August 19, 2020 Town Hall

Alan W. Cramb, President

Good afternoon and welcome. First, I would like to thank all of the faculty and staff who have been working diligently over the summer to ensure that the students remaining here on campus have been taken care of as well as preparing for a successful start to our new academic year. I know many people have been focused on the myriad details that were necessary to take into consideration in order for us to reopen this fall. I’d like to thank Nick Menhart, our UFC chair, and Peter Kilpatrick, our provost, for collaboratively working together and guiding this major initiative. I’d like to thank Bruce Watts and his facilities and public safety team for focusing their efforts on the operations and safety of our various campus sites; Mike Gosz, Katie Stetz, and their admissions and student life teams for organizing the phased entry of our students into our university and especially into our housing; Mike Horan, Hilary Hudson Hosek, and their financial and human resources teams for their leadership; and to Jess Goode and his communications and marketing team for all of their outreach to keep our university community well informed during this everchanging landscape. Student leadership, the Staff Advisory Council, the Faculty Council, and the President’s Council members have also been involved in preparing for our next year. I want to especially recognize all those staff in facilities, custodial services, public safety, and food service who have turned up every day since March to ensure housing was operational, to feed, to deep clean, and to ensure the safety of our students who have remained on campus—looking after 500 students during the spring semester and 200 during the summer. Lastly but importantly, I’d like to thank our faculty who adapted quickly to ensure that we finished the spring and summer semesters by going online and making it possible for all students to finish the semester without it negatively impacting their academic careers or graduation.

I know many are apprehensive about the coming year and what might happen. There are simple rules that must guide our interactions with each other going forward: (1) wear a face covering at all times when in a public space and in contact with one another, (2) be as socially distant as possible, (3) wash your hands and face frequently with soap and water, (4) monitor yourselves daily for potential symptoms, (5) measure your temperature when on campus, 6) do not come to class or work if you have any symptoms, and (7) self-quarantine and get tested when exposed to the virus or feeling sick. We will begin the first two weeks of the fall semester online so that we can test everyone who must return to campus; make future campus decisions based upon this knowledge of our university’s student body, faculty, and staff; and measure the prevalence of COVID-19 within our community. To allow this we are asking everyone to get tested before returning to an on-campus, in-person education, unless you can document the need to not be tested, such as self-quarantining for two weeks before your return. 

We already have a significant number of students in our housing, and we expect 1,200 total—about 65 percent of our capacity—by the first week of classes. We have had faculty, graduate students, and other researchers all summer conducting research on Mies Campus as well as 200 students living in our housing—thus we have never been closed.

In addition to COVID-19, we must also react and ensure that our university is welcoming to all and to accept that systemic racism exists and has existed in our university and in our society, and that it is now our responsibility to change. After much thought and discussion with our African-American students, our Board of Trustees, and our leadership team, I have decided that we will hire a vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, who will have a primary responsibility to achieve many of the goals I outlined in the last town hall meeting: increased diversity in our student body, staff, and faculty, and increased representation at all levels of the university. We will first post this position internally, as we may have many excellent potential candidates within our community. If we are unsuccessful, we will move to a national search. Trustees Harold Singleton and Sherrie Littlejohn have agreed to participate on the search committee, and I will reach out to members of our faculty, staff, and student body to join this search committee in the coming weeks. I have also reconstituted the university Committee on Diversity and Inclusion to help develop strategies for improving our community interactions. Alicia Bunton and Patty Johnson Winston will co-chair this committee until we hire our new VP. I have also tasked our deans and vice presidents to craft plans for each college, school, and division to address issues with diversity, equity, and inclusion. These plans will be shared with all members of these groups. Although I will lead this effort, we must accept that we all bear responsibility for its success.

In closing, I understand there are many difficulties during this pandemic for us to overcome. We have a sacred trust given to us by the parents of our student body—we must educate their children, and we must also help them grow as people, and we must each, as individuals, work to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is a community responsibility, as no one person or institution can ensure this outcome. We need everyone focused on this goal in the next year—it is our calling, and it is our duty. Though the future is never certain, I have confidence in the abilities of the faculty and staff of Illinois Institute of Technology. I also know that we are a caring community and will become more inclusive. Together we will overcome these challenges, and we will be ready to be stronger in the coming years, once this pandemic is behind us.

