University administrators provided updates on academic and social life for students considering a return to campus at a town hall on Tuesday, including an adjusted O-Week schedule, the introduction of “course bundles,” and a plan to group first-years in housing by their humanities core sequences.
The University previously released a hybrid Fall Quarter reopening plan on June 30th, which would incorporate in-person and remote learning options for students. Incoming first-year students would be given priority for in-person classes, though Provost Lee stated that the University planned to allow as many students to return to campus as possible during the fall.
Dr. Emily Landon, Executive Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control at the University of Chicago Medical Center, announced that prospects for an in-person return to campus had been improving for students due to a decreasing trend in new COVID-19 cases in Chicago.
“We are seeing a trend downward in Chicago, and we have been extremely successful thanks to the very quick thinking and action of our state government,” Landon said.
Landon also stated that the University is planning to introduce widespread contact tracing for students exposed to COVID-19, and that there will be reserved spaces for students in on-campus housing who test positive to isolate. These relocation facilities would include food delivery in order to prevent transmission of COVID-19 from students in isolation.
“We have an in-house contact tracing program designed by the University of Chicago to be able to track all the cases and find everyone that may have been exposed and keep them from being able to pass it on,” Landon said.
Régine Enuson, Deputy Dean of Students in the College, announced what Fall Orientation would look like for incoming students. She stated that Orientation would be split into three parts, with the first occurring remotely from September 8 to the 24. On-campus orientation would occur after move-in until September 29, and Welcome Week, replacing the traditional Orientation Week, would take place during the first week of class instead of prior to it. Opening convocation, the Aims of Education address, and academic and career advising will take place remotely unless meetings in small groups become safe.
Jay Ellison, Dean of Students in the College, discouraged students from taking a leave of absence or a gap year. He stated that most courses would be available virtually, and that the university was working to offer virtual science labs for students who do not return to campus. The University will publish course catalogs detailing which classes will be offered remotely or in-person on July 27.
Ellison also added that international students may be able to take courses in-person at some of the university’s international centers.
“One of the things we are actively engaged in is planning to remit first year students who reside overseas to complete their fall quarter studies on our campuses in Hong Kong and Paris if they are unable to secure visas for travel to the U.S. For students who reach these centers, you will be able to study in person for some of your coursework, and take campus courses remotely from there to fill out your schedule,” Ellison said.
Ellison stated that the university’s centers in Beijing, New Delhi, and London may also open for continuing students who are unable to return to campus due to recent visa restrictions.
Christopher Wild, Master of Humanities in the Collegiate Division, described the University’s efforts to improve distanced learning. Incoming students would be assigned to residence halls based on the humanities core sequence they select in order to promote house culture. Wild also announced the introduction of “course bundles,” which would link together a series of courses to be taken during the quarter.
“[Course bundles] run in parallel all quarter long and provide an intensive community of inquiry that draws on the traditional strengths of the curriculum at the University of Chicago. For instance, a course bundle offered by the Department of Economics on behavioral and economic immersion brings together the most exciting contribution from economics, psychology, and neuroscience [since] the last century,” Wild said.
Wild did not state how many course bundles would be offered in the fall, or whether they would fulfill major requirements for students.
Richard Mason, Assistant Vice President for Campus Life, provided updates on housing for incoming and returning students. He stated that dorms would operate at 60% of total capacity, but that the University would be able to house all second-year students that had requested housing. Mason did not state whether there was any remaining availability for third and fourth-year students on campus.
Jim Nondorf, Dean of Admissions, likened the modified college format to an airplane flight due to increased safety precautions. “It's a little like flying when you’re on a plane and you experience turbulence. You know you have to keep your seat belt fastened and you're unable to move about the cabin. A flight of captains doesn’t bring you drinks, which makes me upset, and doesn't bring you peanuts or anything to eat. All of this, however, deep down, even when you're irritated, you know this is for your safety,” Nondorf said.