Planning for the Year Ahead

Robert J. Zimmer

May 15, 2020

I write to update you on planning for the eventual resumption of activities on campus. Given the complexity and scope of campus activities and many uncertainties, planning requires the development and analysis of a number of possible scenarios for the upcoming academic year. This work must account for a complex set of factors involving the pandemic and how it will impact the University community.

Our work as a community on these issues will be guided by the University's highest academic values and our commitment to realizing these values now and in the future. These foundational principles include providing a transformative education that allows students to develop the habits of mind and intellectual skills needed to confront complex challenges; ensuring that faculty have an intellectually free and challenging environment in which to pursue the most original and deepest research; and fostering University work that has a positive impact on understanding the world and improving the quality of human life.

As the pandemic unfolds in the coming months, our planning work is being guided by these priorities:

  • Academic Quality - We must maintain the distinctive qualities and values of our academic community that sustains our approach to education, research, and intellectual life at the University.
  • Public Health Considerations - A paramount objective is to protect the health of students, faculty, staff, and visitors to the University. We will rely extensively on guidance from the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM), which has some of the world's leading experts in infectious disease and maintaining public health. Some of the relevant issues under discussion include the availability of widespread testing and its interpretation, use of face coverings and personal protective equipment (PPE), the level of population density in various campus environments and the relationship to the potential spread of COVID-19, social distancing, quarantine when necessary, protecting vulnerable populations, and building a campus culture in which each individual recognizes our individual and collective responsibility for maintaining a healthy environment.
  • Government Guidance - We will act in alignment with the guidelines of public health agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. This will include alignment with the state Restore Illinois plan, and Chicago's framework consistent with that plan. We are closely evaluating these materials and their implications for our campus plans in the coming months.
  • Financial Sustainability - We will work to mitigate financial risks that the pandemic has caused for all major institutions of higher education, including ours, while offering as much support as possible for University faculty, students and staff, bearing in mind the severe financial impact of the pandemic, globally and at the University.
  • Regular Updates - We will continue to communicate plans and expectations to ensure that we have a common understanding of what is ahead of us, with a decision by the end of June concerning plans for the Autumn Quarter.

A team of physicians and leaders from UCM is providing expert guidance on theconditions under which students, faculty, other academic appointees, and staff could aggregate in various venues on campus.

To drive planning for COVID-19 management under a range of possible scenarios, I have asked Katie Callow-Wright, EVP of the University and Chief of Staff in the Office of the President, to work with me in convening groups to work on key areas starting with the following:

  • Research
  • Education (taking into account differences among the College, divisions, and schools)
  • Housing and Dining
  • Offices and Staff
  • K-12 Education, including the Laboratory Schools and the UChicago Charter School
  • National Labs

The provost and Office of the Provost will be involved in all of these groups, and other officers of the University, the deans, and their respective offices will likewise be involved in areas connected to their responsibilities. These areas have diverse needs and the planning effort is a complex task. Surveys on the Spring Quarter will be sent to faculty and students to gain input and help shape best practices. In all areas, we will engage academic leaders, faculty, and staff to plan for a range of scenarios. In some cases this will include the development of a dual mode arrangement, with some in-person activities combined with the continuation of some work done remotely.

In addition to these six areas, our planning work will take into account the larger campus experience, such as student services, pre-orientation and orientation programs, admissions, events, alumni relations and development, commercial activity, campus centers and museums, and community engagement. A website is being finalized and more information and updates will soon be available.

Ultimately, we aim to create the best conditions for all members of our campus community to have a safe, healthy, and productive year. We will continue to keep you updated as planning progresses.