access to flex instruction.
We will not know until later in the summer the distribution of faculty and courses across modes, online only or flex. Students should be aware that, depending on their schedule of courses, they may have any combination of course modes this fall, including the possibility of a full schedule of remote-only courses or a full schedule of flex courses.
Consistent with social distancing rules and our commitment to low density activity, we will limit the number of students in an in-person classroom. This may require faculty to establish a rotating schedule by which enrolled students take turns attending in person and virtually.
Regrettably, health concerns and travel restrictions prevent us from offering TCNJ-sponsored study abroad opportunities in fall 2020.
During TCNJ Fall Flex, we may adjust library hours, access, and use of facilities to ensure social distancing. We are repurposing general computer labs for use as study spaces and locations for participating in courses remotely. All students will have access to TCNJ’s virtual computer lab with its suite of commonly used TCNJ software. Students without access to essential technology (personal laptop, camera, headset) may obtain loaner equipment on request from the Division of IT.
Student Support Services
Academic success programs offer critical support for students on and off campus. We will make available the full spectrum of student support services, including health services, mental health, counseling, career and leadership services, Center for Student Success, records and registration, student accounts, financial aid, tutoring, Title IX, and supports from the Dean of Students Office and the Division of Inclusive Excellence, including the Accessibility Resource Center. Students may access these services and supports remotely and, in some instances, by appointment in person.
All academic advising and office hours appointments will occur virtually.
We know how important activities beyond the classroom are to the TCNJ educational experience and how central any particular activity may be to student retention and success. Student activities enliven the campus and bring great joy to community members and visitors.
Regrettably but necessarily, and in alignment with our rationale and actions in instruction, residential education, and other operations, I have decided that for health and safety reasons we will restrict the menu of in-person student activities this fall to low human density and low in-person contact or proximity activities only. This means that we will cancel high human density, high in-person contact or proximity extracurricular activities, including performance ensembles (e.g., music, theater), many events and gatherings of clubs and organizations, and all high-contact varsity, intramural, and club athletics scheduled for fall semester (including football, soccer, field hockey, basketball, wrestling, rugby, dance, and cheerleading). Coaches and trainers may arrange workouts and other individual fitness activities. Student Affairs staff is organizing a creative suite of low-contact recreational and cultural offerings.
I know how unfortunate and deeply disappointing this is for the many performers and athletes, coaches and supporters who were looking forward to a fall season. I look forward to it, too. Yet the science on COVID-19 finds that activities with high in-person contact or proximity have the greatest likelihood of broad and rapid virus spread, a circumstance that at TCNJ could mean shutdown of the campus. We seek to get back to these pursuits as soon as it is safe to do so. If all goes well in fall, we may be able to allow some performance and winter sports preparation.
Consistent with state directives, to reduce risk of virus contagion we will reduce density significantly in the residence halls. All residential students will be housed in single occupancy rooms. Doubles will become singles and suite-style units with five or six residents will house three or four residents, respectively. These changes reduce residence hall occupancy by 1,300 beds, or 38 percent of capacity.
Even assuming that some students with on-campus housing will decide to instead attend TCNJ remotely this fall, we anticipate that demand for on-campus housing will outstrip our reduced supply. TCNJ will prioritize on-campus housing assignments for new first-year students, students with housing vulnerabilities and access needs, and students guaranteed housing by admissions policy (a group including second-year students and international students, among others).
Students will hear shortly from Residential Education with information and instructions on fall housing procedures and options. The process to redo housing assignments for fall entails canceling all current housing contracts and, for students interested in a new fall housing assignment, completing a Fall 2020 Housing Application by Friday, July 3. The college has arranged for housing in off-campus hotels in Ewing and the vicinity as a housing option for interested students. Other students will be placed on a waiting list and provided housing based on availability.
TCNJ will support dining services on campus, with changes to reduce density and proximity. Dining will undertake extensive modifications of service, with reduced capacities in dining locations, expanded service hours, reinvented serving stations, and additional take-out options. With Sodexo partners, we will support dining locations in Eickhoff Hall, Brower Student Center, TDubs, and two satellite grab-and-go stations in locations to be determined.
Due to the limitation of available seating in dining locations, we will establish additional locations on campus for non-residential students to study, eat, or participate in remote courses between in-person classes. We will monitor spaces to ensure social distancing, and encourage faculty, staff, and residential students to consider eating in their offices or residence halls.
