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Faculty and Staff Fall Quarter Preparations

Dear Faculty and Staff,

When the pandemic began, we promised to be transparent about our plans and to share them with you as soon as we could. In that spirit, I write with updated information about community health expectations and decisions, teaching and return preparations and fall CTEC plans. This is a long note, but it contains important information that you need to prepare for Fall Quarter. Please read to the end, review the links and ask questions of our Return to Campus team if you have them.

Stay-at-Home Period

To support healthy Northwestern and Evanston communities and create an equitable way to adhere to CDC and local travel quarantine guidance, the Evanston campus will begin its academic year with a two-week Wildcat Wellness period during which students will follow a modified quarantine, similar to the Illinois stay-at-home order issued in April. Wildcat Wellness will take place Monday, Sept. 6, through Sunday, Sept. 20. Students, faculty and staff participating in Chicago programs must adhere to the city’s Emergency Travel Order. 

Evanston faculty and staff should refrain from scheduling in-person activities except those that are essential to support students’ return during Wildcat Wellness. Schools and units should evaluate whether staff should be on campus or remote and how best to support Wildcat Wellness.

The first several days of Fall Quarter classes begin within this period and should be conducted remotely.  Evanston in-person classes that cannot meet remotely may be rescheduled to begin after Sept. 20, and make-up sessions can be added. Any programs that are already underway before Sept. 6 may continue operations, limiting social contact as much as possible during this time. 

We continue to develop plans to test students who come to campus in the fall. Some of that testing will take place during Wildcat Wellness. 

I recognize that you have spent many hours preparing for this term and that this stay-at-home period may present additional hurdles. However, observing this period is vital to give our entire community the best possible conditions for a successful start to the year. Further details on Wildcat Wellness will be available next week on the COVID-19 and Campus Updates website.

Community Health Behaviors and Expectations

Northwestern classrooms, labs and other learning spaces will look different in the fall, and our work within them will require new practices and behaviors. Building systems will optimize airflow. We will enhance cleaning protocols. We will provide cleaning products and face coverings. Most importantly, everyone, especially faculty and staff, must model the behaviors listed below, which are necessary to safeguard our own health and that of the rest of our community.

  • Complete daily symptom surveys before arriving on campus. Visit the Health page of our COVID-19 and Campus Updates website for updated information. Closer to the start of the term you will be able to download an app for this purpose.
  • Wear masks inside University buildings. Disposable options will be available at designated building entries.
  • Observe six-foot physical distancing when entering, occupying and exiting campus spaces, including classrooms. Excess classroom furniture will be removed to reflect revised occupancy limits, which in most cases, will be 20-30% of normal capacity.
  • Maintain responsible personal hygiene. Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. The University will provide sanitizing stations in high-traffic areas in campus buildings.

For those who will be teaching in classrooms this fall:

  • Allow students and faculty from the previous class to fully exit a room before you and your students enter. In turn, please be mindful that others are waiting for you as your class wraps up. We have extended the time between classes to allow the extra time required for this.
  • Disinfect your own work area as you enter your classroom using cleaning materials provided. Students will be asked to do the same.
  • Assign seats to students in your face to face and hybrid classes. You may be contacted for this information to assist in contact tracing if someone in your class becomes ill.
  • Look for guidelines in August, which we are currently developing, about how to manage classroom situations in which students do not comply with University guidelines about health behaviors and expectations, and know that students will be counting on you to comply as well. 

Return Preparations

We recognize that with every passing day, resources available for for school, childcare and eldercare dwindle, and we certainly understand that you may be concerned about balancing your commitments at Northwestern with those to your loved ones. Our alternative work arrangements policy addresses this to some extent, but we hope to share additional information with you soon. As always, to the degree you feel comfortable, please talk with your department and school leadership about your concerns.

We have heard that many of you plan to survey students about whether they will come to campus — to attend your class, stop into your office, eat in the dining halls or participate in your programming. To save everyone from asking the same questions, and to save students from responding multiple times, the University will survey students (excluding those in Kellogg, where they will collect this information in other ways) next week about their plans. Students who plan to study from other locations will be directed to update their time zone in Canvas. We will share this data with faculty via Canvas and with others via reports in the coming weeks. 

Later today incoming and returning students will receive a message focused on campus life in the fall. Please visit the Student section of our COVID-19 and Campus Updates site to review our communication with students about their return planning.


I know that many of you are refreshing your courses in creative ways, making use of university training, while also supporting each other in these significant efforts. Our Keep Teaching website consolidates a variety of information about remote teaching. Please note, in particular, new guidelines for fostering inclusive online environments. I hope you are finding these resources and communities helpful as you prepare for the fall. 

Students’ difficulty accessing course materials is exacerbated in this largely remote learning environment. When possible, I ask that you choose digital course materials to increase the likelihood that all students will have their materials by the first day of class. We will share specific information, including steps to secure course materials via the Libraries and the Bookstore, next week.

Many faculty teaching hybrid courses (outside Law and Kellogg) will find two sections of their course scheduled for the fall, one that is tagged as hybrid and the other tagged remote (asynchronous or synchronous). This bifurcation of your course enrollment (which does not apply to Law due to their bidding system) will make it clear to you and your students who plans to attend your class in-person and who will study remotely. These sections will appear in Canvas as one class. We have advised students who change their attendance plans to notify their instructor after the add period, and that they needn’t formally update their registration.

As a result of daily symptom monitoring and/or quarantine and isolation requirements, some students may need to refrain from participating in person and may instead need to participate remotely for a time. We ask for your flexibility in these circumstances and that you allow students to do so.

After careful consideration and upon receiving significant faculty and student input, we are returning to standard grading protocols, with quality (letter) or Pass/No Pass grades determined by faculty and academic programs. In the spring, we made emergency changes to our grading systems and requirements as a result of the need for a rapid transition to remote coursework. We implemented a return to traditional grading for summer classes, and we have heard from many in our community that they are eager to continue standard grading in the fall. 

At the same time, we recognize that our public health challenges are far from over and will offer continued flexibility in response. Please review the adjusted drop, withdrawal and grading option (Pass/No Pass) deadlines on the quarter academic calendar, which have been extended. Kellogg, the School of Professional Studies and the Pritzker School of Law publish and adhere to different deadlines.

Course and Teacher Evaluations (CTEC)

In the spring, we temporarily suspended our use of CTEC responses in faculty tenure and promotion processes and chose not to publish results widely. We made this choice because of the abrupt transition to online learning. As we look forward to the Fall Quarter and attempt to establish some normalcy in our academic operations, we will return to our regular practices with regard to the use and publication of CTEC responses.

A group of faculty, administrators and students have dedicated much time and careful consideration to reevaluate the CTEC instrument and use of this data. While that work has been temporarily put on hold as we respond to the current situation, I expect it to resume later this academic year.

I invite you to join our weekly Return to Campus Discussion Series to hear directly from campus leaders about many topics on all of our minds. Next week’s session will focus on health and safety planning for our community. Registration for that session, at 11 a.m. Tuesday, is now open. I know you have many questions, but I hope this information helps you better imagine what our community will be like this fall. If you do not find what you need on the University’s robust COVID-19 and Campus Updates site, the Resources page directs you to our Return to Campus team, which is monitoring email and phones to help connect you with the right information.

Be well,


Kathleen Hagerty
Interim Provost and Professor