NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway acknowledged that his decision to forgo in-person commencement ceremonies this spring was an unpopular one among the many who sent him letters over the past week.
And, he is doubling down on his decision to hold them virtually and not run the risk of turning Rutgers commencement into a super-spreader event.
“I want everybody to know we did not arrive – I did not arrive - at this decision lightly, and I recognize that this news has been devastating to many students and their families,” he said while addressing the Rutgers Board of Governors on Tuesday. “I’ve heard from a large number of them directly and indirectly – they all deserve better. They do, and frankly, we all do, but the virus does not care about our emotions. We are in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Our graduating class is tremendously large and we simply don’t have the capacity to conduct these events safely across every campus.”
Holloway announced his decision to host virtual commencement ceremonies on Feb. 11 in a message addressed to the Rutgers community. In it, he said that each campus is exploring the most effective ways to honor their graduates by remote means this spring, and the school is hoping to host in-person celebrations later in the year to further salute university graduates from 2020 and 2021.
On Tuesday, he revealed that he and other school officials examined the logistics of hosting socially distant ceremonies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The math, he said, just doesn’t add up.
“To do it at a scale in which everybody could commence - I’m talking small venues, properly spaced out - it would take literally 99 ceremonies across our three undergraduate campuses, taking RBHS (Rutgers Biomedical and Health Studies) and New Brunswick in one campus lump here – across three campuses,” Holloway said. “Ninety-nine events, three times a day for three weeks straight. We simply don’t have the capacity to pull that off.”
Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that spectators will be allowed to return to professional and college sporting events in limited numbers beginning March 1. He said he would allow indoor sports to resume at 10% capacity in arenas of 5,000 people or more and outdoor sports at 15% capacity beginning March 1.
That news or the fact that it's possible that tens of thousands more New Jerseyans will have received the vaccine before May or June has not swayed Holloway.
In fact, Holloway pointed out that positive cases in New Jersey are still higher than they were last summer, and he called the vaccine distribution system in the Garden State “halting and complicated and made more complicated by the weather recently in New Jersey.”
He also raised the point that researchers are still gathering information on the newly emerging variants of COVID-19.
“I will fully admit as some people have written in letters to me – very reasonable letters – that yes, smaller units could safely conduct in-person, socially distanced graduation,” Holloway said. “But, it’s impossible for our larger units like New Brunswick/RBHS to do so. And, in the name of equity across the university, I’m not going to let our smaller units graduate while our larger ones simply can’t do so. There are times when equity is deeply uncomfortable. This is one of those moments. For the sake of our larger community, I think this is the right thing to do.”
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