University Of Illinois To Reopen Campuses This Fall

Jun 18, 2020

Credit Sam Dunklau/NPR Illinois

The University of Illinois plans to reopen campuses for students this fall.  With some caveats.

The system announced campuses in Springfield, Urbana-Champaign and Chicago will have certain rules, such as a mix of classroom and online instruction as a way to promote physical distancing. 

In classrooms, students and faculty will be required to wear masks and class schedules will be adjusted to limit campus foot traffic. 

The decision to bring students back follows a spring semester that was interrupted in March by the pandemic. Students wound up finishing their school work online. 

That proved costly for the U of I, which lost millions of dollars when it refunded housing and meal costs along with other fees.  Many students also complained the shift to online teaching was lacking.

The university’s plan was developed with the advice of various stakeholders, even though a majority of faculty raised concerns about the safety of returning to classrooms.

President Tim Killeen and other top administrators released a statement Thursday, along with highlights of the plan. 

“The result is a thoughtful, science-based approach that will bring our universities back to life, with a campus experience that will look somewhat different. But the life-changing benefits will be the same – academic programs that lift students to the careers of their dreams, research that drives discovery and progress, and a healthcare enterprise that provides both patient care and innovation,” it said.

Cleaning and disinfecting rooms and other surfaces is expected to ramp up, while the university has also indicated COVID-19 tests will be made available. 

The return to campuses is contingent on the State of Illinois moving into Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan. That could happen as soon as June 26.

“The pandemic is still evolving, so our plans will be flexible and nimble,” the administrators said. “We will monitor campus safety and the latest guidance on the virus, and will adjust plans as needed to protect the well-being of our students, faculty, staff and the communities we call home.”

A summary of the University of Illinois fall semester plan:

Instruction

  • Classes will be a mixture of in-person and remote instruction to provide the physical distancing that inhibits spread of the virus.
  • In-person courses and classroom schedules will be adjusted appropriately to ensure physical distancing and safer traffic flow.
  • Accommodations will be made where possible for students and faculty in vulnerable and at-risk groups, and for students who cannot come to campus due to travel restrictions or other considerations.
  • Classrooms will be cleaned and disinfected daily.
  • Reusable, washable masks will be provided to all students and required in all classrooms, and hand sanitizer will be widely available in all buildings.
  • Training for faculty and instructors is being provided over the summer to sustain high-quality online and distance instruction with state-of-the-art technologies and virtual modalities.

University housing/dining

  • Residence hall occupancy will be limited to two students per room.
  • Outside visitors will not be allowed in residence halls.
  • Quarantine areas will be created to accommodate students who test positive for COVID-19 or display symptoms.
  • Dining halls will largely provide packaged meals for carryout, and in-person dining will be limited.
  • Common areas will be cleaned and disinfected regularly, and hand sanitizer will be available.
  • Use of these common areas will be limited, and physical distancing will be observed.

Campus life

  • The size of gatherings will be based on standards under the state reopening guidelines in force this fall and beyond.
  • Use of auxiliary facilities such as recreational centers will be limited to preserve safety.
  • Outside visitors to campus will be asked to follow physical distancing and wear masks in public places.

Research

  • Research activities will continue a ramp-up that began over the summer.
  • As in classrooms, masks will be required and other safety measures will be followed.
  • Research will continue to support treatments, vaccines and other measures related to COVID-19.

Employees

  • Most faculty and staff will continue a phased-in return to work that began in June and will be completed by the start of the fall semester, though some will continue to work from home to reduce campus density.
  • Flexible work-from-home guidelines will be developed for the benefit of vulnerable employees and those with family-related considerations.
  • Work areas will be cleaned regularly, and hand sanitizer will be provided.
  • Masks will be required in publicly shared spaces and reusable masks will be provided to all employees.
  • We will continue engagement with our labor unions to discuss the impact of these plans.

Testing and notification

  • Our scientists are piloting cutting-edge testing procedures for the COVID-19 virus that are accurate, cost-effective and scalable to the whole university community and provide same-day results. 
  • We are partnering closely with local public health authorities to notify individuals at risk for infection and mitigate spread, through a combination of manual and rapid app-based approaches.
  • All app-based software will protect individual privacy so that positive test results are shared only with the user, and no location data will be required, collected or shared with third parties. Local public health departments will be provided test results based on required local, state and federal regulations.

General safety

  • Training will be required for all students and employees to ensure compliance with physical distancing and other COVID-related safety measures.
  • Hand sanitizer or disposable wipes will be available at building entrances, elevator lobbies and in common and high-traffic areas.
  • High-touch surfaces such as door handles and elevator buttons will be disinfected multiple times daily.
  • Flu shots will be strongly encouraged for all students, faculty and staff to lessen the possibility of dual outbreaks when traditional flu season begins.