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Moving Forward on Phased Return to Campus

Dear Northwestern Faculty and Staff,

Following yesterday’s health and safety update, this message focuses on our return to campus planning. As the state continues to operate under Phase 4 of its Restore Illinois plan, today we announce that Northwestern’s Evanston and Chicago campuses will proceed to Step 4 (Summer Stabilization) in our phased Return to Campus Plan.

School and Unit Return to Campus Plans

We are continually monitoring developments, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on precautionary measures and using the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s recently published guide to reopening universities as a resource. As always, we remain commited to providing you with as much information as possible to help you, your departments, units and schools prepare for the months ahead.

An important part of repopulating campus is reopening our facilities. Campus buildings will be activated on a pre-determined schedule based on campus regions, but faculty and staff should not regularly return to their building until instructed to do so as part of approved school or unit Return to Campus Plans, with an exception for brief visits to pick up items that you need in order to work remotely. All faculty and staff returning to campus need to complete the COVID-19: Returning to Campus Training, or the research-specific version, available in myHR.

Occupancy will follow state and local guidelines, and is currently limited to 50% of normal levels in Evanston and 25% in Chicago. So while more faculty and staff will begin returning to campus, many will continue to work remotely into the Fall Quarter. Coordination is key to managing campus occupancy levels, so we are asking all schools and units to prepare or update their Return to Campus Plan to prioritize student-facing and research-facing functions. You may hear more from your school or unit leaders as they prepare this plan.

As those of you who are already back on campus know, it will feel different when you return. A toolkit with planning resources for schools and units is now available on the COVID-19 and Campus Updates site. We encourage you to review these materials and the other resources and guidance on this site even if you are not directly responsible for the planning for your department, unit or school.

We are asking schools and units to be in “fall operations mode” no later than August 24 to support our growing on-campus population, which increasingly will include students. Depending on unit and school planning, certain functions have received approval to return and may start returning to campus as early as July 13. As we approach fall, it is essential that we consider the student experience and foster an environment that focuses on their well-being. While we do not know with certainty how many students plan to return in the fall, an initial housing survey indicates a high demand by students to return to campus.

New COVID-19 Alternative Work Arrangements Policy

We understand that many of you have personal situations or conditions that raise concerns about or introduce complexities related to the return to campus. A new COVID-19 Alternative Work Arrangements Policy establishes guidelines, protocols and standards for providing flexible and alternative work arrangements upon request for faculty and staff who are instructed to return to campus, on a continuous or intermittent basis, by their school or unit leadership.

The policy stresses the importance of flexibility in certain COVID-related situations, and creates a new COVID-19 Temporary Leave of Absence Program for those situations in which a flexible work arrangement is not possible. Faculty questions about this policy should be directed to the Office of the Provost while staff questions should be directed to Human Resources.

Travel, Events and Visitors

A number of schools and units have asked for guidance about travel, events and visitors. While the state’s Phase 4 guidance leaves flexibility for some activity to resume, Northwestern will remain cautious in our approach to face-to-face activities or gatherings, University-sponsored travel and campus visitors.

Generally, schools and units should assume that events and non-essential visitors will not be permitted on campus at this time. Certain events for students may be allowed in the fall, with appropriate permissions, adherence to policies and capacity restrictions. University-sponsored off-campus programming should follow on-campus requirements. Additional guidance will be provided over the summer, as it is available, and posted to the COVID-19 and Campus Updates website.

Non-essential University-sponsored travel continues to be restricted, but updated guidance will be added to the COVID-19 and Campus Updates website in the next two weeks.

Weekly Return to Campus Discussion Series

Lastly, in an effort to keep the community informed about developments and ensure your questions are being answered, we will be offering weekly webinars on specific relevant topics.

The first of these will be Thursday, July 16 at noon Central Time. We will provide a brief overview on the status of various planning elements and our preparation to return to campus. You are welcome to register to attend here.

Future webinars will focus on topics such as the student experience in the fall and our testing strategy. More information will continue to be posted online as additional webinars are scheduled. If you have an idea for a future topic or would like to send in questions for the panelists, we invite you to email us at

Thank you for your continued diligence, patience, and support as we plan Northwestern’s return to campus.



Kathleen Hagerty
Interim Provost and Professor

Craig Johnson
Senior Vice President for Business and Finance

Luke Figora
Senior Associate Vice President
Chief Risk and Compliance Officer