University of Chicago Provost Ka Yee C. Lee announced that the school's winter quarter plans will mostly be a continuation of this fall's, with instructors able to choose whether to teach remote classes.
Faculty and staff groups gave the decision mixed reviews, and continued to criticize aspects of the university’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee confirmed that all classes in the coming winter and spring quarters will be remote for the first week. After that, instead of imposing a college-wide policy on whether classes will be taught in person, the administration chose once again to defer to the individual instructor. Each instructor may decide whether they want their course to be fully remote, in-person, or blended. The majority of U. of C. classes taught this fall have been remote, with the exceptions mostly first-year classes.
The University of Chicago chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the faculty union, raised concerns surrounding the university’s lack of transparency in creating policy.
“With the worsening public health conditions in and around Chicago, and the University administration's continued lack of transparency and substantive consultation with elected representatives of those affected by its decisions, we still hold that the University should move to a fully remote mode, as called for in the University of Chicago Labor Council's Statement on Reopening,” the group wrote in a statement to the Herald.
The announcement follows the university’s first major outbreak, in which more than 100 students from the Booth School of Business were instructed to quarantine for 2 weeks after COVID-19 spread at a large off-campus gathering where some were not wearing masks. The business school went fully remote for two weeks.
As of the weeks of September 20 to October 28, the university community has had a .19% positivity rate, with 47 confirmed positive cases out of 24,400 tests. The data is based on the university’s mandatory and voluntary testing programs, which includes all those who live on campus, in-season student-athletes who live off campus and volunteers who are regularly around campus such as off-campus students, faculty, and staff.
The Library Activist Network (LAN), a coalition of U. of C. library employees that has also levied accusations against the university for a lack of transparency in their policies, wrote that the announcement was not surprising.
“We had no expectations that rising cases and another wave would result in changed plans from the University; they'd artfully dodged those questions in staff meetings for months," LAN wrote.
The group also criticized the U. of C. for hosting a town hall for staff on Oct. 13 with Emily Landon, the school's chief epidemiologist, and assistant vice president of facilities services John D'Angelo — "(they assured) us how everything was safe while the University was simultaneously managing the news of an outbreak at Booth.”
They also took issue with the university keeping the library open. “Before the Provost's email about school schedules we'd already been informed that the Library intends to open up the remaining floors of the library for study space, and to launch an unnecessary remodeling project that will send dust and other inhalable particles through our work areas.”
“It's clear that to people who can spend most of their days safe at home there is no crisis, and nothing needs to be changed,” the group concluded.
In a statement, the UChicago Faculty Forward Lecturers' Union Steering Committee, which represents non–tenure track faculty, commented on the new announcement: "The modified academic schedule is reasonable and we appreciate the University giving its faculty the freedom to choose teaching in person or remotely. However, we have expressed concerns about the lack of space or facilities for faculty teaching on campus who cannot access their offices to work or to take a lunch break, and hope that this issue is resolved as soon as possible."
In her announcement, Lee also wrote that “the potential for a vaccine to be available before the end of the academic year is unlikely to change our plans in the near-term.”
The announcement also confirmed that the winter quarter would be starting a week later than usual, on January 11. “Students living on campus will be required to observe a 10-day “stay at home” directive after arriving in Chicago — following the same procedure as in Autumn Quarter — unless they are subject to the city’s 14-day quarantine,” wrote Lee.