July 12, 2021

Dear William Paterson Faculty & Staff,

Good morning, everyone.  I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend.  Summer is a special time, perhaps allowing for some time away from day-to-day life, or enjoying being outside with family and friends.  I have cooked out on the grill a couple of times this summer, and I welcome the opportunity to be out of doors, walking the dogs, playing tennis, and finding other means of relaxing. 

As you know, we are working towards a number of planned fall events: classes starting on Wednesday, August 25, my State of the University Address on September 2, and Homecoming on October 9, among others. As previously announced, students are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they apply for and are granted a religious or medical exemption, or are solely WP Online students. Yesterday was the last day for receiving the first Moderna shot to be fully vaccinated. The last opportunity for receiving the first Pfizer shot is Sunday, July 18, and the deadline for receiving the second shots for both, along with the Johnson & Johnson one-shot, is August 11. Our students must be fully vaccinated by the time classes start, and that requires the two-week period for the vaccine to become fully effective. Please share this information with students as you encounter them over the summer. Also note that students moving into the residence halls and who are involved in athletics may have earlier deadlines for the vaccine than these. They should check with Residence Life or the Athletic Department for further guidance.

Fall 2021 class sessions on campus will predominately be face-to-face. Again, when you talk, email, text, or meet with students, please remind them that we are going to be on campus.  Many students have asked me, “When are you going to open the online courses like we had last year?” They seem to think that if they just wait long enough to register, we will change the plan and make all the courses, or at least the courses they want/need, online. Some are making the case that since they do not wish to get the vaccine, we should make all of their classes available online. This is impractical and will not happen. Their choices are: 1) get the vaccine in time for the Fall semester, 2) receive a medical or religious exemption, or 3) stop out for a semester. Of course, we want them to continue and complete their degree. Their hopes that more online classes will be added or that we will accommodate those who do not wish to get the vaccine is what I call ‘magical thinking,’ which can be easy to slip into when confronting often complex issues. 

Some of our students continue to have fears about the vaccine, given its lack of full FDA approval. Others are reading material not grounded in the science, which claims it will make them very sick or infertile. As we communicate with them, when they are expressing these misgivings, we can point out to them that, so far, nearly 3.5 billion COVID vaccine doses have been successfully administered world-wide. Additionally, as we are able to determine which of our staff, faculty, and students have been vaccinated in New Jersey, we know that at least 62% of the students registered for fall have already been partially or fully vaccinated, and approximately 74% of the faculty and staff have received their vaccines. Thank you to those of you who are taking care of the University Community, yourselves, and your families by staying healthy. You should also know that I am hearing from students who are very happy that we are requiring the vaccine and who are overjoyed are that they will soon be back in the classroom with their faculty and peers.

The bottom line is that we know, based on the year-to-year data, that our students do better in face-to-face settings. This is especially true of many of our first-year students, who, without the benefit of much face-to-face instruction, are not being retained and are struggling to reenroll after having missed out on a traditional freshman experience. We have more than 260 freshmen who are eligible to register, but have not. That tells us something about how they are feeling about their first-year experience. As I have said from the day I walked on this campus, online instruction makes sense for some populations and in some circumstances, but it is not a silver bullet, as COVID has proved to us with our undergraduates. So, please spread the word that we are coming back to campus, and we expect you to show up vaccinated in your classes. 

Folks, I know this has been a difficult and challenging year. I am proud of all we are accomplishing. The University is only as strong and as successful as we, together, make it.  Please rest up over the summer, whenever possible, and let’s be prepared to greet our returning students with the degree of excitement and caring that they deserve and need.

This week’s WPWe are Proud – Congratulations to Caelan Cardello, a senior majoring in jazz studies, who was recently awarded the Sixth Annual Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI ) Future Jazz Master Scholarship, a $5,000 award for rising jazz stars pursuing an academic degree in jazz studies. A pianist and composer, Caelan was selected as the sole winner of the competition by a panel of National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) jazz master judges based on his talent and potential as a jazz performer and composer. The scholarship was presented at BMI’s annual celebration of NEA Jazz Masters Fellows. 

Have a great week. 

Richard J. Helldobler, Ph.D.