The University of Chicago announced on December 23 that it is “delaying the start of Winter Quarter for most schools and divisions by one week—to January 10, 2022. Additionally, the University is moving to a remote-only instructional format for the first two weeks of the quarter.” The university said it “anticipate[s] a return to in-person instruction in Week 3 of Winter Quarter, beginning on January 24.” This announcement comes a mere eleven days before students, many of whom are from abroad, planned to return to campus.
Consequently, “undergraduates living in residence halls are strongly encouraged to delay their return to campus until at least January 20.” Spring break and the start of spring quarter will be pushed back by one week.
Students may request to return to campus earlier than January 20 by submitting a form via the University Housing Portal, but this form explicitly states that “Completion of the form is only a request. This does not guarantee that your request will be approved.”
Those who are approved to return to campus early will be forced to “participate in regular COVID-19 testing, regardless of vaccination status.” They will not be permitted to receive any guests until January 20.
Despite providing limited accommodations for students needing to return to campus prior to January 20, the university made no direct acknowledgment of the fact that many, if not most, students have already purchased return tickets to campus and that changing such plans will be costly. Nor did the university provide information on how it plans to coordinate classes, given that students have already signed up for winter courses and may now be taking those courses from far-flung regions of the globe, in different time zones, rather than in-person in Chicago.
The university explained its decision by asserting that “the rapid spread of COVID-19, due in part to the Omicron variant, has surpassed previous projections both locally and nationally.” The university’s announcement did not acknowledge that only one death, to date, has been attributed in the United States to the Omicron variant, even though it has been documented on American soil since December 1, 2021.
The Omicron variant appears significantly less dangerous than the Delta variant. UK research recently “found [that] patients with omicron were 20% to 68% less likely to require hospital treatment than those with delta.” Furthermore, the survival rate for Americans under 65 years of age who have contracted COVID-19 since day one (February 2020) is 99.87%. The fatality rate for the healthy subpopulation of Americans under 65 who don’t possess pre-existing conditions is practically zero. No UChicago student has died of COVID, but three UChicago community members have been shot and killed in Chicago in the past twelve months.
The university does not appear to have asked UChicago students or parents whether they approve of today’s announcement. Instead, the university surprised the community by announcing that it will embrace many of the same draconian measures imposed at the start of the pandemic. The university claims it would like to return to in-person activity “as soon as conditions allow,” but provides no guarantee that students and faculty will do so this winter.
To date, the university has not announced plans to cut tuition, despite cutting student access to university facilities and decreasing learning opportunities via forced “remote learning.”