President Alivisatos, Provost Ka Yee Lee Detail Autumn Quarter Updates

President Alivisatos, Provost Ka Yee Lee, and other top members of the administration share plans on tackling COVID-19, ensuring student safety, and expanding campus opportunities.

By Kayla Rubenstein

On Wednesday, University leaders hosted the Autumn Quarter Update to discuss academic plans and campus happenings. The event was held via Zoom and moderated by the Vice President of Communications Paul Rand.

President Paul Alivisatos began his speech by acknowledging the impact the pandemic has had on the University and the South Side. Alivisatos celebrated the University’s history, noting the tenth anniversary of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Argonne National Laboratory before introducing future projects, including a new graduate student lounge in the bookstore and academic advising center.

Included in the list of recent constructions is the new student wellness center, which opened last autumn. “I want to emphasize how important it is for all of us to think hard about student wellness and to try to support the well-being of our students in all different dimensions, including their mental health,” Alivisatos said.  

Building on his plan to engage with the community, Alivisatos emphasized the importance of listening.  

“I want to be part of a conversation with you in the coming time, but what I have heard in all my visits so far is that there’s a yearning for this deep University of Chicago scholarship to also become more engaged with the complex challenges that face the city, the country, and the world,” Alivisatos said.  

Provost Ka Yee Lee spoke next, highlighting how UChicago has adapted its COVID-19 strategy this year. Lee highlighted instructors’ and students’ positive feedback about the new preventative measures and praised the interdisciplinary ways in which UChicago’s research labs have contributed to curbing the impacts of the pandemic.  

Last June, the administration designated Juneteenth an official University holiday, a landmark decision on which Lee elaborated.    

“A wide range of events and discussions will once again take place across the University to commemorate Juneteenth and designating it as a University holiday is an important step as we continue our necessary work to strengthen our community to diversity and inclusion,” Lee said.  

Lee finished her talk by recognizing staff members’ hard work. Lee explained the permanent benefits of winter recess and explained that staff members will receive paid time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day and should expect to receive more information soon.  

Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff to the President Katie Callow-Wright spoke next, providing a COVID update. Callow-Wright explained how experts at UChicago Medicine provided input on health precautions, available at  

Callow-Wright shared statistics on the campus vaccination rate, detailing how more than 96% of students are fully vaccinated, including more than 98% of all undergraduate students who live in residence halls. More than 92% of all employees are vaccinated, with an even higher percentage of instructors vaccinated.  

Fewer than five students in residence halls have had to isolate at any one time, though the University currently plans to maintain the mask mandate. “It’s been heartening to see the widespread cooperation with this [mask] requirement,” Callow-Wright said. “I know it’s not easy, but it’s an important layer of protection.”

Concluding the speakers, Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Eric Heath introduced safety resources for the 2021-2022 academic year.  

These tools include free Lyft rides offered Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. In the three weeks since the program’s launch on September 29, over 50% of students have opted in and more than 9300 rides have been taken.  

The University is also offering safety escorts for students who live off campus and within UCPD’s patrol area and an expanded shuttle system.

Rand ended with a Q&A session. Callow-Wright addressed the unlikeliness of dropping the mask mandate in the near future; Heath detailed the UCPD patrol area; and Yee explained how there will be no remote class option after Thanksgiving. Alivisatos closed the Q&A by discussing the possibility of adding more library space and responding to a question about the University’s commitment to climate change and reduced emissions.  

“I think we have a number of really good programs, but I think we can do more if we have a more concerted and strategic effort. So stay tuned,” Alivisatos said.