Peter Kilpatrick, Provost

Good afternoon and welcome to our all-campus community reopening Town Hall. In addition to thanking our many faculty and staff who have worked so hard and diligently over the last many months to navigate this unprecedented time in our history, I want to thank President Cramb for his leadership. I also wish to thank our students and their families, many of whom I know have suffered personal loss due to the pandemic. Our aim in moving forward is to continue to provide an excellent and rigorous education and to enable students to pursue their academic goals and to flourish as professionals. The coming weeks and months are critical as we attempt to open in a way that reduces the risk of spreading infection, and to do this, we all need your help and cooperation.  

In addition to the behavioral rules that President Cramb outlined, the university needs everyone who plans to be on campus this fall to be tested for the COVID-19 virus via a nucleic acid, PCR test (the standard and highest-sensitivity and selectivity test). This week and early next week, our contracted service, Matrix Medical Network, will be testing roughly 200 persons per day on our main Mies Campus, as well as on Thursday, August 20, at our downtown campus on Adams Street at Conviser Law Center. The response to our offering these tests has been overwhelming and, unfortunately, all testing slots have now been filled. As we communicated to all of you this past Friday, August 14, there are several additional options for you to be tested. Any faculty or staff member with Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage can be reimbursed for the full cost of a COVID-19 viral test at any in-network provider. For the purposes of the required pre-opening COVID-19 testing, and for these purposes only, the university will allow faculty and staff to use regular work hours to get tested. Any student, faculty, or staff member can also obtain a COVID-19 test at any state testing site (see http://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/covid-19-testing-sites) at no cost and regardless of symptoms or not. Travel costs up to $20 will be reimbursed, and details on requesting reimbursement will be shared via email today. Finally, any student, staff, or faculty member can schedule a test at a Chicago Department of Public Health testing site. Again, travel costs up to $20 will be reimbursed.

We ask that everyone who will be on campus for the launch of the semester next week be tested and report their tests by August 24, or as soon thereafter as possible. Students, faculty, or staff intending to be on campus starting September 8 should report results by September 4. Students should report results to medproctor.com, while faculty and staff should report their results to Viktoria Rill in the Office of Human Resources at vrill@iit.edu.  

As you know from our communications last week and from President Cramb’s remarks, we have elected to delay the in-person launch of our semester at least two weeks until Tuesday, September 8. There are a number of reasons for this. With the arrival of roughly 1,200 students by August 24, our residential community population, including faculty in research labs, researchers, essential staff, and our residential students, will grow to roughly 1,600 persons. We believe it is critical to establish, with evidence, the presence and prevalence of any persons on campus with COVID-19, which is why we are requiring viral tests. This will enable us to contact trace, self-isolate, and self-quarantine any individuals needing this, as well as to test using our point-of-care, rapid-turnaround BioFire PCR test to reduce the risk of community transmission of the virus. We will then test a sufficient portion of our population again before September 8 to determine the time trend of our community’s prevalence. We believe this evidence-based approach is the most prudent way to reopen our campus. Of course, should we find that there is indeed any community transmission of the virus, we will be in a position to extend the online portion of our semester if needed.

In addition to our testing regimen, our university has taken many measures to prepare our facilities and our campus for reopening. I now invite my colleague and Vice President for Facilities and Public Safety Bruce Watts to share many of these measures and our plans for facilities reopening.

Bruce Watts, Vice President for Facilities and Public Safety

I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. 

Our facilities essential workers been spending the summer on campus working diligently to prepare for fall semester. We also have an interdepartmental management team of more than 50 people planning for reopening. During this time we have been following the well-known public health protocols that I would like to use as the framework for my comments.

First, face coverings are required in all public areas on campus, including lobbies, elevators, restrooms, and corridors. They are also required in classes and in other common areas such as the library and student union. We anticipate that most students, faculty, and staff are already wearing masks, and we encourage you to bring your masks to campus. But we do have masks for anyone who loses theirs or needs a replacement for another reason.
 
Second, we must follow good hygiene practices, including good handwashing and other techniques. We will have sanitizer stations throughout campus, but there is no substitute for good handwashing with soap and water. You see, the cell membrane of the COVID-19 virus breaks down more readily with soap and water. So, while sanitizer works, it does not work as quickly or as well as soap and water. 

Our custodial staff, who are well protected with PPE and trained to use disinfecting supplies and techniques, are paying extra attention to high-touch areas such as doors, restrooms, lobbies, elevator buttons, and the like. They will also be disinfecting classrooms at the end of each day and offices on a weekly basis, all in line with state guidelines. Supplies will be available in each classroom and in office areas for students, faculty, and staff to clean and disinfect their work areas more frequently at their discretion. 

