NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The announcement of Rutgers’ imminent shutdown was just a few hours old, but Ariel Gohar was going home.
The sophomore accounting major was out in front of Clothier Hall with three packed bags, waiting for his Uber ride to take him away.
Behind was half a semester’s worth of coffee, sweat and tears. Ahead of him? That was a much harder question to answer.
“I think the students are very concerned,” Gohar said. “They’re not sure what’s going to happen to them, to their grades, to their classes.”
Concern, fear, confusion and even some anger reigned up and down College Avenue in the hours after Rutgers University President Robert Barchi announced the state university was canceling classes Thursday and Friday and will move all course instruction online when students return from spring break on March 23.
The shutdown of the university comes in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that claimed the first New Jersey resident earlier today.
The 16,000 students living in residence halls in New Brunswick and Piscataway, as well as the students on the Newark and Camden campuses, have been instructed to leave as soon as possible and are encouraged to remain off campus until at least Friday, April 3.
The timing – in the middle of midterm week – couldn’t have been worse for students such as Nicole Giron, a freshman aerospace engineering student.
What’s the worst part of it all? Pretty much all of it.
“It’s the fact that I have to change the entire schedule I had built,” she said. “It’s the fact that all the classes are coming online. All my lectures are going to be on. Recitations have been canceled. The grades – the percentage of the grades is changing because for example, some classes have iClickers (remote question answering device used in class). If those iClickers are given to everyone, they’re going to diminish what percentage they are worth to your grade.
“So, everything is changing. Midterms are changing and some people are even canceling midterms and adding them to finals. So, what that’s doing is putting my grade in jeopardy. It’s putting other people’s grades in jeopardy. At this point, I don’t even know how I’m going to get back or even what’s going to happen after April 3 and that’s when we come back.”
Academics aside, the logistics of thousands of students packing up every last packet of Raman Noodles and heading home all at once is something Jake Allen isn’t looking forward to.
The information technology and infomatics major said he’s lucky because he lives in nearby Sayreville.
“It’s going to be crazy here,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to go on. It’s going to be wild.”
A couple of students, intent on beating the rush, were already packing their stuff in Mom’s hatchback by Tuesday afternoon.
That was little consolation to Giron.
“It’s complete chaos,” she said. “The same way I’m struggling right now with what I’m going to do next. There’s plenty of students in the same boat.”
The shutdown of the state university comes hours after Gov. Phil Murphy announced the coronavirus claimed its first Garden State resident.
The governor said the victim was a man in his 60s from Bergen County who was admitted to Hackensack University Medical Center on March 6.
“We are sad to report the first death in a case of COVID-19 in New Jersey,” Murphy said in a statement. “Our prayers are with the family during this difficult time. We remain vigilant to doing all we can — across all levels of government — to protect the people of New Jersey.”
The number of COVID-19 cases in New Jersey increased to 15 on Tuesday, four more than Monday's total, according to the Governor's office.