uchicago sign

The University of Chicago's sign at Blackstone Avenue and the Midway Plaisance.

As the University of Chicago continues to plan for reopening, the school's administration said on Friday that they would allow all instructors to decide for themselves whether to teach in-person or remotely during fall quarter. 

“The University will not require any instructor to teach in person in the Autumn Quarter. This holds for all instructors—faculty, emeri, other academic appointees, and graduate student lecturers—as well as for graduate students in other teaching roles, such as Teaching Assistant or Writing Intern,” wrote Provost Ka Yee C. Lee and Vice Provost Jason Merchant in an email to instructors first reported on by the Chicago Maroon and confirmed by a spokesperson. 

“We ask that you continue to work with your departments, programs, or supervisors as appropriate to plan for next year’s course offerings, and to inform them if you would like to teach only remotely during this phase,” the message continued. 

The email also outlined a series of public health measures that the administration will take ahead of the beginning of fall quarter. Classrooms will be “reconfigured” for social distancing, and anyone arriving on campus will be asked to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. Masks will be required in university buildings and on-campus while others are present, according to public health protocols the school has released. 

The school is additionally planning to establish a contact tracing team in collaboration with the University of Chicago Medical Center, in order “to help ensure timely notification, isolation, and treatment of any cases on campus.” The school is expected to unveil a larger reopening plan later this week. 

The school's advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) praised the announcement in a statement to the Herald, but also criticized the administration for a lack of transparency or shared decision-making during the reopening process. 

"Reopening decisions have so far been made behind closed doors, without substantive direct involvement of elected representatives of various stakeholders, including labor unions," the statement read in part, noting that the faculty senate would not vote on the reopening plans. "Absent a democratic decision-making procedure, and absent much essential information such as the exact level of risk, including predicted numbers of infections and deaths...we see no reason to believe that any kind of instructional reopening in the Fall will be safe."

The AAUP statement also voiced the worry that instructors would feel pressured to teach in-person, particularly those reliant on contract renewals or anticipating tenure decisions. 

UChicago Faculty Forward, the union for non–tenure track faculty at the school, made similar points as the AAUP chapter. 

"We are gratified that the University has committed to allowing faculty to decide whether to teach in person, which was a guarantee that we had sought to protect the health of our members,” said the union's statement. “However, while the university has solicited our opinions on details of implementation of their plans, big decisions about whether it is safe or reasonable for students to return to campus have been made without our input. We remain concerned that the measures that university has proposed may not be sufficient to keep students, staff, and faculty safe amid what remains an uncontrolled pandemic, and we would like to see our members, who do not have protections of tenure, have a voice in this conversation.” 

In a webinar earlier this month, the Maroon reported, administrators said that classrooms during fall quarter would be at about a quarter of their usual seating capacity. Merchant, the vice provost, also said that there would be options for fully remote course loads for students unable to return to campus. 


Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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