Our maintenance engineers have been inspecting and performing maintenance on our ventilation systems, including upgrading our air filters to Merv-13 rating, which is recommended by national engineering professional organizations.

Third, social distancing. We all must do our part to keep campus spaces at a reduced density from what we practiced last year. Classes and other gatherings are limited to 50 people or to no more than 25 percent of the normal occupancy for any particular space, whichever is fewer. When walking indoors or out, everyone must follow the practice of staying six feet from others. We will have signage and graphics throughout campus to remind everyone of these protocols and to provide some traffic guidance. When in doubt, walk on the right. 

Elevators in our high-rise buildings will have their capacity limited, based on their size. The IIT Tower elevators on Mies Campus and the elevators at Conviser Law Center will be limited to four passengers per car, until further notice. 

Our classrooms, dining facilities, and other common spaces will be arranged for social distancing, with furniture removed where possible, and seats taped off where not, such as in lecture halls and auditoriums with fixed seats. Classes will be scheduled for rooms with appropriate numbers of seats, so students will not have to worry about not having a seat, nor being too close to another. Plexiglass dividers have been placed in numerous locations across campus, particularly at points of service such as payment stations and reception desks, and in certain classroom locations based on input from faculty. I’m proud to say that these dividers, some of the best I’ve seen, were made right here on our campus in our Idea Shop. 

Again, I’d like to welcome everyone and to thank the large and diverse team that has worked diligently since last spring to plan and complete all of the work needed to bring us to this point. 

Mike Gosz, Vice President for Enrollment and Senior Vice Provost

New Undergraduate Students
As of August 16, the university has received 554 net first-year deposits for fall 2020. This group is composed of 482 domestic students coming from 34 different states and 72 international students from 31 different countries. Among the domestic students, 312 are from Illinois and 171 are from out of state. The top five states outside of Illinois are California (18), Colorado (13), Michigan (13), Missouri (10), and Ohio (9). For international students, the top countries are India (10), China (8), Pakistan (5), and Nigeria (5).

So far, 518 of these students are registered for fall classes. A total of 46 out of 72 of our international first-year students are registered for classes. We are monitoring this number closely as we near the first day of class. Some of our international first-years were already in the United States to attend high school and will be arriving on campus this week. Others plan to begin the semester online from their home countries as they could not get a student visa.
https://datastudio.google.com/reporting/12bbf2b7-7063-4967-a52a-88e362f9ce58

We have had a good recruiting season with the Cambridge Education Group. This fall we have 14 students that will begin their careers at Illinois Tech in the CEG pathway program, despite the pandemic. Some of these students will begin their studies online from their home countries. Others were already in the United States and will study on campus.

If you are interested in exploring the first-year data in more depth, please visit https://datastudio.google.com/s/sBxGnUtLK5U

The site is an interactive dashboard where you can find out things like deposits sorted by major, top high-school feeders, and class demographics.

This year we are bringing on a significant number of top scholars, including four Leadership scholars, three Duchossois scholars, 36 Collens scholars, and 36 Camras scholars. A total of 181 students have reported that they are the first in their family to attend college, at Illinois Tech.

Onboarding of the first-year class has been very challenging this year, especially in light of the fact that we have so many first-year students (more than 50) coming from states with travel restrictions. Many of these students are currently under self-quarantine at the South Loop Hotel.

As of August 16, the university has received 144 deposits from students with prior college experience versus 204 last year at this time. 

Continuing Undergraduate Students
As of August 16, a total of 2,147 continuing undergraduate students (degree seeking) have registered for fall classes out 2,296 that are currently eligible to register (93.5 percent). Last year on this same day, 93 percent of our degree-seeking undergraduates were registered, so we are slightly ahead of last year’s pace, which is good news. Our first-to-second-year retention rate is trending similarly to last year at this same time, and we expect this number to come in somewhere between 88 and 89 percent come fall census. Our six-year graduation rate for the fall 2014 cohort is expected to come in somewhere between 71 and 72 percent.

Continuing Graduate Students
Continuing graduate students are registering at the same rate as last year at this time. So far 81.7 percent of our eligible continuing graduate students have registered for classes versus 80.9 percent last year at this time.

