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Faculty and Staff Fall 2020 Academic Update

Dear Colleagues,

Commencement week is here, and we continue to be deeply appreciative of your hard work and flexibility as we navigate so many new challenges and opportunities. In our campus message on May 22, we told you we would share our decisions about the return to campus in an ongoing and transparent way. This will be the first of several updates we will send you in the months ahead about our plans for the Fall 2020 term and the 2020-2021 Academic Year. We also will write to students soon with information about how the University plans to welcome them back in the fall. 

In this initial message, we share details about our fall schedule, the phased return to campus and fall instruction to help alleviate some uncertainty and bring needed clarity as you prepare for the coming academic year. We are eager to partner with you to ensure that faculty can continue to teach with rigor and empathy, staff can support the University in crucial and meaningful ways, students can learn with open and curious minds, and everyone in the community can work and serve in a place that is supportive of their development and growth.

Early start to Fall Academic Terms

Northwestern will start our fall academic terms on a modified schedule, with most programs beginning earlier than planned:

  • The Pritzker School of Law will begin its term earlier than usual, on Monday, August 24. Scheduled classes will end before the Thanksgiving break, which will be followed by a remote reading period. Final exams will be held remotely the following week.
  • Most Fall Quarter classes will begin on Wednesday, September 16 (six days earlier than the typical start of term), and face-to-face, on-campus classes will end by Tuesday, November 24. Final exams will be held remotely between December 2 and December 8 (Revised dates). Feinberg programs offered in collaboration with The Graduate School will follow this calendar.
  • The Kellogg School of Management, which also operates on the quarter system, will begin classes on Saturday, September 19, and the school will follow a modified calendar during this academic year.
  • Northwestern University in Qatar and some programs at the Feinberg School of Medicine (MD, PT, PA, NUPOC) operate on their own calendars. Members of those communities will receive updates about fall plans directly from those schools as they become available.

Program-specific details will be shared in the days ahead and throughout the summer. Information about fall class registration will be sent in July or August. However, we can confirm that students who are on campus when Thanksgiving break begins will be asked to depart at that time. This approach allows us to minimize travel from and to campus during the break, thus decreasing the potential for the spread of COVID-19. For students residing in on-campus residence halls who are unable to leave, a housing program will be available through the winter break. 

Returning to Campus

We look forward to welcoming back to campus as many members of the Northwestern community as are able to return. As we have previously announced, the planned return of faculty and staff will be phased over the coming months, and we will continue to err on the side of flexibility. Although we plan to welcome students back in the fall, we anticipate that a significant portion of fall instruction will be conducted remotely.

As those who have been part of the initial phased return to campus already know, our campus communities will return to a new and evolving environment. The University is regularly updating its COVID-19 guidelines, which prioritize the health of our community and comply with the most current federal, state and local guidance. The guidelines will require students, faculty and staff to practice social distancing, wear appropriate face coverings, frequently wash or sanitize their hands, regularly disinfect shared surfaces, monitor their own health and self-isolate as appropriate. Staff and faculty will need to complete COVID-19 training as a condition for returning to work on campus. The University will ask students, faculty and staff to participate in the University’s contact tracing efforts by reporting exposure to COVID-19 and to take part in health screening efforts. More information about both programs will follow. There also will be special considerations pertaining to international travel. 

We recognize that even with training and appropriate safety precautions in the classroom and workplace, some faculty and staff have concerns about returning to work. In addition to the continued accommodation policies administered through the Office of Equity and Human Resources, we are updating the current COVID-19 Return to Campus policies to consider additional personal situations, such as child/elder care and pre-existing medical conditions or use of mass transit, that make returning to work especially difficult at this time. Before the end of June, we will have finalized the consolidated processes to guide the application of policies consistently across the University. 

Preparing for Fall Instruction

While we anticipate that a significant portion of instruction will be conducted remotely, we are committed to offering many face-to-face curricular and co-curricular experiences for students who will be on campus. This is a challenging new academic landscape for all of us, and it will require us to design, support and conduct courses for a remote or hybrid environment on a modified calendar. We recognize that similar challenges must be overcome in other areas of the University and in units that support the curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities that make up our vibrant campus life. 

We know many of you are already actively planning for how best to offer face-to-face engagement for our students and realize that you may have already been in touch with your deans and unit directors. We recognize that many of you also are in discussion as departments and programs to ensure that students can still engage in enriching, rigorous experiences, whether or not students choose or are able to return to campus. 

Our goal is to offer the most stable, high-quality curriculum possible, enabling students to make appropriate progress toward their degrees in the fall. In our message to students, we will emphasize that these decisions will be tailored to each discipline, school and department. We also will support you by offering a practicum on the foundations of remote teaching, consultations with learning designers and other online resources and training. The practicum schedule will be announced shortly, and all faculty teaching this fall will be notified when registration opens. Northwestern’s Remote Teaching and Learning Guidance “Keep Teaching” site will host details on each of these options, so please continue to check the site throughout the summer months for more information.

Beyond ensuring stability in the curriculum and classroom, we also have heard from you and our students about how material conditions, such as connectivity, privacy, time constraints and competing obligations like childcare and elder-care affect the remote working, teaching and learning experience. Moreover, the painful but necessary discussions of systemic racism and violence in the last weeks have given us the opportunity to engage in critical introspection. We recognize these real challenges and will redouble our efforts to work with you — Northwestern’s dedicated faculty and staff — and our students in support of our greater community.

The work ahead

We will continue to share information with you as decisions are made. We hope this information is helpful to you. If you have questions, please reach out to our Return to Campus team who, alongside your school and unit leaders, is ready to assist you. Thank you for your patience, resilience and cooperation. We look forward to seeing you again as soon as possible.



Kathleen Hagerty
Interim Provost and Professor

Manuel Cuevas-Trisán
Vice President for Human Resources and Chief Human Resource Officer