Our plan for TCNJ Fall Flex, which we will officially submit to the Secretary of Higher Education in coming weeks, will meet or exceed the state directives for health and safety mitigation measures. TCNJ will provide an enhanced level and frequency of cleaning and disinfection in all buildings, modified occupancy levels to meet physical distancing requirements, touchless facilities where possible, provision of and special PPE for employees in high-traffic areas, and installation of plexiglass dividers in public-facing offices. In classrooms and throughout campus we will install wall-mounted hand sanitizer stations, and provide disinfecting wipes for classrooms and administrative offices. Buildings will have appropriate signage and dedicated entrance and exit doors. Upon arrival on campus this fall, students, faculty, and staff will receive health supplies, including two washable and reusable cloth masks, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer for those who do not have one.
It is essential that each member of our community do their part to minimize the spread of disease and protect one another. Via “Roscoe’s Pledge,” TCNJ community members on campus and visitors will commit to protective behaviors, summarized as:
- maintaining six-feet of social distance in classrooms, workspaces, and social areas
- wearing masks if medically able at all times indoors (except in private rooms and offices) and outdoors when physical distancing is not possible
- maintaining personal hygiene, including frequent handwashing and daily self-health checks
- performing sanitary health practices to minimize the risk of contagion: coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your sleeve or elbow; refraining from sharing personal use items; refraining from touching your face, shaking hands, or coming into bodily contact with others
- disinfecting equipment, desks, computers, and surfaces before and after use
- refraining from coming to work or attending class if exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms; seeking guidance from your healthcare provider (faculty and staff) or Student Health Services (students) about isolating and testing
Through Student Health Services, TCNJ will test students who are symptomatic for COVID-19. We may also conduct pooled random testing to assess virus presence on campus. In coordination with our local health departments in Ewing and Mercer County, we will conduct contact tracing to inform persons that they may have been exposed to the virus. For residential students this could lead to isolation or quarantine in rooms set aside for this purpose on campus.
We know that living off-campus provides students with valuable experiences for developing independence and personal growth. This semester, our commuters—and all community members who travel to and from campus—will have an increased responsibility to protect their own health, as well as that of others on campus and in their neighborhoods with whom they interact.
I wish I could tell you that all of these mitigation measures and plans guarantee our health and safety. I cannot. COVID-19 is a contagious and opportunistic virus that loves a high-density crowd. Campus life brings people together by design. Although our health and safety protocol mitigate the risk of our togetherness—and thus the risk of catching the virus—we cannot reduce risk to zero. We anticipate and are planning for the likelihood that TCNJ will incur cases of coronavirus. Please consider carefully your personal and family circumstances and tolerance for health risk in making your decision about your on-campus activity in the fall.
I know that this plan is not the return to normalcy that many had hoped for. These changes require significant adjustment, new behaviors, and the goodwill and cooperation of every member of our community. There will no doubt be additional change and disruption requiring your patience and resilience. Nonetheless, I hope that you take heart as I do in the fact that because of these safeguards we will enable our students to make progress toward their TCNJ degree, will increase the odds of making it fully through fall semester as planned, and will sooner return to familiar and cherished activities, norms, and traditions.
Lengthy as this message is, it barely makes a dent in the extensive planning done by the over 100 students, staff, faculty, and administrators on our Readiness Task Forces. I thank once again these thoughtful members of our community who continue to plan and execute actions for the upcoming semester. A second round of gratitude goes to members of the President’s Cabinet and the Task Force “operational leads” who had the daunting job of sorting and sifting volumes of data from individual planning groups to craft particular plan elements. The challenge has been immense and the time short. Their continuing contributions to TCNJ are deeply appreciated.
On walks around my neighborhood—always with a mask at the ready for when physical distancing is not possible—I pass a hand-lettered banner that reads, “Hope Isn’t Canceled.” Although the TCNJ Fall Flex semester will require sacrifice and adjustment, it will give us a golden opportunity to demonstrate the spirit and agility of our community. Whatever fall 2020 brings, I already know that we will face the challenges and opportunities with hope, and also with care, diligence and resolve. Such attributes, so common at TCNJ, are never canceled.
With more to come in coming weeks,
Kathryn A. Foster