New Graduate Students
The recruitment of new graduate students for fall 2020 has been in a constant state of flux since the pandemic began in the United States in February 2020. At the beginning of the pandemic, testing centers around the world closed down. Illinois Tech went test optional. Subsequently embassies around the world closed and stopped issuing student visas. At that time Illinois Tech began promoting our online programs to new international students from around the world. As of August 16, Illinois Tech is expecting approximately 600 domestic graduate students. We are expecting approximately 300 new international graduate students to start online in fall 2020. In addition, we expect more than 100 new graduate students from China to begin in our online program with Beacon Education. To explore the data, please visit https://datastudio.google.com/reporting/12bbf2b7-7063-4967-a52a-88e362f9ce58.

Katherine Stetz, Vice Provost, Student Affairs and Dean of Students

Hello, today I would like to share the following important policies for housing:

  • Guest Policy: Until classes go to in-class instruction (as of today this means September 8), non-residential guests will not be allowed in the residence halls unless they are assisting a student with move in. Those who live in the halls can visit each other.
  • Room Occupancy: Please keep the number of people in each residential space equal to the number of beds in each room. For example, if there are two beds in one room, only two people should be in that room at any given time.
  • Lounge Occupancy: The maximum occupancy is posted in each lounge. Residents are expected to adhere to the number on the sign. In the case where there may not be a sign, it is expected that residents keep a six-foot distance between them.
  • Shared Bathrooms: Please practice social distancing in shared bathrooms and wear a face covering.
  • Roommates: The city and state guidance has stated that roommates can be treated as a family unit. Therefore roommates can quarantine together (if necessary) and do not have to stay six feet away from each other or wear a mask in the room.

Nick Menhart, University Faculty Chair, and Associate Professor of Biology

In terms of classroom operations, with most we are launching a new teaching mode, “hybrid,” which is really nothing new. We have been doing hybrid at Illinois Tech for decades. Only we will now be doing it more, and better. Basically, hybrid just means that students in classes will be participating both electronically and live. In the past, we have had online sections of many classes, which were delivered asynchronously, primarily via a time shifted video of the lecture and other posted material on the Blackboard class site. Students generally registered for either live or online, one or the other. Many students who were registered live also watched the videos, either due to absences or simply to review. And occasionally online students came to live classes. Sometimes just for exams, that was very common.

But this semester, for most classes, some students in the same class will be attending electronically and some will be attending live—in two weeks, that is, assuming all goes well. They will not register differently and be split up into online and live sections, but be all together. And they will mix much more thoroughly. That is really just all hybrid means. 

For hybrid A (asynchronous) that is ALL it means. Those classes will be done in the same fashion as online classes were done in the past, which most faculty have taught and most students have some experience with: videos of the class will be posted after the fact and students will watch them, and they will come to about every second class live, where they can more fully engage. However, that is a little old fashioned, and while appropriate for some cases, most of our classes will be offered using a new hybrid S—synchronous—model. Here, the university invested in a lot of great new equipment that will allow remote students to participate in the lectures as they are going on. They will be able to see and hear the instructor, the white boards, the other students, ask questions, and participate in discussions. It is not exactly being there live, but it really is the next best thing. I beta-tested this in a summer class a few times this summer, and it works very well. It is also important to note the live sessions are also recorded and made available—in the credentialed class website, so safe for fair-use copyright exemptions—as a video after the fact, as in asynchronous more. As such this can also be used for time conflict and other purposes. However, faculty may have synchronous attendance policies where appropriate, and some types of classes are not appropriate for asynchronous participation, so students need to check this out before deciding to simply watch the videos later. During our initial two-week online acclimatization period, some faculty will in fact be broadcasting from these rooms, empty, so all students will participate in this fashion, to get everybody used to this.

This will allow us to dramatically de-densify rooms, to less than 25 percent normal capacity, so that everybody can be at least six feet apart, and with a maximum of 50 people in a room. However, these 50 limits are reached in only the largest rooms—our six largest auditoriums—and most room have lower capacities. We only have only 15 rooms over 15 capacity, and are using only approximately 40 rooms. Due to these size restrictions, in many classes only about half the students can attend live, which is what is driving the hybrid model. In classes that meet twice a week (most classes), rooms have been scheduled with at least half capacity, so that an every other day rotation is common. Some classes meet three times a week and may have been put in rooms with 33 percent capacity and utilize a once a week rotation. For classes that meet once a week, typically for a double period, every other week is fine; or in many cases faculty have a break in these double-period classes, and switching then is fine, too. The message is really simply that faculty will be responsible for establishing a rotation, and they have wide altitude to do what is best for their class so long as all students who want to participate live get a substantial opportunity to do so.

