By Daniel Farber Huang
June 26, 2020
This article is part of a 5-part series on Princeton, New Jersey's COVID-19 response and recovery from different perspectives, including the arts scene, businesses, charities, government and Princeton University. This article originally appeared on centraljersey.com.
Signs on Princeton University’s campus encourage people to stay six feet,
or one tiger, apart. (Photo by Daniel Farber Huang)
PRINCETON, N.J. — Princeton Symphony Orchestra executive director Marc Uys is looking forward to the day when the orchestra’s concert hall comes alive again. Until then, there are major hurdles to overcome.
“Our main venue is Richardson Auditorium on the campus of Princeton University, so what we do there physically really depends on what the university allows and decides,” Uys said in a telephone interview.
The orchestra has found creative ways to perform and engage with audiences online given physical distancing requirements under COVID-19, Uys said. “But I don’t want to sound that excited about it because truly we want to be back in the concert hall playing for people.”
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Princeton University sent students home in mid-March and closed its campus for the remainder of the spring term. Shortly afterward, the university cancelled all on-campus summer programs. More recently, the university announced it will wait until July to disclose its plans for the fall 2020 term, making it difficult for many that depend in some way on the school, including faculty, the broader community, local businesses and especially students, to plan for the future.
Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber said in an online message to the school community on May 4, “Rapid spread on our campus could require us to quarantine large numbers of students or place additional strains on the local healthcare providers. To bring back our undergraduates, we need to be confident of our ability to mitigate the health risks not only to them, but also to the faculty and staff who instruct and support them, and to the surrounding community.”
Speaking about university employment in his May 4 statement, Eisgruber said the school has avoided the furloughs and layoffs that have taken place at other universities so far, but offered no guarantees for the future.
“While we don’t know what the future holds, we want to minimize the risk that such actions might be needed in the future,” he said.
Previously, in an April 8 email to university faculty and staff published on the school’s Emergency Management website, Provost Debbie Prentice said the university was suspending faculty and staff salary increases, except where required by previous agreement. A hiring freeze was being imposed and any new hires “will be approved on an exceptional basis only — and the bar will be high,” Prentice said.
Princeton University did not respond to email requests for comment by press time.
More widely in the community, the university has made efforts to support the surrounding area’s COVID-19 relief efforts.
Princeton University announced that it established the $1 million Princeton University Relief Fund. According to the University, $400,000 will be directed to the Princeton Area Community Foundation’s COVID Relief Fund, which provides support to organizations addressing food and housing insecurity, reduced and lost income, child care and mental health needs.
Another $100,000 has been approved for the Princeton Children’s Fund Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund to provide financial support for families and individuals needing help with rent, utility bills, child care and medical expenses. The remaining $500,000 will be distributed as other opportunities arise, according to the university’s website.
Originally called the College of New Jersey when it was founded 274 years ago, Princeton University is a significant contributor to the region’s economy so its decisions impact countless businesses that rely on the actions of the school.
According to the university’s website, in addition to having more than 8,000 students and 7,000 employees, the university brings 860,000 visitors to its campus each year and contributes more than $2 billion annually to the region’s economy.
Businesses on Nassau Street, including the Princeton University Store, have had to adjust
how they operate under COVID-19, June 7, 2020. (Photo by Daniel Farber Huang)
Students have had to adjust to dramatic changes to their education and possibly reconsider plans after graduating due to COVID-19.
Undergraduate student Rebecca Mays in the Chemical and Biological Engineering program said in a telephone interview that she finished her junior year remotely and is currently performing her summer research internship virtually from her home in Washington, D.C.
“I know a lot of people were struggling with internships having been canceled and not being able to do research over the summer, but luckily the university and the engineering department specifically were very helpful in providing a lot of last minute virtual internships,” Mays said.
Apart from academics, attending class virtually since March has, in certain ways, changed the nature of her friendships with some classmates.
Mays said, “We’ve become closer and been able to kind of have our friendship through more conversations rather than shared experiences, which has been just an interesting experience that we probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise.”
The last few months have made Mays reevaluate her future career plans she said.
“Before COVID, I was pretty set on going straight into the workforce after graduating. And now because of COVID, I reconsidered that and think I'm going to continue on into grad school just because I kind of realized I'm not quite ready for my academic experiences to end … now that the job market is kind of thrown up in the air,” Mays said.
Rising senior Mittie Grace Doyle at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs said in a telephone interview from her home outside Philadelphia that she is hopeful but nervous that campus will reopen for the fall.
“I have a lot of friends who are international students. One of my roommates is from South Korea and we're hoping that with travel restrictions and everything that everyone can even just get back to New Jersey,” Doyle said.
In addition to uncertainty about classes and dormitory housing, Doyle said she was selected to be co-captain with two other women for the varsity squash team for the coming season. She said she does not know if sports will be permitted to take place.
Doyle said, “The university is doing an absolutely incredible job of making sure that everything can carry on as best as possible given the circumstances. And for that, there's a lot to be thankful for.”