In a video sent to the University community by the Office of the Provost on Tuesday, University staff and student leadership discussed academic and campus life plans, as well as safety protocols, for the upcoming COVID-impacted autumn quarter. On Wednesday, the University held a town hall that featured administration staff to explain the details and answer questions about the reopening plan.
Administrators emphasized the need for students to act in accordance with the UChicago Health Pact to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Further, all students are required to complete an online COVID-19 training program and affirm that they will commit to the University health guidelines via an online attestation.
When asked at Wednesday’s town hall about how student infringements of COVID-19 orders would be addressed, Dean of Students in the University Michelle Rasmussen said, “If we do have students, however, who repeatedly make mistakes, or for reasons that might be hard to understand are willfully not following the expectations we have for them, we will follow up and there will be consequences.”
In the following Q&A period, Rasmussen added that the University is promoting the use of the University of Chicago Accident/Incident Reporting (UCAIR) system, to have university constituents report alleged behavior that violates the guidelines, for which the University will promptly investigate and address.
“We do have a whole series of tools that we can deploy to correct the behavior, and that includes potentially removing privileges from individuals or groups of students—privileges to come on to campus, privileges to use certain resources on campus—and possibly even referring that student to a disciplinary system,” she said.
More than 70 percent of undergraduate and graduate students indicated their intention to return to campus for fall quarter, according to Provost Ka Yee Lee on Wednesday. Students who return to campus housing from outside Chicago will be tested for COVID-19 upon their arrival, and spend their first week in self-quarantine. On-campus students will also be screened for COVID-19 once per week at a designated time and place on campus. This testing program is mandatory for UChicago student-athletes, whether they reside on campus or not.
No required testing program is in place for students residing in off-campus housing, nor is there any plan for the school to enact or enforce quarantining for off-campus students. However, students who live off-campus will be able to voluntarily opt into this program.
In response to a question about why the University does not implement mandatory testing for all students, both on- and off-campus, Emily Landon of UChicago Medicine stated that the way that students are distributed in off-campus housing does not yield the best result for universal testing. “Once we commit to testing everybody all the time, it gets hard to track and force people to do that and there is no evidence that it actually is essential,” she said. However, in a congregated facility like the dorm, mandatory testing does make a difference.
Test results would be reported to the University, and a contact tracing team would follow up with individuals within the university community who test positive. Individuals who have contacted positive testers, regardless of their affiliation to the University, will receive additional free testing, according to Landon. On-campus residents who contract COVID-19 will be relegated to isolation housing.
Learning and Teaching
For undergraduates, all in-person and remote classes will begin remotely on September 29. Designated courses are planned to resume in-person instruction on October 5. All in-person instruction will end on Friday, November 20, before Thanksgiving break, and the remainder of the quarter, including finals, will be administered remotely. From November 30 to December 12, reading period and final exams will be held remotely. “Most courses will have remote capabilities,” Dean of the College John Boyer said on Wednesday, “and we are working on virtual options for our science labs.”
About 25 percent of classes this autumn quarter have an in-person component, Lee said during the town hall. 40 percent of students are expected to have an in-person or hybrid experience. For in-person classes, classrooms will be used at a 25 percent density and disinfected on a daily basis.
Libraries and other study places will be opened at a limited capacity during the autumn quarter.
“Currently, the library is working on a proposal for a pilot program that would provide students with reservation-based access to study space, computers, and appointments for some physical library materials,” said Vice Provost Jason Merchant on Wednesday. Although the stacks at the Regenstein Library will be closed for browsing, other services will be available to students at further notice.
Graduate students with teaching responsibilities are able to choose whether to do so remotely or in-person, Merchant mentioned. Instructors are also able to access online guidance for syllabus construction, course design, digital tools and campus resources.
Additionally, the undergraduate Student Government and the Graduate Council worked together to create a COVID-19 student advisory group to ensure that different voices are being heard, said President of Student Government Raven Rainey and Co-President of the Graduate Council Rohail Premjee.
Housing and Dining
Housing will open at a density reduced by 60 percent. Each student will be assigned a single room and a designated bathroom. Guests and food delivery persons are not allowed in the residence halls. Universal face coverings are required in all common areas. Students have the option to leave or stay in housing during and after Thanksgiving, when remote instruction and the exam period start, given that they do not travel.
The move-in process has been extended to five days, instead of the traditional one day, and students will be able to choose one of three separate move-in time windows across those five days. Residential staff will also be available to aid in housing matters.
“Our residential staff—residential deans, heads, R.A.s—all will be there and supporting our students throughout their stay-at-home period or the quarantine period,” said Richard Mason, Assistant Vice President for Campus Life.
All dining hall food will be served with disposable containers and pre-wrapped cutlery. There will be limited dine-in at dining halls, as per Chicago’s COVID-19 regulations for restaurants.
Many of the mental health resources offered to students will continue uninterrupted. A therapist on-call will continue to be available during fall quarter 24/7. Counseling staff at Student Wellness are available via Zoom and phone call. Informal virtual programs for mental health, such as Let’s Talk, are available to all students, but not affiliated with the University.
Most medical care will be conducted through telehealth visits. For cases that warrant an in-person visit, students can schedule a walk-in appointment at Student Wellness.
Ratner Athletics Center is also planning to reopen for only University of Chicago students. Virtual fitness programs are also offered through the fitness department.