In combination with this dramatically lower classroom density, everyone in a class will wear masks—students and faculty alike—at all times. This will mean our classrooms are quite “socially distant.” In combination with enhance cleaning and other measures, we believe we can reduce the risk of spread—so long as everyone buys in and follows the rules. Lecturing in a mask is not my favorite thing, but as I said, I did it twice this summer and it was fine. In fact, I forgot all about it while I was lecturing, as did I believe the live students. Afterward I was definitely ready to take it off, but it did not materially impact my delivery, and it is small challenge that we can all easily rise to if we want. 

Faculty will also be rigidly enforcing mask wearing, as I expect some students will. This is important if we are to avoid problems seen at some—but crucially, not all—schools. Anyone not wearing a mask will be asked to leave; anyone not willing to wear a mask will have to attend online. If that is not possible, in classes with a live attendance requirement such as labs—well, you cannot take the class if you are not willing to wear a mask all the time. This is simply too important to ignore. But really I do not expect much problem with this; by showing up here we have all signaled our willingness to work toward making this semester successful.

Then, even with an expanded evening slot schedule with more evening slots, we still have many online classes. Those will generally be offered by faculty teaching from home, as we did in S20. Once again, these will generally be offered over the collaborate platform in Blackboard so that the interface on the student side will generally be consistent.
Finally, of course there were some cases that simply had to be offered in person. These are in the minority; certain lab classes, some experiential learning, other classes where in person was deemed crucial for pedagogical reasons. We were able to prioritize these in the room selection process, and I’m happy to say they were all accommodated.

In terms of exams, once again there will be a range of choices. For online classes, faculty are encouraged to offer online assessments, including exams. For in-person classes where there are exams, of course in person exams are the norm (but online exams are available to faculty who choose them as always). For hybrid classes, either can apply. Clearly a socially distant classroom with everybody six feet apart is a great exam room—except that only half the class will not be there. Many faculty also told us that moving their class online was fine so long as properly proctored exams were available. So, to deal with these issues, we are making available a centralized exam facility, like many of us have used for finals, during the semester. Space is at a premium—have I mentioned that—so it is not as expansive (it is tower basement BA1, and per guidelines limited to 50 maximum capacity), which means it can accept an online class up to 50 and a hybrid class up to 100. For larger online classes greater than 50, instructors may need to get creative in scheduling, although we do have some supplemental overflow exam spaces in addition. Based on our survey in summer, however, if faculty stick to what they said then, we should have enough space. And faculty and/or TAs will need to proctor their own exams of course. Faculty wishing to use this facility might have to be flexible on exam dates and times (as will students) and cooperative with other classes in booking it. Booking details will be announced in a couple weeks, after we launch live, but this will be similar to the EMS room reservation system we have used in the past.  

An important note is that proctored exams are not likely to be available off campus in the U.S. this semester (but might be internationally). These have generally been held at other colleges and universities, which generally, like us, are not accepting outside visitors. Students who wish to be 100 percent online cannot take classes that require proctored exams. They should work with their adviser to develop an alternative schedule and understand the ramifications of this. Of course it is quite possible to be “almost all online”—i.e., be online for lectures, and just come to campus for exams. And as I said, there will be online exams in some cases, especially for many online classes.

Hilary Hudson Hosek, AVP, Head of Human Resources

Many staff members have been on campus part and full time since the majority of faculty and staff went remote in March. These individuals provided and continue to provide essential services to keep the buildings operational and to provide support and services to students who were still on campus. I would like to recognize their tireless dedication to our university and our students and thank them for their continued excellence in often challenging circumstances.  

In regard to COVID-19 testing and based on the most recent guidance from leadership, all staff and faculty who are on campus and those who are preparing to return to campus the week of September 8 are required to have taken a COVID-19 test at some point after July 22 with results submitted to Viktoria Rill in human resources by September 4 at vrill@iit.edu. If staff or faculty did a test through Matrix on campus, those results will be provided directly to human resources. If staff or faculty took a test through any other source, they must submit those results to Viktoria in human resources. For any staff or faculty who are returning to campus at some point after the week of September 8, they will need to submit test results to Viktoria within five days prior to their return to campus.  

