Autumn Quarter 2020 Plans

June 30, 2020

To: Members of the University Community
From: Robert J. Zimmer, President, and Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost
Subject: Autumn Quarter 2020 Plans
Date: June 30, 2020

In recent months, academic leaders, faculty, and staff across campus have been carefully planning for the resumption of on-campus programs and operations, guided by the distinctive qualities and values of our academic community that sustain our approach to education, research, and intellectual life at the University, while prioritizing the health of the University and local communities and visitors.

We have been planning for a range of scenarios for Autumn Quarter 2020, with flexibility to adjust as needed based on external conditions and trends in the pandemic. We are conducting this work in close collaboration with public health experts and the University of Chicago Medicine. Planning also incorporates valuable insights gained from the successful transition to remote learning in the recent Spring Quarter, and the housing of a limited number of students on campus during Spring Quarter. Our approach is informed by guidance from the federal, state, and city levels, including the Restore Illinois plan and the city and state’s most recent guidance for higher education. University policies and procedures have been developed in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and respond to infections among our community members.

We write to share with you the main plans for Autumn Quarter across a variety of facets of the University, including instruction, housing, dining, campus life, N-12 education, and more, as well as a number of health and well-being practices we are implementing to help keep our campus and community safe. Our plans and the vitality of our community during the coming period depend crucially on each of us taking actions to limit the spread of COVID-19, building a campus-wide culture incorporating a shared responsibility for public health.

Additional details are available on the University’s UChicago Forward website, and more information will be forthcoming. The College, schools, and divisions will also be communicating with their students directly about specific plans.

Academic Calendar

The University currently plans to hold in-person and remote classes this Autumn Quarter, allowing us to bring back as many members of our community as possible for the new academic year, while adhering to public health guidance around social distancing and other measures designed in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Classes for most parts of the University will begin as scheduled on September 29 with in-person instruction ending before Thanksgiving, to help reduce the risk of disease transmission related to Thanksgiving travel. (The Law School, the Booth School of Business, and the Pritzker School of Medicine will start classes earlier than September 29 as originally scheduled and will communicate details to their students soon.)
  • Those traveling or returning to Chicago for Autumn Quarter may need to arrive earlier than usual. We encourage flexibility in travel arrangements and timing to account for the potential for quarantine requirements. We will provide updates if quarantine requirements change between now and the start of the quarter.
  • The final week of Autumn Quarter instruction as well as reading period and finals period – from November 30 through December 12 – will take place fully remotely.
  • While the evolving situation with the pandemic means that there are inherent uncertainties, concluding in-person instruction before Thanksgiving is intended to help minimize the chance of an increase in COVID-19 cases between the Thanksgiving break and the end of the quarter.


Allowing for input from instructors regarding their classes, we expect that a limited number of Autumn Quarter classes across the University will be held in-person, in classroom spaces reconfigured to facilitate distancing guidelines. Academic areas will determine the delivery mode for their courses, to meet curricular and pedagogical needs given the parameters driven by the pandemic.

  • Many classes will include a combination of in-person and remote instruction and discussion. Others will be conducted fully remotely.
  • Each instructor has the option to teach remotely.
  • The offices of the Provost and Facilities Services have worked closely with colleagues across campus to develop spatial configuration guidelines to maintain distancing in classrooms and other spaces across campus, and we will implement cleaning and ventilation protocols as well. Examples of the configurations can be found here.

To help new students acclimate to the University, priority for in-person classes will be given to courses that serve new students. We are identifying innovative ways to facilitate connections for all students, regardless of whether they are on campus or not, as well as developing and sharing best practices for teaching remotely. 

We recognize that travel restrictions, particularly for our international students, and health risks mean a portion of our community may not be able to return to campus this fall. We are planning carefully for how these members of our campus community will be connected and supported. The College, schools, and divisions will provide a range of remote course options for students who are not able to return to campus in the upcoming quarter.

Undergraduate Housing

We will provide undergraduate housing in University residence halls, with occupancy reduced from full capacity by approximately 40% for Autumn Quarter to help maintain health and safety guidelines.

  • All room assignments will be single occupancy, in both standard dormitories and dormitory apartments.
  • Residence halls with reduced capacity will accommodate all first-year students and a subset of returning College students.
  • The University will provide contact information and other details for rental agencies to the remaining returning students who had planned to live on-campus and now need to secure alternative off-campus housing.

We will implement a variety of mandatory health protocols to help protect students, faculty, and staff living in University housing. This will include:

  • COVID-19 testing of everyone living in University residence halls upon their arrival and routinely throughout the year.  
  • A quarantine of students upon their arrival on campus, after moving into the residence halls. Additional details will be provided closer to students’ arrival on campus and will follow the latest guidance from public health experts.
  • Separate space in campus housing will be reserved specifically for students in residence halls who contract COVID-19 and must follow isolation procedures. Students who contract COVID-19 while living off-campus will be required to remain in isolation where they live.
  • Student health and wellness resources, including mental health services, will remain available to students both on-campus and virtually.

Residential Dining

On-campus dining will be adapted to facilitate social distancing and other safety measures, with a focus on take-away meals.

  • Seating capacity at dining commons will be reduced by about 75% for the Autumn Quarter and most meals will be prepared for take away.
  • In-person dining will be offered at a limited number of locations, with the elimination of self-service options and extended hours to help reduce density at any given time.

Testing and Contact Tracing

In partnership with the University of Chicago Medicine, we will conduct periodic testing of residents in on-campus housing and will trace the close contacts of any COVID-19 cases linked to campus.

