Dear Seminary Community,
In the six weeks since I last wrote to you in June about our planning for the fall semester, much has changed with the trajectory of the virus. While the rates of infection in central New Jersey are currently promising, the virus is escalating rapidly around the rest of the country. The majority of states are experiencing a significant spread of COVID-19, and travelers from these states must self-quarantine for two weeks upon entry to New Jersey. Although we had hoped that the virus would slow during the summer months, the truth is that we are still very much in an active and unpredictable global health crisis. This pressing reality must guide an adjustment to our plans for the coming academic year.
Because of the high rates of virus transmission around the country, we encourage all students not to come to campus this year if they can make alternative living arrangements. For the safety of our entire community, we need to reduce the density of our student residences in order to further mitigate the chances of spreading the virus, and we also do not want students to put themselves or others at risk by traveling to campus at a time when the national transmission rates are so high.
No one who needs campus housing will be turned away. If an apartment on campus is your only home or the safest option for your health, you are welcome to return to it. But we strongly encourage everyone who is able to reconsider their plans, for the sake of their own health and the health of the community. There will be no change to students’ PTS scholarships or grants if they choose to live off campus next year. Alternatively, returning students may choose to take a leave of absence, and incoming students may choose to defer. We want every student to make the choice that is in the best interests of their own health and well-being.
Students will hear from the Dean of Student Life this afternoon with more information for making decisions about residency this year.
All courses will be online for the 2020-21 academic year. We had hoped to incorporate some in-person elements within certain courses this fall, but unfortunately the advancing state of the virus makes it difficult to plan safely for organized face-to-face gatherings at this time.
The faculty have been hard at work this summer to prepare their courses for digital learning. While this will be a different mode of teaching than we have come to cherish, it can nonetheless provide an excellent, meaningful learning experience. I am grateful for the time and creativity that faculty are investing in reinventing their courses, and we are all indebted to the Office of Digital Learning for the tireless work they are doing in supporting innovative digital pedagogy.
Campus Life in the Fall
For those who do return to campus, we are instituting rigorous health and wellness guidelines for our life together. They have been developed with care by a team of staff and students and reviewed by public health experts. I encourage you to study them closely.
There will be mandatory training on these protocols before classes begin, and all students in residence will be asked to sign a contract to uphold them. The health of our entire community is at stake in holding each other accountable to these practices. All students choosing to live in seminary housing next year will also be required to sign a legal waiver of liability. While the Seminary will do everything possible to ensure a healthy and safe environment, there is an inherent risk to living in residential community while a highly transmissible virus is circulating.
Campus services and any in-person elements of community life will be very limited this fall.
- The library building will remain closed to patrons through the fall semester, while digital access and curbside pickup services will continue.
- There will be no dining services on campus, and the Brick Café will remain closed.
- In-person gatherings will be limited to no more than 10 people and should take place outdoors. Indoor gatherings of any kind should be the rare exception.
- All students traveling from states with significant spread of COVID-19 will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
In recognition of the limited in-person experiences we will be able to offer on campus this year, we will waive the comprehensive fee ($1,460) for all students. Students who live on campus will be charged the basic fee ($730) for services related to our health protocols, including enhanced cleaning measures and health screening, and limited campus services.
This is not the news we had hoped to deliver, and I know that it is not the experience anyone desires for their seminary education. However, our faculty is prepared to offer a meaningful year of academic inquiry whether students are on campus next year or in a different part of the world. And we will still have intentional ways to stay connected to one another as a community of faith and learning, even if our physical distance is measured by many miles in these extraordinary circumstances.
These realities are painful because we yearn to be together. God created us for community. And yet as an act of faithfulness and love for our neighbors, and out of regard for the preservation of human life, we must adopt very different practices for this season. But in all the changing circumstances of our days and years, we can remain confident that Christ holds us fast and continues to bind us to one another.
M. Craig Barnes