To the Campus Community:
Before I get to Spring Flex updates, let me express in writing how proud I have been of this community over the past several months. In the face of profound disruption to daily life–some with close loved ones lost, many with newfound worries, all with dreams deferred—you continued to make extraordinary contributions in exceptional times. Your patience, perspective, hard work, good will, and sanguinity, even on exasperating days, turned trying times into promising ones. Thank you.
Despite the current viral surge, we continue to plan for a spring semester with on-campus and in-person components. The first day of classes is still scheduled for February 1. Our plan is to be as open as conditions and state regulations allow, knowing how important it is to many in our community to be back on campus next term. At the same time, and as announced in an earlier message, the Spring Flex plan provides course delivery modes that can accommodate those in our community whose circumstances will keep them off campus in spring.
Although our plans are generally intact from when I wrote in mid-semester, there have been a few changes and updates, which I outline in this message. These and other updates will be reflected on the TCNJ Spring Flex website in early January.
Health and Safety Policy
In mid-fall, TCNJ issued an interim Health and Safety Policy to clarify roles, responsibilities, and expectations for employees and students on campus, with specific reference to pandemic regulations. Please familiarize yourself with the policy, particularly pages 5-6 focused on COVID-19. I cannot emphasize enough how critical it will be to follow community standards and meet expectations for keeping one another safe when we return to campus in 2021. Our actions at the start of the semester will determine how successfully we navigate the weeks that follow.
Many of you wrote with concern about the challenges of a semester without a weeklong spring break. Although we will follow public health guidance and adhere to a spring calendar that starts a week later than normal and includes two break days in March, I am pleased to report that the Faculty Senate Executive Board and the provost have endorsed a TCNJ Recharge Week, March 29-April 2. This more relaxed week is intended to relieve the stresses of a long semester. Many thanks to the Department of Sociology and Anthropology for developing this initiative.
As announced previously, all students living on or coming to campus in spring 2021 will participate in mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing. New in this message is that varsity athletes in season (practice or competition), regardless of sport, will be tested three times a week. Conversations are underway regarding testing for employees who will be working on campus.
Also new, in early December the TCNJ Board of Trustees approved a contract for TCNJ’s COVID-19 testing services. Our provider for testing services will be Bergen New Bridge, an experienced health care firm that also contracts with the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Stevens Institute of Technology. Bergen New Bridge will coordinate closely with campus personnel on related services, such as contact tracing and reporting. We will use the Decker Hall social space as our testing site. Details on how to arrange for appointments will come in January.
As of this message, roughly 25 percent of the spring semester courses will be offered in flex mode (both in-person and remote options) and 75 percent in remote-only mode. Several weeks ago, faculty and students in 23 fall courses ran a pilot program to test flex classes. Student and faculty response was strongly positive—people loved being back together, even with masks and social distancing—and the effort yielded valuable insights from which we are improving classroom audio and other arrangements.
Over 1,700 students have signed up to live in single-occupancy, on-campus rooms in spring semester. To limit the potential for crowding, Residential Education and Housing is arranging new January drop-off-your-belongings days, which will be scheduled before the staggered move-in dates toward the start of the semester on February 1. Residential students will hear directly from Res Ed.
Quarantine and Isolation Spaces
Consistent with best practices, we will reserve entire residence halls to ensure space for possible isolation and quarantine needs. We are reserving Townhouse West for isolation cases (students who have tested positive for the coronavirus, even if not showing symptoms) and New Residence Hall for quarantine cases (students who have traveled out-of-state or are deemed in close contact with someone who has tested positive). Students in isolation or quarantine will have meals delivered and will take courses remotely.
Leveraging COVID – Space Utilization
Since the summer we have been considering ways that TCNJ might leverage the disruptions of COVID and think creatively about the future. One example is in progress: certain units of our Division of Information Technology are transitioning their single-person offices to “hotel space,” open for use by employees on staggered schedules when they are on campus. This arrangement paves the way for relocation of Global Education from the second floor of Roscoe West to the first floor of Green Hall where it will join other student-facing academic services, including Liberal Learning, the Writing Center, and the Honors program. The second floor of Roscoe West will become the main offices of the Division of Inclusive Excellence, with an Accessibility Resource Center and Intercultural Center. We look forward to extensive student engagement in designing the latter.
If you saw my holiday video last week, you know that Roscoe and I are excited to start welcoming the community back to campus in 2021. While the coronavirus promises to be with us at least through the winter months—and until the time of widespread vaccination—we believe that the safety protocol and physical modifications we have put in place make way for a healthy campus experience. Until then, congratulations on your successful journey through the historic fall semester 2020 and hearty best wishes for the New Year to come.
Kathryn A. Foster