COVID-19 Update

May 12, 2020


To the members of the Columbia College Chicago community:

We are at the end of what has been an extraordinary semester in extraordinary times. Even in the absence of formal Commencement exercises, it will conclude, as it always does, with the conferral of degrees on our graduates, which is something that we can justly celebrate. Our graduating students’ best qualities – authenticity, resilience, commitment, empathy for others, and an ability to operate on the edges of the future – are a source of pride and a reminder of why we must continue the work of advancing our college even in the face of the considerable challenges ahead.

Of course, we could not have gotten to this point without the dedication and expertise of our faculty and staff, whose efforts to bring the spring semester to a successful close in face of multiple challenges has been magnificent. With the campus still inaccessible to most of us, I must also thank our colleagues who have maintained essential operations, secured our facilities and ensured their continued functionality, sustained the backbone of our IT network, and sorted through the daily mail. I want to acknowledge all that they have done to position us for a successful return to campus when the time comes.

That last sentence touches on the core issue to which our collective attention must now turn. Current and prospective students (and their families), faculty, and staff continue to inquire about our plans for the fall. Our intention had always been to re-open the campus once we could do so safely. Now, as states begin to lift their lockdowns, the contours of what such a return might look like, while still fluid and subject to modification, are becoming clearer. I am writing to outline the assumptions, criteria, and protocols that will guide our preparations for the resumption of on-campus instruction, residential living, student activities, and office work.

Where we stand now
The state of Illinois remains under a mandatory ‘shelter in place’ order that runs through May 30. The criteria set out in Governor Pritzker’s five-phase plan for re-opening the state suggests that the resumption of on-campus instruction is unlikely to occur until the end of June at the earliest, although some necessary support functions may resume prior to that. The faculty and senior academic leadership have been developing plans for the delivery of summer term and fall semester instruction. At the same time, the college’s Incident Assessment Task Force (IATF), a standing group of administrators from units across the campus, has been drafting a comprehensive plan to facilitate a broader campus re-opening. This plan is built around measures that are designed to promote the health and safety of our college community once we re-open, and incorporates appropriate guidance from local, state, and national health authorities. It also reflects our measured judgment about what is in the best interests of the college and its many constituencies.

Our guiding assumptions
Our plans for resuming on-campus instruction, activities, and office work are moving forward on the premise that these will be accompanied by restrictions on the size of gatherings and guidelines about individual behavior in public spaces. Some of these will be mandated by external authorities, and others will reflect our own choices and decisions above and beyond those external mandates. Our twin objectives are to provide an optimal educational experience for our students and to maintain the collective physical, mental, and emotional health of our community.

Executing our plan in the midst of an ongoing pandemic will necessitate a re-design of all facets of everyday life at the college. The fundamental principle underlying this re-design will be the maintenance of social distancing in all activities, operations, and personal interactions. As public health authorities have indicated, this is the single most effective step that we can take to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection on our campus.

The plan
I commend the members of the IATF for their diligence, thoughtfulness, and care in developing the re-opening plan. You can read it here, and I encourage you to do so. Let me summarize some of its key elements.

What we ask of you
I pledge to you that the college will shoulder its responsibilities for the maintenance of a safe, clean, and well-organized campus environment in which everyone can feel fully engaged and able to do their best work. In turn, any time that you are on campus, we will ask that you observe some simple rules and behaviors to support everyone’s health and safety. The plan outlines these in detail; they are built on a foundation of rigorous social distancing and other recommended practices, as well as on mutual trust:
What is uncertain right now
The re-opening plan represents our best effort to anticipate the contingencies that might impact our operations and everyday activities. That said, we cannot fully anticipate every contingency, either because circumstances are too opaque right now or because the pandemic’s course may take an unexpected turn. We will all have to live with a degree of uncertainty for the foreseeable future, and to accept that we must chart a way forward in the face of several “known unknowns”:
Clearly, there is much for us to discuss as a community. To begin that discussion, we will schedule an open Zoom community forum on the re-opening plan soon, and follow up by consulting with constituent bodies such as the Faculty Senate and the unions representing our staff and part-time faculty. Since the resumption of spring semester classes, I have been meeting with student leaders to understand their perspectives; in the fall, I will look to create multiple opportunities for our students’ voices to be heard.

I send you my best wishes and my hopes that you are well and staying strong. Here’s to being able to celebrate the successful reopening of our campus and enjoy one another’s (socially distanced) company soon.


Kwang-Wu Kim
President and CEO