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Summer and Fall Planning Updates for Faculty and Staff

Dear faculty and staff,

As Northwestern approaches the end of the 2020-21 academic year, you are likely thinking about your personal and professional plans for the summer and fall. Today, we provide some updates to offer additional clarity on what we anticipate the next several months will bring.

Today’s updates address:

  • Expected timeline for increasing our on-campus presence in anticipation of the start of classes in the fall.
  • Details about the final extension and phaseout of the Alternative Work Arrangements policy.

We also are excited to announce a special two-day extension of the Fourth of July holiday weekend that we hope will provide you with a well-earned opportunity to rest and reset for the months ahead. 

Planning timeline

Given the safety, efficacy and widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the overall health landscape at Northwestern, we intend to be in-person for the Fall Terms to the extent that public health guidance will allow. A decision on potential vaccination requirements for students is expected in early May.

Hand in hand with our academic planning, Northwestern is working on a strategy that brings employees back to campus while providing flexibility for remote work. That strategy will leverage the experiences of the past 14 months to create a framework for University-wide expectations and ability for schools and units to equitably apply some opportunities for remote and flexible arrangements consistent with their needs.

We know that in order to plan Fall offerings, you rely on us to make and communicate certain decisions in a timely manner, like the extent to which courses may or must be taught remotely or in hybrid form, any social distancing and vaccination requirements, and a clearer understanding of available space and technology. Some of these answers must come from state and local public health authorities. For the decisions within our purview, we are working with schools and units now and will provide as much information as possible by the end of June so you can plan accordingly.  

We will soon share with leaders in the schools and units an initial set of guidelines and expectations for in-person work and opportunities for remote flexibility. In contrast to the “emergency pivot” last spring to predominantly virtual instruction and work, which was driven by health and safety considerations, the return to campus presents unique opportunities for us to think strategically about our work, our workplace and the ways in which we come together. In the coming weeks, you will receive more details about your school’s or unit’s plans as these are developed and refined. For now, we share a high-level, preliminary timeline for the coming months:

  • May: Schools and units will develop plans based on the central guidance, and seek opportunities for targeted in-person student activities before the end of the academic year.
  • June: Schools and units will begin to introduce some in-person expectations for those staff currently working remotely and encourage more faculty and staff to get reacquainted with the physical workplace.
  • July 6-Sept. 3: Schools and units will gradually phase in their plans.
  • Sept. 7: In-person work plans will be fully enacted. These plans will continue to evolve based on ongoing assessment.

This timeline is based on our current assessment of the pandemic’s trajectory, progress on vaccination in Illinois, and our own campus experience. As always, any return to campus will need to align with current public health guidance, and if the environment deteriorates, this timeline could be delayed. For now, we are optimistic about the summer and fall and are planning under these assumptions.

Alternative Work Arrangements policy extension

While most faculty and staff shifted to remote work when we de-densified campus, some positions required a continuation of in-person work. Northwestern established a temporary provision for faculty and staff who were required to return to in-person work, or who supported ongoing academic research, to request alternative work arrangements due to a variety of needs. The Alternative Work Arrangements (AWA) policy is slated to expire June 20. To support faculty and staff who continue to require this provision, the University will offer a final extension of the program this summer before it is phased out. 

Schools and units will determine the date through which the AWA will be extended, based on operational needs, with the phaseout occurring between July 31 and Sept. 3. The qualifying criteria for an AWA will narrow after June 20, in alignment with improving public health conditions.

Employees who wish to extend an AWA arrangement beyond June 20 should speak with their managers about their needs and reconfirm approval, as well as the duration of the extension. Existing AWA arrangements will not automatically extend beyond June 20. Please visit the Office of Human Resources for more information about this policy. Employees seeking an accommodation related to a disability, pregnancy or religion can contact the Office of Equity at or 847-467-6165. 

As part of Northwestern’s workforce planning, the Office of Human Resources, in collaboration with schools and units, will develop tools, training and policy materials that will address alternative work strategies.

Fourth of July holiday weekend extension 

To provide faculty and staff with a well-earned opportunity to pause and prepare for the months ahead, for this year only Northwestern will extend the Fourth of July holiday weekend by two days, beginning Thursday, July 1, and running through Monday, July 5.

During this period, many areas of the University—including the library and Norris Center—will close or substantially reduce staffing. Some areas of the University, including research and some classes, will be unable to close or scale back staffing because continuity of those operations and services is critical. Faculty and staff required to work on July 1, July 2 or July 5 are permitted to take the equivalent number of approved days off prior to Aug. 31, 2022, and should work with their managers to do so. Staff required to work on the previously scheduled July 5 University holiday may be entitled to holiday pay and/or an alternate day off. Employees who are not required to work on those days are not permitted to carry over the days.

Our hope is that the majority of faculty and staff will be able to unplug from work for a couple of extra days and, as during Winter Recess, be able to do so without worry about professional obligations. The Office of Human Resources will provide more detail closer to the holiday weekend.

We thank you for your steadfast commitment to Northwestern as we navigate the ever-changing pandemic landscape and look forward to sharing more information soon.


Kathleen Hagerty 
Provost and Professor

Craig Johnson
Senior Vice President for Business and Finance

Manuel Cuevas-Trisán
Vice President for Human Resources