When I wrote in late June to announce TCNJ Fall Flex, our plan for fall semester, I indicated that it was predicated on Governor Murphy moving the state to stage 3 of its reopening plan. As of today, and influenced by the recent uptick in the rate of transmission in New Jersey, the state remains in stage 2 with likelihood of staying at this stage into the fall. Because stage 2 status places ongoing restrictions on our on-campus operations, and for additional reasons outlined below, I write today to share important revisions to our fall plan. Specifically, TCNJ will offer all fall 2020 courses in remote-only mode, house only a small population of residential students on campus, and further reduce in-person, on-campus activity.
I understand that this revision to Fall Flex is a disappointment in a season of them. From the outset of our planning this spring, we have followed the guiding principle that the health and safety of our community is paramount. In addition to state policy restricting what we can do this fall, we recognize numerous concerning factors, including the surge and resurgence of the virus nationally and locally, overburdened service and supply chains that interrupt our ability to satisfy health and safety protocols, and rising infection rates for younger people. Added to these is disquieting and incontrovertible evidence of community spread arising from group gatherings, including religious services, schools, sports practices, parties, and congregate living arrangements such as nursing homes and dormitories. Together these factors and forces lead us like many others across higher education to conclude that we are best served by more severely reducing density and activity on campus this fall.
Given the many uncertainties I have communicated about since spring, you will not be surprised to learn that we have been preparing for this contingency as part of our planning for fall 2020. We have made significant investments in delivering high-quality remote instruction. Faculty have participated in summer workshops on remote learning, course design, and use of technology to help them revise and prepare dynamic courses for this mode of delivery. Students can still expect individualized and small group mentoring and advising by committed faculty members. Faculty are committed to ensuring that remote learning is equitable and inclusive, with every aspect of course design being considered to set up each student for a successful remote semester. Students can also expect robust virtual research opportunities and connection to internships and community-engaged learning.
The virtual student support services originally outlined on the Fall Flex website will remain available under this plan. For example, the Career Center will be offering remote career fairs and interview days. The Center for Student Success will offer its usual CSS Workshop Series, and will add new topics specifically related to being successful in a virtual environment. Students will have access to TCNJ’s virtual computer lab, with a suite of software and technical assistance. Mental Health Services will be offering individual and group counseling as well as workshops throughout the fall 2020 semester, and Student Health Services will be scheduling appointments using a telehealth format.
To reduce on-campus density, housing will be granted only by exception, limited to students with particular and extraordinary circumstances. Specific criteria are available on the MyHousing website. The process for applying for housing—required for any student who seeks to be on campus this fall—will be available at 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, August 4, at MyHousing. All COVID-related health and safety precautions, including social distancing, use of masks, testing, contact tracing, and other rules and restrictions will continue to apply to anyone living or working on campus.
To the incoming Class of 2024, I know this is not how you envisioned spending your first semester of college, especially after ending your senior year of high school remotely. Please know that we are developing new Welcome Week plans for you. Consistent with state guidelines, we hope to augment virtual orientation experiences with in-person visits to campus to learn about services and meet with classmates, staff, and others in socially distanced settings. First-year students and incoming transfers will receive an email in coming days outlining plans for virtual and possible in-person options.
We know that questions remain. In addition to updating the Fall 2020 website (available by close of business Tuesday) with pertinent information and a new list of FAQs, this week we will host Town Hall meetings via Zoom webinars to discuss the fall term and answer your questions. Please send your questions prior to the Town Hall meetings by replying to this message, indicating if you are faculty, staff, student, or family member. We will draw from your questions to answer as many as possible. These questions will also help to inform the frequently asked questions on our website.
Town Hall Zoom webinar for faculty and staff (repeated program – select one)
Wednesday, August 5, 9am-10am https://tcnj.zoom.us/j/97716172077
Thursday, August 6, 2pm – 3pm https://tcnj.zoom.us/j/91637017455
Town Hall Zoom webinar for students and families (repeated program – select one)
Wednesday, August 5, 6pm-7pm https://tcnj.zoom.us/j/96221300805
Thursday, August 6, 9am – 10am https://tcnj.zoom.us/j/95804748156
Let me extend a special thank you to the faculty and staff for exceptional work and contributions to prepare for Fall Flex, effort that will continue as we pivot to a remote environment. Faculty will hear by Tuesday from Provost Osborn with more information on academic topics relevant to the revised plan. We will also follow up with staff, via supervisors, to outline work implications of the revised plan. You should expect that work arrangements for fall may more closely mirror those of summer and that the phased return-to-campus date of August 17 will be pushed back.
Among the lessons from the spring and summer is that the TCNJ community, including families, alumni, and neighbors, possesses exceptional resilience and capacity to adapt. In an environment in which no aspect of our lives and society has been untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic, I remain grateful for your intrepid response to disruption and the dauntless way you manage change. I hope this revision to fall plans, although not what many wanted, nonetheless provides one element of certainty and focus in an uncertain and indefinable time.
With hopes and best wishes for a healthy rest of the summer,
Kathryn A. Foster