In terms of the number of staff returning to campus on August 3 and taking into consideration the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state, and city public health guidance, the university prioritized the return of more staff members whose physical presence was critical for campus operations and the success of our students and faculty as we approached the beginning of the fall semester.  

For all other staff members, beginning Tuesday, September 8, supervisors must also keep in mind that the university will continue to prioritize to be sure that critical and essential staff are able to work on campus consistent with public health guidelines. It is important that supervisors bear in mind city guidelines to “limit the number of employees returning to work.” 

For the remaining staff to return, we must stay in compliance with City of Chicago guidelines for office space. In order to meet these guidelines, departments should have no more than 25 percent of their staff members in person at any time. If supervisors are having a difficult time staying below 25 percent of staff members, they should reach out to me immediately to discuss. Supervisors should carefully consider, and prioritize where appropriate, voluntary requests to return to campus, again keeping in mind the 25 percent threshold. Ultimately, it is up to supervisors to create and manage this schedule.
 
In order to be equitable, supervisors may consider that all staff members return to campus in some meaningful degree on a monthly basis, not including individuals who have been approved for an Americans With Disabilities Act-related reasonable accommodation. In order to stay within the City of Chicago guidelines, and to prioritize essential and critical staff presence, some staff members may continue to work remotely for a significant portion of time. Supervisors are required to discuss with me any plans to allow staff members who do not have an ADA-related reasonable accommodation to work remotely 100 percent of the time for more than 30 days. These discussions are required to ensure that we are being consistent and equitable in these decisions.

Any employee who travels for vacation or personal reasons to a state that has been designated as “experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases” by the City of Chicago will, per city guidelines, be required to quarantine for 14 days. For any days during the quarantine period that an employee would otherwise be required to be on campus, the employee will need to use vacation days or take unpaid leave for all such days.

A Few Points That Are Relevant to All Faculty and Staff
Everyone on campus will be required to wear a face covering in all public areas, classrooms, meeting rooms, and wherever it is not feasible to maintain a six-foot separation. Exceptions for those medically unable to wear a face covering will be made, but clear plastic face shields will be encouraged as a substitute. We will also be required to practice social distancing by staying at least six feet apart at all times. Your supervisor and the facilities team will be in communication about potential changes necessary for your workspace to accommodate social distancing practices and will communicate with you accordingly.

If you are accustomed to using a fan in your office space, please know that fans are prohibited in all public spaces, including, but not limited to, common areas, shared offices, lobbies, and hallways. If you are in a private, closed office, you may use a fan on the lowest setting. And, although private meetings have been discouraged unless critical, if another person enters your office, you should immediately turn the fan off.
 
The IIT Tower and Conviser Law Center elevators are expected to receive the heaviest use. These will be limited to four passengers per elevator at any one time, and the limit is subject to change.
 
Arrival, departure, and lunch times will be staggered to minimize crowding. Details on such staggering are being developed and will be released in the next few weeks. Also, anyone who wishes to use the stairs may do so, and stairs will be designated for one-way traffic under normal use to reduce the chance of passing within six feet of another individual.
 
And once more,  for all faculty and staff who took their COVID-19 test from a resource other than Matrix who came on campus, please submit your proof of testing and test results to Viktoria Rill in human resources.
 
If you have any questions that I have not addressed, please submit those questions to HR@iit.edu.

Mike Horan, Vice President of Finance and Treasurer

The last few years have been focused on building a more durable financial structure and realigning our operations to better support our faculty and students. To that end we have:

  • Refinanced all of our debt to lower our average borrowing costs to 3.5 percent (saving over $4 million annually)
  • Centralized procurement, marketing, and research administration
  • Restructured colleges in support of our strategic plan
  • Built up our unrestricted cash reserves as part of our ongoing capital campaign
  • Built a financial model that is in alignment with our strategic plan
  • Finished the work on Kacek Hall and begun the work on Cunningham Hall without taking on any additional debt; in fact, we have paid down a substantial portion of our debt in the last couple of years

All of this work has given Moody’s (our debt rating agency) the confidence to upgrade our outlook.
That doesn’t mean that this pandemic will not present us with operational challenges this year. We still have to run a cash neutral operation and need to make sure our expenses are aligned with our projected revenue shortfall. 

For this we have worked collectively to define a list of budget measures that we can pursue in order to save money if circumstances warrant. These measures have focused on preserving the jobs of all of our full-time employees while only allowing spending in those areas that are critical to the support of our faculty and students. We have also increased our access to liquidity through a new line of credit at a cost of 1.35 percent, which serves as an insurance policy against any unforeseen financial issues. The Cares Act provisions provided some relief; it gave us support for additional student aid and allowed us to defer the corporate part of our payroll tax. With this stimulus, we were able to issue additional need-based financial aid to students.

