Princeton, N.J. – North Henderson High School alumnus Myles McKnight represented universities across America last week when the Princeton politics major spoke on Fox News about student concerns with tightened pandemic-related restrictions on campus.
McKnight spoke on “Fox News @ Night” with Shannon Bream. The program aired on midnight Jan. 7. He was on the morning show “Fox & Friends First” (FFF) in late December then Fox Business Channel’s “Varney and Cole” Jan. 3. He spoke Sunday with the Tribune while home in Fletcher on winter break for a month ending Jan. 23.
“Frustrated, disappointed, and defeated” is how he described to the Tribune his feelings about the pandemic and resulting restrictions at Princeton. He calls these days “anomalous” — deviant from the norm. “Even if every restriction is reasonable, the pandemic altered our college experiences in a way that is not reparable,” McKnight said.
On FFF, he said COVID-19 restrictions “fundamentally ruined” his college experience.
He told Bream “with this new restrictive regime, students are worried that is where we’re heading to — again. And they’re concerned we’ll never get back to normalcy. In spite of a super high vaccination rate. And now there’s a mandated booster” for students.
Students’ frustrations are inflamed by a letdown over what were billed as temporary restrictions to beat down COVID, McKnight indicated. He told Bream “the vaccines were promised as a ticket out of the pandemic,” but that is not happening. That is despite a Princeton on-campus student population that he describes as “nearly 100 percent vaccinated” — as evidenced by Princeton’s online data.
McKnight told the Tribune that “students in general feel that the college experience we’re having will look nothing” like what it was pre-pandemic in coming months. “Most of my peers just want get through college. They can’t enjoy curricular and extra-curricular experiences, and the personal growth from that.”
Instead, he said, “there is a mental health crisis going on, as a result of the pandemic,” social restrictions and reliance on virtual learning. To again “shift to an online scenario would do little to reduce hospitalizations and death,” McKnight said. “It will do a lot to exasperate the mental health crisis.”
Online learning last spring was a “disaster — total tragedy,” he said. Princeton classes were online only in fall 2020, then mostly so in spring 2021 — when only his freedom of speech course was in person. That class, with its face-to-face interaction, was the “highlight of my entire semester.”
He concludes “universities are learning nothing from last spring. We had online learning, and horrible mental health crises” in result. He said Princeton data shows a huge upswing in students’ counseling appointments and mental health hospitalizations in recent months.
To deal with student emotional challenges in the classroom, “the dean of our college had to plead with faculty members to take it easy on us academically,” McKnight said. He found out in a memo “leaked to the student body. This is to reduce academic learning” pressures. He added that “I don’t think professors heeded that advice.”
He told the Tribune he believes Princeton administrators when they pledged “they’re committed to on-campus learning. When he approached administrators about it, “they sort of sidestepped the question. They keep reiterating they want to have everything in person. Nobody in their right mind wants everything online. But I can foresee it at Princeton. They might follow the lead of other universities — in response to an Omicron surge.”
Fox and Friends noted in its McKnight segment Princeton University released a statement simply stating “we must continue to do everything possible to protect the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff.”
McKnight described his public role specific to COVID-19 policies as “an advocate for a return to normalcy — to the extent that is reasonably possible.” This means easing some rules — with realization a “zero COVID approach is not reasonable. It is not feasible to think the university can create a bubble where you don’t have significant spread — given Omnicron’s transmissible” nature.
Yet many colleges across the country are stiffening rules on campus such as with online classes only, requiring a booster vaccine, and limiting students to the dorms except to go to classes — amidst spread of COVID-19’s highly contagious Omicron variant, news host Bream noted ahead of interviewing McKnight.
McKnight told Bream he is glad he does not attend Yale, where “you can’t even eat outdoors.”
Many Princeton health measures are reasonable, McKnight said. “We have to test twice per week. When we return” from break, “we have to have a negative (COVID) test before we can attend our first class. Masks are required indoors, in “most situations.”
But McKnight said on Fox that Princeton pandemic policies are riddled with “inconsistency and nonsense.” He berated the limit of 20 people gathering together — such as in their own dormitories — and disallowing their eating together in larger groups. “At Princeton, we do have some sort of nonsensical restrictions,” he told Bream. “For example, we’re not allowed to gather in groups of over 20. We have to wear masks, and so forth. But the university is fine with hundreds of students unmasked together in dining halls.”
McKnight told Bream that Princeton “needs to get this near zero-risk obsessive COVID regime out of mind — in order to get back to normalcy.” His conclusion to her was “we need to get to a point where COVID is treated just like any other disease in a population that is (nearly) 100 percent vaccinated…We need to get back to normalcy.” He called for more steps for “mitigation” instead of harsh restrictions. Mitigation can include ventilation, masking, screening and treatment.
Much of what McKnight told Shannon Bream was “winged. I thought a little bit before on what I’d say. But you don’t know exactly what you’ll get asked.” He was not given any clues in advance about questions to him.
“I enjoy situations like that when I have to think on my feet,” said McKnight, who plans to be a lawyer.
McKnight, a Princeton junior, is a logical choice by Fox News to represent collegians — for his socio-political acumen. The 2018 North Henderson grad majors in politics at Princeton, with a focus on political theory. “I’m interested in law and legal theory” as an “outlet to explore legal philosophy.“ He eyes a career in “appellate advocacy.” He chuckled about the suggested notion of someday landing on the U.S. Supreme Court.
A political career is “always a remote possibility,” he said. “But it’s not something I’m interested in now” for his future. He is an undergraduate fellow in the James Madison Program for American Ideals and Institutions.
He is president of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, an “intellectual freedom advocacy group.” He co-founded The Rose Castle Society at Princeton in October 2019, for “interfaith and inter-political dialogue and reconciliation.”
He interned last summer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Boston, in “public corruptions and special prosecutions.” He was a Princeton research assistant. He writes for the Princeton Legal Journal. He is on the school’s competitive sailing club. He said he missed playing violin in the Princeton University Orchestra when it was suspended last spring.