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Faculty Spring Break and Spring Quarter Update

As the weather warms up and COVID-19 vaccines are administered at an increasing rate across the nation, it is understandably tempting for us to let our guard down. So it is with great pride that we report that Northwestern has maintained a low rate of positive COVID-19 tests throughout the Winter Quarter. Thank you for your diligent adherence to health guidelines as we continue to safely navigate the pandemic.

Many of us and our students begin final exams next week, followed by spring break. As Northwestern prepares for Spring Quarter and beyond, we provide some important reminders and updates about the University’s evolving response to COVID-19.

This message includes information about Spring Quarter as well as updates on vaccines and the Fall terms, which are relevant to the whole community. Some schools may share additional information in follow-up emails, so please be sure to read those messages.

Spring Break 

Some of you may plan to take some time off during spring break. Whether you stay in the area or choose to travel, we ask that you adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and Northwestern policies at all times. Please keep wearing your mask, maintain appropriate physical distancing, wash your hands, and avoid large groups. 

Spring Quarter and Wildcat Wellness

To position Northwestern for a healthy quarter, the University will again require students to participate in Wildcat Wellness (March 29-April 5 for most programs, including Kellogg), and faculty and staff should not plan in-person activities during that period. In-person classes will not commence until April 6. All Northwestern students who intend to interact with the community in person or be on campus—including those living in on-campus residence halls, fraternity and sorority houses, and off-campus residences—will move through the seven-day Wildcat Wellness protocol before in-person activity begins. Any students traveling for spring break or coming to campus for the first time are expected to arrive on campus or at their off-campus residence by March 30. Anyone arriving later must follow a seven-day wellness period starting upon arrival following the stages and requirements outlined online.

For most programs, Spring Quarter begins on Tuesday, March 30, with a “Northwestern Monday,” in which classes will follow their typical Monday schedule on Tuesday, March 30, and return to the standard schedule on Wednesday, March 31. Kellogg graduate classes and all classes taught by the School of Professional Studies operate on a slightly different schedule the first week of the quarter. Schools have shared that schedule directly with their students, faculty and staff. Again, all Spring Quarter classes will meet remotely until April 6, after Wildcat Wellness concludes. 

As previously shared, the COVID-19 Alternative Work Arrangements policy continues to be in place through the end of Spring Quarter. Applications are also still open for caregiving grants of up to $1,500 to offset the costs of care for dependent children or adult/senior dependents.

Testing Expectations for Spring 

Testing through Color continues to be available for those faculty and staff who want to test weekly while they are working on campus. Going forward, faculty and staff no longer need to make an appointment to obtain their Color test. If you haven’t yet completed a Color test, make sure to register for your Color account in advance using your Northwestern email address.

Northwestern has also entered into a new rapid testing partnership with Abbott using their BinaxNOW antigen test and NAVICA mobile app. This test provides one more tool to help quickly identify positive cases and isolate them from the University community. While no test can 100% guarantee you are not currently carrying the virus, a negative rapid test result provides an additional level of assurance when you might be engaging with other members of the Northwestern community. We encourage faculty and staff to complete as many rapid tests per week as they would like. Consider testing on a day when you are meeting with others, working in a lab or other shared space, or returning from travel.

Find more information about testing in the March 5 message to faculty and staff

Impact of Vaccinations

You probably saw the interim guidance from the CDC issued this week regarding recommendations for those who have been fully vaccinated. This is an encouraging development in our eventual return to pre-pandemic conditions. 

While we expect increasing numbers of our Northwestern community to be vaccinated in the coming weeks and months, it’s important to remember that most of our community will not be vaccinated in the immediate future. Therefore, we plan to continue all of our current public health measures regarding masking and physical distancing while on campus. Certain adjustments will be made to contact tracing and quarantine protocols in alignment with public health recommendations for those who have been vaccinated, but it is important that our entire community continues the practices that have allowed us to have a healthy Winter Quarter.

More information will continue to come in the coming weeks about vaccine availability and any changes resulting from increased vaccination of the campus community. 

Looking Ahead to Fall 

As mentioned above, the new CDC guidance gives us encouraging signs about how we plan for the Fall Quarter, though many details about the environment in the fall remain unknown. Public health guidance—particularly requirements for social distancing and classroom capacity—and the degree to which our community is vaccinated will have a significant impact on programming and how research and teaching is performed. There are many unanswered questions now, including how, when and to whom the State of Illinois will make vaccines available as well as the degree to which Northwestern can and may choose to require vaccination for students, staff and faculty. We are actively seeking guidance on all these questions and will continue sharing with you what we know when we know it.

Within this context, the University aims to have as many in-person classes, co-curricular and social experiences as possible in the fall, and thus faculty and staff should start planning for a return to campus before their fall term begins, subject to the evolution of the pandemic. Between now and then, the University will consider lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, pilot hybrid and other flexible work policy options in select schools and units, assess outcomes and define a way forward. Planning for the “new normal” is already underway.

To allow planning to occur with as much information as possible about the anticipated environment in the fall, most decisions about course modalities and Fall Quarter registration will take place over the summer. We will confirm teaching expectations for the quarter and communicate classroom guidelines for social distancing, etc., in July. Programs operating on other calendars will begin their planning earlier. Returning students will register for Fall Quarter classes this summer. More information about these processes will be provided during the Spring Quarter.

Information for Instructors

Classes will be remote until the end of the Wildcat Wellness period, April 5.

Support for remote instruction is still available. The Practicum on Foundations in Online Teaching will be offered from April 19 to May 7. To date, nearly 700 Northwestern faculty have taken part in the program and have found it useful in planning their online classes. Many report they will use some of the lessons they learned in the practicum when they return to the campus classrooms. You can learn more and sign up here

Additional resources are available on the Digital Learning website including on-demand training courses. Instructors may want to consider hiring a Zoom Assistant to help with the delivery of remote instruction.

Like the Winter Quarter, classes for Spring Quarter will be taught in one of the following modalities: asynchronous, synchronous, hybrid or face-to-face. During the term, should an instructor need to change the modality of a course from how it appears in registration systems, the instructor should inform the students, update the syllabus and reach out to their regular class-scheduling contact to request the update to CAESAR and other campus systems. 

University Policies and Expectations

All University policies and procedures for students and faculty continue to apply to remote learning, including the University’s expectations around academic integrity.

Syllabus Guidance

Northwestern has provided a statement that should be included in all course syllabi for in-person and hybrid classes for Spring Quarter 2021. The statement reinforces expectations that members of the University community comply with the COVID-19 Code of Conduct.

On the page linked above, you can find several other helpful statements to add to your syllabi, including the University statement on accessibility, new statements on COVID-19 testing expectations and support for mental health and wellness, and other information you and your students may find helpful. Please review and add these statements to your syllabi as appropriate.


I wish each of you the best as we prepare for a safe, healthy and successful Spring Quarter.



Kathleen Hagerty
Provost and Professor

Manuel Cuevas-Trisán
Vice President for Human Resources

Luke Figora
Senior Associate VP
Chief Risk and Compliance Officer