How Northwestern’s peer schools are planning for the fall


University President Morton Schapiro on CNBC’s The Exchange. Schapiro said Northwestern is exploring possibilities to safely open campus for the fall.

Gabby Birenbaum, Print Managing Editor

In a Tuesday interview with CNBC’s The Exchange, University President Morton Schapiro said while he would like to open campus for Fall Quarter, safety concerns regarding COVID-19 will determine whether students can return.

“If we could do it safely, you want to do it,” Schapiro said. “But I don’t want it on my conscience if anybody gets sick or, God forbid, dies, because I’m worried about my budget or bringing people back before it’s safe.”

University Director of Media Relations Jon Yates said administrators are exploring various scenarios for Fall Quarter. In the CNBC interview, Schapiro mentioned that should the University open in the fall, Northwestern is considering utilizing currently unused dorms to ensure each student has a single room, or renting local hotel rooms to best practice social distancing. Yates said administrators do not have a timeline for when a decision will be made.

Peer universities have taken a variety of approaches to making announcements about the fall. While some schools have floated the possibility of pushing back the academic year, others have committed to starting on time, even if it means continuing with virtual learning. The following schools’ announcements and approaches may offer insight into what courses of action Northwestern administrators are considering, and when students might know more.

Planning to open with in-person classes, with additional measures

Purdue University
In a letter from University President Mitch Daniels, the Big Ten school committed to offering in-person classes in the fall. Daniels said a safe return will be achieved through a “robust testing system” in which individuals testing positive will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Daniels expressed confidence in the University’s ability to conduct contact tracing, and said the youthfulness of the Purdue community, 80 percent of which is under 35, insulates it from danger, adding the virus poses “zero lethal threat” to younger people.

“Whatever its eventual components, a return-to-operations strategy is undergirded by a fundamental conviction that even a phenomenon as menacing as COVID-19 is one of the inevitable risks of life,” Daniels wrote. “Like most sudden and alarming developments, its dangers are graphic, expressed in tragic individual cases, and immediate; the costs of addressing it are less visible, more diffuse, and longer-term. It is a huge and daunting problem, but the Purdue way has always been to tackle problems, not hide from them.”

Daniels faced some criticism for his comments. A March analysis by the Centers for Disease Control found that younger Americans are at a substantial risk of developing severe medical problems as a result of coronavirus, and their age group is still vulnerable to the disease. [cq] Young people are capable of spreading the virus to people more vulnerable to serious infections, whether in their age group or not.

University of Nebraska – Lincoln
“UNL will be open in the fall for in-person instruction,” University Chancellor Ronnie Green wrote in an April 24 letter.

Green said the manner in which classes are offered will likely be abnormal, however. Not every class will require physical attendance, depending on which safety concerns are still prevalent in the fall. He said administrators will also consider the potential impracticality of travel for international students and the safety risks in-person classes could pose for at-risk professors and students.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Director of undergraduate admissions Andy Borst told potential students in an email that the University is planning for students to return to campus on-time in the fall, though Borst said an online option would be provided for students who cannot arrive.

Leaning towards fall opening

University of Michigan
University President Mark Schlissel said administrators are planning to reopen the Ann Arbor campus, albeit in a manner consistent with public health guidelines.

That could include asking students to wear masks and holding large lectures online, Schlissel told The Detroit News.

The Ohio State University
The president of one of the nation’s largest undergraduate schools said given current models, Ohio State could be able to open in the fall and could even begin bringing personnel back onto campus within a few weeks.

University President Michael Drake said a return in the fall could mean students have to wear masks on campus and some classes may remain online or be a hybrid experience between in-person and virtual instruction, but current trends indicate students will be able to come back to campus in the fall.

Brown University
In an op-ed in the New York Times, University President Christina Paxson said schools should be doing everything they can to open in the fall, and that she is optimistic Brown will be able to do so through rapid testing and contact tracing.

Large lectures could remain online, and the social aspect of college will look very different with distancing, she wrote.

Potential to move start date

Stanford University
At a Faculty Senate meeting, administrators said they are exploring a variety of scenarios, including skipping Stanford’s Fall Quarter and starting the academic year in the Winter Quarter.

University of Maryland
Chancellor of the University System of Maryland Jay Perman said administrators are preparing to bring students back to campus in the fall, though that may involve pushing the start date back to September or October.

Even when on-campus, Perman said large lectures could still be held online, while seminars could be held in large lecture rooms in order to practice safe social distancing.

Later decision timelines

University of Chicago
In an April 24 email, Provost Ka Yee C. Lee said administrators still don’t have enough information to make a decision regarding the University’s September 29 fall class start date, which is a week after Northwestern’s planned start date of September 22. Lee said the University will make a decision by the end of June.

Yale University
University President Peter Salovey said he will announce how the University plans to handle its fall semester by early July.

Online classes likely

Harvard University
In an April 27 message, Provost Alan Garber made it clear that Harvard will open as scheduled in the fall of 2020, but said there is uncertainty around how that opening will look. Administrators are preparing for a scenario in which “much or all” of the semester is done remotely.

In order to open the campus, Garber said public health models will have to indicate that the pandemic subsides and further outbreaks are unlikely. The community will either need to be sufficiently immune to the virus through a vaccine or recovery from the disease or the University will need a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment, the ability to conduct contact tracing, reliable testing and facilities for quarantine and isolation.

University of Pennsylvania
University President Amy Gutmann said the University is preparing for a “likely combination of in-class and virtual teaching (particularly for large lectures) depending upon the circumstances” in an April 27 message.

Penn community members will have to be “creative and flexible” until a vaccine is developed, Gutman said.

Michigan State University
An MSU spokesperson told that while administrators are hoping to open the campus in the fall, they are planning for the possibility that “at least some learning may need to be done virtually.”

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