Local colleges and universities are gearing up for a 2020-21 academic year that will be unlike any other — except, perhaps, the one rocked by the Spanish Flu pandemic a century ago. And different local institutions are each implementing different reopening models that officials say are unique to their particular circumstances.
At Triton College in River Grove, which kicks off fall classes on Aug. 24, students will take five types of courses that range from full online learning to a mixture of online and in-person instruction, a college spokesperson said.
Triton is requiring all students to have access to WiFi, a webcam and a computer. The college has also implemented a free mobile app called CampusClear that allows students and employees who are on campus to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms.
Last month, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers — which collectively represent 238,000 employees in public and private schools and colleges in the state — issued a joint statement insisting that colleges go full remote unless adequate safety measures to protect students and instructors are in place.
“We are working to ensure that any district providing in-person instruction in Illinois is prepared and able to abide by the safety measures outlined by the state, the federal government, and medical professionals,” it stated. “If those measures are not met, we will do everything we can to protect our students and those who care for them — teachers and professors, bus drivers, classroom aides, secretaries, building janitors and everyone in between.”
The Illinois Education Association did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment. At Triton, full-time instructors are represented by the Triton College Faculty Association while the Triton College Adjunct Faculty Association represents adjunct instructors.
Leslie Wester, the faculty association’s president, declined to comment specifically on how her union felt about Triton College’s reopening plans. She did point out that the union is “working with the administration during this fluid situation” to figure out the best way forward. Wester added that the union currently has no plans to strike.
Bill Justiz, who heads up the adjunct faculty union, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, which also starts classes Aug. 24, is going full remote on Zoom in the fall after initially deciding on a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction.
Eric Matanyi, Concordia’s associate vice president for communications and marketing, said the college pivoted from the blended model after seeking input from “all members of the university community” and based on guidance from the university’s Emergency Response Team.
According to Concordia’s Return to Campus Plan available on its website, the university has established a partnership with Access Health in Melrose Park to conduct individual COVID-19 testing for students.
Dominican University in River Forest will start the fall by reopening its campus “with reduced density and more campus restriction,” said Donna M. Carroll, the university’s president.
“Having gone through all my town meetings with current students, new students, faculty and staff, I can say that is firmly our direction,” Carroll said. “We think we can do it.”
Carroll said the university’s small size and its “strong sense of community and collective responsibility gives me hope that we can implement something that is sustaining.” She added that the university Caritas Commitment, or its “pledge of solidarity” to the health and well-being of the whole campus body, gives her another layer of confidence.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” she said. “I have some colleagues who think I’m nuts to expect college students to adhere to protocols around masking and social distancing, but I’ve told students that this is an important moment. You’re coming to campus and your behavior and vigilance will determine the campus experience you’re able to have.”
Dominican enrolled 3,029 students last fall, 2,151 of whom were undergraduates, according to data available on the university’s website. Jill Albin-Hill, Dominican’s vice president of operations, said administrators will reduce campus density by 50 percent when classes start on Aug. 31. The college will also utilize various forms of remote learning.
As with Triton, Dominican will use the CampusClear mobile app for students and employees to monitor and report on their status, and has partnered with Rush University Medical Center for testing. In addition, the college has implemented a range of protective measures, such as mandating face coverings and installing thermal temperature scanning at building entrances, among other measures.
“We’ve tried to convey to people that we’ve got layers of mitigation,” Albin-Hill said, adding that the university sticking with those mitigating measures — from implementing a rule requiring the wearing of face masks and installing sneeze guards throughout campus to modifying interior spaces for optimal social distancing — “will improve our odds.”
Carroll said Dominican’s divergence from Concordia’s reopening plan reflects each institution’s uniqueness, adding that “Each campus is different.”
“Given the large number of first-generation college students and given the issues of economic and racial equity, we really believe it’s the right risk, if we want our students to persist and be successful academically,” she said.
Igor Studenkov contributed to this report.