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Message Sent To:All Faculty
Message From:Message from the Office of the Provost
Date Sent:Monday, July 6, 2020 07:35 PM CDT

Clarifications on the Status of Fall Semester and Reasonable Accommodations Process

Dear Colleagues,

On Thursday, June 25, a communication was distributed to you regarding the “COVID-19 Reasonable Accommodation Process.” Subsequently, we received several emails with inquiries and concerns in response to that communication. Thank you for taking the time to reach out to us, and please accept my regrets for not writing lucidly enough for you to understand me. As the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “People understand me so poorly that they don't even understand my complaint about them not understanding me.” Here is my attempt to clarify some of the questions that you are raising. I also want to reiterate the rationale behind the Reasonable Accommodation Process. Finally, I want to explain our current thinking and concerns on supporting the health, safety, and welfare of our community while also serving the educational mission of Loyola University Chicago. While I direct this message to you, the faculty, please know that a separate message will be sent shortly to the staff.

I begin by addressing the question of why we have launched this Reasonable Accommodation Process. Over the past several months we have worked on the response of Loyola to COVID-19. This response includes plans to reopen our campuses to students, faculty, and staff for the new academic year. Surveys of students indicated that about 80 percent wanted to have some on-campus experience in the fall semester. Of these students, about 30 percent said they would not return in the fall if all the classes were online. We also conducted surveys with faculty and staff. We received over 700 responses from faculty members with only 15 percent reporting they could not physically teach on campus and 85 percent indicating a willingness to be on campus. This was good, because to provide approximately 75 percent of the first-year classes on campus, with lesser amounts of on-campus classes for upperclassmen, Loyola needed a certain number of face-to-face hours to meet the students’ on-campus instructional needs. Consequently, after listening to you, we concluded that we could proceed. Based on your responses, the University moved forward with planning and scheduling for a certain number of students to participate in on-campus instruction. Until about two weeks ago, the proposed classes indicated that we were on pace to meet the demand.

However, during these last two weeks, we have received many requests from faculty for course changes. Most changes have been from on-campus to online instruction. These changing numbers have begun to indicate that we could no longer meet all the demand to teach in-person classes to the students who are planning to come to our campuses. Therefore, in keeping with federal workplace-compliance guidelines, we have launched the Reasonable Accommodation Process, an interactive mechanism to engage the employees requesting a workplace accommodation. This engagement is outlined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In particular, the ADA allows employers to request information from employees about why they need accommodations.

All of us have also been watching the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases throughout much of the U.S. This increase is particularly dramatic among college-aged people, that is, those under 40 years of age. The large number of requests to shift classes from on-campus to online is undoubtedly linked to this increase. I recognize the difficulty in facing the virus and the anxiety that you may feel in conducting in-person classes in the fall. As a university, we are committed to the health and safety of our entire Loyola community as well as being a good citizen and neighbor to other Chicagoans. We have been working diligently to build such a safe environment. We have already sent several announcements on making the environment safer. In addition, we are working to collate all our safety measures in a comprehensive handbook for our return to campus.

Here are some of the things that we already know our safe-campus environment will include:

  • Testing frequently for COVID-19
  • Using extensive contact tracing
  • Revising academic calendar to end on-campus classes before Thanksgiving, and resuming online on November 30 to avoid being on campus during a forecasted second wave of COVID-19
  • Stopping face-to-face classes if the CDC, state, or city demands it
  • Placing hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and sanitizing spray in multiple locations around the campuses (for example, in every classroom, elevator lobby, libraries, and office suites)
  • Providing sanitizing wipes in each classroom for students and faculty to wipe down work surfaces before and after class
  • Mandating students to wear masks or face coverings in each class
    • We will provide two cloth masks to each student
    • Additional guidance will be forthcoming to equip faculty to deal with a student who refuses to comply with the health and safety guidelines of the University
  • Having professors wear masks or face coverings during classes
    • We will provide two cloth masks to each professor (and to each staff person)
    • Lapel mics will be provided in the larger classrooms to mitigate the sound problems because of masks
  • Seating students to follow social distancing guidelines
    • Enrollments in each classroom will be less than one-third of the usual capacity
    • Moving furniture from its established configuration will be prohibited
    • Faculty will maintain a seating chart of students in assigned seats
    • If a student tests positive, the student and their class neighbors will be quarantined
  • Implementing multiple mechanisms to de-densify the campuses
    • Mandating single-occupancy dorm rooms
    • Increasing passing periods between classes from 15 to 30 minutes to allow more time to cross campus while socially distancing
    • Staggering beginning and ending of classes to prevent agglomerations in halls, elevators, and stairways
    • Extending class hours to have fewer students per class

Besides safety measures, some of you have raised important privacy concerns: Will the Matrix certification for requesting accommodations link up to your faculty personnel file in any way? Well, I finally get a question that has an easy answer: NO! Furthermore, Matrix keeps the medical records confidential and they are HIPAA protected. If you have further concerns, please email us at COVID-19support@LUC.edu.

We will continue to reach out and solicit input and data from all areas. If you have further concerns, please email us at COVID-19support@LUC.edu. Moreover, this week, we will be soliciting input from our deans, chairs, and our Faculty Advisory Group. We will also send a new survey this week to faculty and staff requesting input and feedback. We would like to make a firm decision about our path forward this fall within the next week. We must communicate this decision to our new and returning students and focus on our preparations to support faculty and staff for the fall. Tradeoffs and difficult financial decisions will be ahead of us if we move to a greater online presence. But the health, safety, and welfare of our community are paramount even in the face of these difficulties.

I understand that some of you are unhappy because communications from the University have appeared to be shifting. These shifts further support our need to make a firm decision about the fall by next week. As we have done throughout this pandemic, we will make this decision informed by science, data, and input from many sources. Everything about these times of pandemic are uncertain. States, cities, and public health authorities have adjusted their own guidelines continuously as the pandemic progresses. Hence, throughout the spring and summer, we have been considering numerous scenarios to allow us to adjust our fall plans with maximal flexibility. But despite this flexibility, three things have remained constant in our position:

1. We asked everybody to prepare to teach online as the worst-case scenario.

2. We said that hybrid teaching was our preference if the state and the city allowed.

3. We said that although some faculty might feel uncomfortable, they would have to teach face-to-face to meet student demand. I raised this issue explicitly at my faculty town halls and repeated this message in most of my departmental and school visits. However now, with the COVID-19 crisis deepening, we may have to give up our preference for hybrid teaching and shift most of our delivery online.

I am greatly appreciative to you for raising these issues and being forbearing with me. I want you to know that we are in this together. I am not asking our faculty to do more than I am willing to do myself. I could not have imagined when I became your provost five months ago how testing things would become because of a global pandemic. Arguably, the trickiest part of the test has been an uncertain, swiftly fluctuating environment. This uncertainty and swirl of events make communicating lucidly problematic. Astonishingly, I feel weary but not overly strained by this swirl, perhaps because the tolerance of not knowing arrives with maturity (read “getting old”). I know of no remedy for uncertainty. The path of the virus will remain uncertain for some time, however our path forward as a university this fall will not. Despite the continuing uncertainty, I am confident that we will have a great fall semester if we work jointly and with reciprocal tolerance to address complications that may materialize.

Together in Loyola,

Norberto M. Grzywacz, PhD
Provost and Chief Academic Officer