Rutgers University and Temple University (Tri-State Area)
June 15, 2020
With New Jersey following New York in the highest number of coronavirus cases, its colleges are scrambling to make a decision on whether to open for the fall semester.
There have been 148,000 positive coronavirus cases in New Jersey, and 10,435 people have died from the virus.
Gov. Phil Murphy says that New Jersey is entering Stage 1 of his multi-stage plan to re-open the state after the coronavirus. In this stage, “low risk” activities are allowed with the proper social distancing practices. He announced that on May 22, private tennis clubs, shooting and archery ranges, batting cages, golf ranges, horseback riding, and community gardens will be allowed to restart.
While businesses like these and restaurants have been given permission to open their doors, there has been little mention of what the plans are for colleges, high schools, and elementary schools.
Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey, is currently trying to figure out how to make a safe transition back to campus.
In a statement on May 13, the President of Rutgers University, Rober Baruchi said “As we look to the fall semester, our planning teams are working closely with incoming president Jonathan Holloway in developing plans that prioritize community health and safety… A preliminary plan for returning to campus will be shared with our community in the coming weeks.”
As of right now, the university is considering having traditional in-person classes with “minimal adjustments,” beginning the school year with select activities being conducted in-person, starting the year online and transitioning into in-person classes during the term, or having a full remote year. In response to the financial strain that the coronavirus has now possibly put on their students, Rutgers is also considering freezing tuition for the 2020-2021 school year.
Temple University, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, has also decided to freeze tuition for the 2020-2021 school year. President of Temple University, Richard M. Englert, said “With the economy in its current state, we could not in good conscience propose an increase in Temple’s tuition.”
Pennsylvania is the state with the sixth-highest amount of coronavirus cases, behind California and its 81,456 cases. Pennsylvania currently has 66,669 coronavirus cases and 4,515 deaths. Pennsylvania’s phases of re-opening are based on a three-color system, with a red, yellow, and green stage. The red stage demands that all residents stay at home, and only “life sustaining businesses” be open. The yellow stage lifts stay at home restrictions, but doesn’t allow large gatherings or indoor recreation, and businesses can only return to in-person operations with proper safety precautions. The green stage allows most businesses to open, and gatherings to take place as long as people wear masks. Currently, 37 counties are in the yellow phase, and those in the red phase are required to follow the stay-at-home order until June 4.
Temple University President, Richard M. Elgert, has insisted that Temple will be open for the fall semester, and students will be allowed on campus for their traditional schooling. On May 18, Elgert sent an email to Temple students saying “I want to assure you and your families that we will open our fall semester in a way that will maximize your safety while delivering the quality teaching, education and research for which Temple is known.” In the email, he cites safety measures such as ‘face coverings, social distancing, hand hygiene and active health monitoring’ as the methods the school plans to employ to protect students.
As a student who will be attending Temple University in the fall, the actions they’ve taken so far and their future plans leave me both impressed and hesitant. I find it commendable that they froze tuition for the upcoming school year to accommodate students whose family’s finances may have been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic. I also appreciate their administration forming committees to brainstorm the best ways to get students back on campus safely, and keep them healthy once they arrive.
My worry is that they are planning to roll out these new measures prematurely. Temple is a large institution, with about 40,000 students enrolled in their programs, and roughly 10,000 students staying on their main campus. Temple has mentioned reducing class sizes in addition to their safety measures, but it is hard to imagine that these practices can be efficiently applied to real-life situations. Even with smaller classes, how would these classrooms get sanitized after every class? Cleaning staff would have to be available at almost every building for every school within Temple, cleaning the rooms and sanitizing desks and boards between every class. Classes aren’t even the only worry, as colleges also run sporting events, clubs, student centers, dorms, and dining halls.
Move-in day alone could cause a major outbreak at the school. I keep imagining all 10,000 students and their parents, siblings, and grandparents lugging dorm furniture and bedding throughout the campus. If one person carrying the virus sneezes on their hand and touches a doorhandle, the thousands of students and family members who touch it thereafter could contract coronavirus. This one event could be the first and last hoorah for the academic year.
I understand why colleges are eager to open, as they are losing a significant amount of money being closed, leading them to make pay cuts and adjust their budgets. Rutgers University has “identified the potential for an estimated $200 million loss in the current quarter (April 1 through June 30, 2020) and expects more significant losses in the next fiscal year” according to an article on RutgersToday.
Even with the trouble it is causing them, I hope that due to the uncertainty of the growth or decline of coronavirus cases, and a second wave of the virus in the United States, universities consider administering online classes for the first semester. While taking online classes isn’t my ideal way of starting my freshman year of college, I think it is best for colleges to wait until the spring semester for traditional in-person instruction, and ensure that all students and staff are truly safe.
Though it may be too early to make an official statement on what exactly will ensue for the 2020-2021 school year, there is no doubt that the safety of students and faculty should be the number one concern for every university.