Princeton University will move classes online later this month and has encouraged students not to return to campus after spring break.
The decision comes even though the campus had no known exposure to the coronavirus or cases of it.
“Our medical advisers tell us that we should proceed on the assumption that the virus will spread more broadly and eventually reach our campus,” president Christopher Eisgruber wrote to the campus Monday. “They also tell us that the best time to put in place policies to slow the spread of the virus is now, before we begin to see cases on our campus, rather than later.”
Princeton’s announcement comes as other area campuses are instructing faculty to prepare for a possible online move.
“We need to ensure that we will be prepared to finish the semester in the event the coronavirus makes in-person teaching challenging, or even prohibited,” Temple Provost JoAnne A. Epps wrote to faculty.
Temple leaders have instructed deans “to develop contingency plans” for online classes with support from the school’s teaching center, Epps said.
Rowan University in New Jersey extended spring break from one week to two, starting next week and running through March 27, so that faculty can plan for possible online classes.
“We recognize that converting courses to virtual formats ... midsemester may be difficult,” said an email to faculty and university leaders.
Lehigh University provost Pat Farrell also asked faculty to prepare: “This move is not imminent, and may not be needed, but if it is needed, we may not have much time to prepare.”
The planning comes as universities grapple with virus fallout. The University of Pennsylvania last week announced it was canceling visiting days for admitted students and its Wharton China summit, both scheduled for April.
Penn has not released its admissions decisions for the Class of 2024. Last year, 3,446 students were accepted out of almost 45,000 applicants.
“Social distancing and avoidance of unnecessary travel are both strong counters to the coronavirus,” Penn Dean Eric Furda wrote.
Penn will offer a virtual tour and a chance for students to ask questions.
Colleges also will soon have to discuss how to handle commencement, which is just a couple months away. Pennsylvania State University has established 12 committees to handle aspects of virus response, including one on commencement.
“The plans [being explored] range from holding commencement as scheduled, to enhancing our online streaming for family members who cannot travel to the ceremony, to postponing commencement,” Penn State spokesperson Wyatt DuBois said.
At Princeton, faculty and staff are preparing lectures and seminars for online, beginning March 23, after break. (Classes and midterms are being held this week; spring break is next week.)
Temple’s Japan and Rome campuses already have moved instruction online, but making the transition university-wide could be challenging.
Temple has to explore whether all students will have good access to high-speed internet and how to handle courses that require lab work, such as anatomy, said Steve Newman, faculty union president. The aim will be to offer programming that won’t cost students time away from their studies while maintaining “pedagogical integrity,” he said.
“In a crisis like this, everybody is going to have to try to do their best,” he said.
Some Temple students said moving all classes online seems unnecessary and cumbersome.
“I feel like online classes for the whole university is gonna be really hard to manage, or like actually pull off,” said Alba Blaku, a junior architecture major.
Offering a studio architecture class online would be especially challenging, she said.
Students also questioned how canceling classes would help if students continued to live on campus.
“Since half the students here live in a dorm and share bathrooms, … it just seems like it wouldn’t be entirely effective or wouldn’t be really very effective at all,” said Matthew Gmitter, a junior biology major.
Others said they understand the need to stop the virus from spreading, and if online classes help, they support it.
“As someone who is immunocompromised,” said Maggie Mancini, a junior journalism major, “it’s scary to be on a crowded campus during something like this.”