University President Jonathan Holloway shared additional details on what the Fall 2021 semester will look like in a meeting with The Daily Targum, elaborating on the University’s recent decision to mandate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinations for students returning to campus.
Rutgers will have at least one vaccination site at each of its three University campuses, he said. So far, the University has received approval for three different sites and hopes to begin distributing vaccines within the next month, as the doses are expected by the end of April.
Holloway said students will be able to register for the University’s vaccination program through an upcoming email announcement, which he expects to go out by the end of next week. Rutgers will most likely receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to distribute.
Members of the local community will be able to receive vaccinations at Rutgers sites, though the University may prioritize the Rutgers community if necessary. By administering vaccines to the general population, the University hopes to help address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on people of color and low-income communities.
“We’ll be awash in (vaccines) by June and July, from what we’re hearing,” Holloway said. “I think the vast majority of our population is going to get vaccinated (willingly).”
Regarding what constitutes a medical and religious exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination, he said it will follow the current policy on immunization and health requirements.
Holloway said younger people will likely become eligible to receive the vaccine over the summer, giving students ample time to get vaccinated before returning to campus. In the event that a student cannot get vaccinated due to a recent COVID-19 infection, the University plans to make accommodations.
Remote classes will likely remain in effect for large, lecture-style classes next year, but remote options for seminars and medium-sized classes remain uncertain, Holloway said. Students who do not qualify for an exemption but choose not to get vaccinated will have to consider options such as a year-long leave of absence while the campus works toward herd immunity or if they do not wish to wait, transferring to another university, he said.
“I don't want anybody to leave, but my job is to protect the safety and integrity of the community,” he said. “Every decision comes with some risks and some downside and some loss, frankly. And that's the kind of thing we'd be talking about in this situation.”
Holloway said the University did not extend the vaccine mandate to faculty due to the legal complications of enforcing it on them, such as the terms of employment in labor contracts with unions. Though, he said the University may consider doing so if these challenges decrease at some point in the future.
The reason for the University’s decision to announce the vaccine mandate as early as last week was to encourage enrollment from those who wanted to attend Rutgers but were concerned classes might continue to remain mostly online, Holloway said. This announcement also came early to promote interest in housing, while giving students enough time to arrange it for the next school year.
“Last year ... I was watching it happen when students were getting locked into year-long off-campus contracts,” Holloway said. “What happens if we aren't going to be in-person? So, we're trying to get ahead of all of those things to simplify life for our students.”
In regard to on-campus housing options, he said the University will be able to house many more students compared to this semester, increasing the initial capacity up to approximately 75 or 80 percent compared to the current capacity of 20 percent. He also said there will be more opportunities to turn single rooms back into doubles.
More information regarding what housing will look like across all campuses will likely be released by the end of next week, Holloway said.
In addition to housing, another area he discussed was how the University will ensure that transportation will be safe considering how crowded Rutgers buses have typically been in the past. Holloway said one solution the University is looking into is to space out class periods more so students have longer than 20 minutes to get to their next class.
“I think it will require … creative adjustments of when things are taught, and the size of what rooms are available for what size classes,” he said. “It's incredibly complicated.”
Holloway said he is hoping to hold medium-sized in-person classes in rooms where larger classes would typically be and hold large lecture courses in a hybrid or remote format.
“We will be adjusting as we go along and as quickly as possible as long as we can be safe,” Holloway said. “And there may be instances where we will be more conservative than the governor's (due to) our approach to managing our campus.”
One particular circumstance in which the University will implement stricter guidelines compared to the state is in terms of capacity for sporting events, he said. For instance, under the current large venue capacity limit of 15 percent, Holloway said SHI Stadium is allowed to hold approximately 7,800 guests.
He said the University is unlikely to raise the stadium's capacity to this level but will look to increase the number of spectators from its current limit of approximately 700 to 800 people. Officials will make further decisions regarding capacity as new information is available.
In regards to clubs, individuals will be able to gather in small groups, with occupancy limits in place, to participate in their extracurricular activities while following social distancing and face-covering guidelines, Holloway said. Intramural sports and similar programs are also likely to make a return in the fall as well.
Other details regarding on-campus life, such as dining, are in the process of being developed by the University and additional information will be forthcoming, he said.
“I want to see a busy campus,” Holloway said. “I want to see lines at restaurants. I want to see people in classrooms ... We’ll be something close to but not really quite there yet.”
Editor's Note: Holloway previously said Rutgers would have four vaccination sites.