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Spring Welcome Back

Dear All,

I had the pleasure this past weekend to stop by the “drop-and-go” pre-move-in happenings at the Brower Student Center and across campus. For those who have been lamenting their distance from campus and community—I am one of these—the chance to experience the excitement and quasi-normalcy of move-in was inspiring. Thank you to the organizers of this semester’s move-in—special credit to the team from Student Affairs—and to the many staff, students, faculty and administrators from across campus who volunteered for a morning or afternoon block to assist.

I write in anticipation of spring semester to confirm our plans for the Spring Flex semester, answer two common questions about the semester to come, provide a status report on campus activity, and offer a hearty thanks and welcome back to the campus community.

More detail on these topics can be found on the Spring Flex website, which remains the go-to place for updated information. Please continue to check it regularly.

Confirming our Spring Plans

We remain on plan to expand in-person activity in spring semester, welcoming residential students to campus for the first time since March 2020. Accompanying this increase in activity will be a limited number of flex courses that enable in-person instruction. Campus return remains optional for students and faculty, with all classes including a remote option.

Classes have been pushed back one week to begin on February 1, 2021. Exams end on May 18, 2021. The spring calendar has two independent break days, March 18 and March 30, 2021.

More extensive on-campus activity is made possible by a comprehensive testing program and continued compliance with Roscoe’s Pledge, which includes physical distancing, mask wearing, hygiene practices, and daily self-health checks on the Roar app to secure a green pass for use of campus. All students coming to campus must upload (to the OWL portal) evidence of a negative COVID-19 viral test within seven days prior to arrival.

We are pleased to provide accessible, no-cost, on-campus COVID-19 rapid antigen virus testing as part of the college’s commitment to a healthy campus environment. With our testing partner, Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, the college is implementing mandatory weekly virus testing for all students living on or coming to campus (three times weekly for athletes in practice or competition seasons) and for AFT faculty, AFT staff, police lieutenants, and non-unit employees coming to campus. The college remains in discussion with other units about mandatory participation for their employees. In the meantime, we strongly encourage voluntary testing for all employees who come to campus, a status defined in the testing special requirements document. You should have received a separate communication to register for and schedule your testing for the semester from Bergen New Bridge. Should students or employees have any questions regarding the registration or scheduling process please contact covidtcnj@newbridgehealth.org.

Testing is an important part of our efforts to deter virus contagion on campus. Regular screening of our campus community coupled with rapid test results, positive case investigation, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine, where appropriate, are essential for minimizing risk exposure and keeping one another as safe as possible. Thank you for your participation and patience as we implement this atypical set of functions on campus.

Two Common Questions

In recent weeks I have fielded two common questions.

 Q1. How will the college prevent the likely spread of the virus on campus?  If we have learned anything from this virus over the past year it is that we cannot prevent it. What we can do, though, is minimize the risk of contagion through our practices for testing, physical distancing, mask wearing, hygiene practices, and mutual respect toward one another. Ewing Township Mayor Bert Steinmann and I are visiting off-campus student houses to reinforce protocol and respond to concerns, and residential advisors are ready to work with students on campus. Compliance is a team sport, and every member of the community has a role to play. This includes sending a message to covidcomply@tcnj.edu if you are aware of dangerous practices or violations by employees, visitors or students of TCNJ’s health and safety policy. As noted in earlier correspondence through the fall, students or employees who demonstrate that they are unable or unwilling to comply with policy and practices are subject to conduct processes, with penalties including loss of campus privileges and other more severe outcomes.

Q2. Why open the campus for spring semester when virus conditions are worse than in Fall 2020 when TCNJ was remote-only?  The one-word answer is readiness. Unlike in August 2020, when the college did not have the capacity, supplies, or practices to confidently respond to the virus, now we do. If you have visited campus in recent weeks, you have seen the signage, physical campus alterations and other enhancements that have made the college COVID ready. Our teams in academic affairs, student affairs, operations and other divisions are trained and have practiced to carry out our COVID plans in the months to come.

Status Report on Campus Activity

On campus, spring 2021 will see more people and activity on campus compared to fall 2020. Employees will work on-campus, staggered, or fully remote schedules. In accordance with TCNJ’s Flexible Work Arrangements Policy, employees may arrange with their supervisors for flex-time or telecommuting.

Educational course delivery for both flex and remote-only classes will draw upon training modules from the Office of Instructional Design to support inclusive teaching practices, universal design, balanced student workloads and use of the Canvas learning management system. We are grateful to students for helpful feedback in this regard.

Campus will house about 1,200 residential students living in single rooms, roughly 31 percent of our full occupancy. Students on and off-campus have access to a large number of study and eating spaces, as noted here. Students are encouraged to gather in these spaces to engage in remote coursework with classmates while observing social distancing rules.

Although state gathering limits prohibit us from allowing fans and attendees at practices and games, TCNJ will sponsor varsity winter sports (swimming and diving, men’s and women’s basketball, and wrestling) and spring sports (softball, baseball, women’s lacrosse, tennis, and outdoor track & field/cross-country) this coming term. We are pleased to also offer an expanded off-season practice/training experience for fall sports (field hockey, football, and men’s and women’s soccer) in preparation for the fall 2021competitive season. Athletes and Athletic Department staff have been receiving rapid antigen virus tests three-times per week since early January.

Many employee- and student-serving offices will operate a combination of in-person services and remote delivery. Check on the relevant websites for open hours, where available. I am pleased to note the expanded set of services sponsored by the Office of Alumni Engagement in partnership with the Senior Class Council to offer career advice, networking opportunities and other enhancements to guide members of the Class of 2021 from students to alumni this term.

Last but not least, I am pleased to report that TCNJ will be receiving roughly $2.5 million in federal COVID-19 funds through a second round of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds. TCNJ will disburse these funds as grants to students with financial need according to eligibility requirements set by the federal government. The Office of Financial Aid and Division of Finance will communicate in coming weeks to further describe the program and process.

Welcome to Spring 2021

Few predicted this past March that we would still be so compromised in spring 2021. While we are not out of the woods and while we continue to exercise patience and caution, there are bright spots. Public health predictions forecast that with continued vigilance to mask wearing and other health protocol, new cases of the virus are likely to fall dramatically through the spring. We even have fingers crossed for modified in-person commencement ceremonies, pending state regulations.

To these hopes and possibilities in spring 2021 I welcome students, staff, and faculty and friends. Your devotion to TCNJ and your efforts to get us to this point are remarkable and deeply appreciated. Thank you for your contributions to and support for our community and those we serve in the days to come.

Kathryn A. Foster