  • Under the direction of University of Chicago Medicine Infectious Diseases, the University has established a team dedicated to timely contact tracing for reported cases of COVID-19 involving the campus community, including students, faculty, other academic appointees, post-doctoral researchers, and staff.
  • People with COVID-19 and their close contacts will be required to remain isolated or quarantined in accordance with guidance from University of Chicago Medicine and public health experts.
  • In addition to the periodic testing of residents in campus housing, tests will be available for any member of the campus community with COVID-19 symptoms.

Campus Spaces and Gatherings

In addition to classrooms, residence halls, and dining commons, we will adapt physical locations throughout campus to de-densify spaces to address social distancing.

  • Signage and markers throughout campus will indicate capacity limits, distancing requirements,  and other safe use of space, based on the spatial configuration guidelines.
  • The University is enhancing cleaning and sanitation across campus, especially for high-traffic areas and high-touch surfaces. 
  • Gatherings on campus will be limited based on parameters from the City of Chicago and State of Illinois, and University-specific factors such as overall density of the campus at a given time. We are committed to facilitating meetings, performances, exhibits, social activities, and other events in our adapted environment with strict maintenance of our health and safety requirements. In the coming weeks the University will share plans for student activities, UChicago Arts, Athletics, and other programs in Autumn Quarter. 


The University is gradually resuming research on campus through a phased approach.

  • The research community has begun to bring researchers back to campus. In the first phase of this process, which began June 15, we have been encouraged by the early implementation of health and safety measures.
  • As we monitor COVID-19 trends in the region and move to the next phases of recovery in Chicago and Illinois, we will consider moving into the next phase of the gradual expansion of on-campus research.


Following the gradual increase of onsite staff supporting research earlier this month, starting around mid-July we will gradually increase the functions and number of employees on campus and in other University spaces.

  • Over the coming months, unit leaders will continue to adapt work procedures to accommodate the gradual return of staff to offices and other workspaces.
  • Workplaces will implement requirements for face coverings, reduced density, social distancing, and enhanced cleaning and sanitation.
  • Since remote work serves as a critical element for maintaining the appropriate density of people in University spaces, many people will continue to work remotely or follow a combination of remote and in-person work.

Laboratory Schools

The Laboratory Schools has prepared three potential models to maximize flexibility and serve the safety and wellbeing of the Lab community: fully remote, a combination of remote and in-person, and fully in-person. 

  • Lab’s youngest students, in N3 through fifth grade, will have priority for onsite, in-person learning for fall.
  • Lab is working to optimize the amount of time that middle and high school students are able to spend on campus.
  • Lab will communicate further details to students and families.

University of Chicago Charter Schools

The University of Chicago Charter Schools will rely on additional guidelines from the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, and (being part of the fabric of Chicago Public Schools) Chicago Public Schools to shape planning for fall. 

  • UCCS’s priority is to have all students return to school to resume in-person educational experiences, in a safe and healthy environment. However, in order to meet evolving public health guidelines, UCCS is preparing for multiple contingencies, including fully remote and dual-modality options.
  • We are working to provide additional supports to address the mental health and social emotional needs of the Charter community in this challenging period.

Health and Safety Requirements and the UChicago Health Pact

The success of all our planning for the coming academic year rests with each member of the campus community consistently taking steps to help keep themselves and our community safe. We will ask every person on campus to uphold a new commitment, the “UChicago Health Pact,” to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, every person on campus must adhere to these requirements:

  • Universal Face Coverings: Everyone must wear a face covering over the nose and the mouth in University buildings, and on the campus grounds when others are present.
  • Social Distancing: Campus work, classroom, and study spaces are being reconfigured to provide 6 feet of distance between people, and while on campus, everyone is expected to maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others where possible.
  • Self-Monitoring: Anyone coming to campus must self-monitor for symptoms and stay home if they have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 or have had any symptoms over the past 10 days, including: cough, runny or stuffy nose, shortness of breath, fever, difficulty breathing, chills, body aches, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Anyone with symptoms should not go to their University destination and should consult their healthcare provider and inform their supervisor. Any employee or student who is experiencing symptoms can contact the UChicago Medicine COVID-19 triage hotline for screening, at 773.702.2800.
  • COVID-19 Reporting: Individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 must follow University guidelines for isolation and cooperate with the University’s contact tracing program. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and has been in a University owned or operated facility must contact so that the health and safety of others in our facilities can be addressed. People who are determined to be close contacts must adhere to all quarantine requirements for COVID-19.
  • Training and Attestation: Everyone returning to campus must complete a short training program in advance and sign an electronic form affirming that they will comply with safety precautions. Students will receive additional information about the training and attestation they must complete. For others, links to these materials on available on the University’s UChicago Forward website.

The health and safety requirements that we are adopting to minimize the spread of COVID-19 will necessitate a very different experience on campus than we have had in the past. But it is only through these steps and a shared commitment to maintaining public health that our return to campus this autumn is possible. The UChicago community has long demonstrated a spirit of commitment, collaboration, and resolve that allows us to continue our highest academic and research pursuits, and that same commitment and mindset will be critical to limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Each of us has had to confront new types of uncertainty and difficulty these past few months. We are impressed and grateful for how, as individuals and as a community, all have risen to the challenge, and we are confident that together we will do so again in the months ahead. We look forward to returning to campus soon, with a renewed spirit of care across our community. 

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