We have also been able to set aside almost $3 million to update classrooms for hybrid learning, to change campus facilities to meet the new realities of social distancing, and to accommodate the costs of COVID-19-related testing.

All in all, we have never been stronger as a university financially and could not have been better prepared to address the challenges that face us today. I want to thank everyone for playing your part in helping us to achieve these financial accomplishments. 

Ernie Iseminger, Vice President for Advancement

  • Fiscal year 20 (ending May 31, 2020) was the most successful fiscal year in the history of Illinois Tech, with a total of $137.3 million raised.
  • The current fiscal year fundraising total (June 1, 2020, through August 10, 2020) is $21.9 million.
  • Some recent highlights include:

o    Trimble Inc. is donating hardware, software, and seat licenses, with a commercial value of $16.9 million, to create the Trimble Technology Lab in the Construction Engineering and Management Program. Illinois Tech’s Trimble Technology Lab will be the third, and largest to date, such lab in the U.S. The goal is to harness the innovative tools and resources developed by Trimble, to immerse students in a technology-rich learning environment and accelerate their understanding of structure, function, and processing of information.

o    The Grainger Foundation made a $1 million endowment commitment to establish the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize at Illinois Tech. The Grainger Prize will consist of team-based competitions for students across all disciplines and backgrounds—both inside and outside of the tech and computing fields—who excel at solving important societal challenges through innovative computing solutions.

o    Trustee John Olin made a gift of $100,000 in honor of retired Athletics Director Joe Hakes. The gift established the Joe Hakes Scholarship for a student who displays the strongest leadership qualities. Additionally, the main basketball court in Keating Sports Center was named in Joe’s honor.

o    Collective fundraising efforts from alumni, faculty, staff, and trustees towards student relief through the Chicago-Kent Emergency Assistance and the Hawks for Hawks funds netted 333 gifts totaling more than $127,000 at fiscal year-end. These monies went directly to aid students who were impacted financially by the pandemic. A big thank you to everyone for their support. 

  • Planning for our comprehensive campaign is well underway, with some key updates:

o    The campaign fundraising total from September 1, 2016, through August 10, 2020 is $253.3 million. This amount surpasses the final total raised in the last campaign.

o    The Board of Trustees will vote on a campaign goal at the October 22, 2020, meeting.

o    We are developing campaign communications, including a campaign brand and messaging. 

  • We developed our campaign name and logo mock up: Power the Difference: Our Campaign for Illinois Tech
  • A first-draft campaign video was delivered to the board in May with a final video on track to be viewed at the October board meeting
  • Planning is underway to develop and launch a plan for a comprehensive, Chicago-focused scholarship program that will demonstrate Illinois Tech’s purpose in providing access to higher education and student success.
  • Planning is underway for Homecoming weekend on September 25 and 26. With social distancing guidelines in place, this event will be held entirely virtually. 
  • Finally, please mark your calendars for Giving Day on October 1.

Anita Krug, Dean, Chicago-Kent College of Law

I believe that Conviser Law Center is as prepared as it can be to reduce the risk to faculty, staff, and students this fall.  

Consistent with the rest of the university, we will conduct our courses using a “hybrid” model involving a combination of in-person and online class sessions. In addition, as with the rest of the university, in our planning we have adhered closely to the guidance provided by local, state, and federal authorities to ensure that we meet or exceed applicable best practices to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.  

Courses
Turning to our courses: A number of our them—approximately 31 percent—will be entirely online to accommodate instructors, room capacity constraints, or for one of a few other reasons. Our hybrid courses have assumed a variety of formats. Some of them have one or more sessions each week that will be entirely online, meaning that only a portion of the weekly sessions will have an in-person component. Other courses, by contrast, will occur largely (if not entirely) in person.  

In addition, we have restructured classroom layouts to accommodate social distancing requirements. As a result, for many hybrid courses, some students will have to participate online because the classrooms will not accommodate everyone at the same time. To facilitate the multiple components (that is, in-person and online) of hybrid courses, we have implemented technology upgrades in 18 of the classrooms.

All online classes, and the remote components of hybrid courses, will be conducted on a real-time online platform and will be recorded for later viewing.

Facilities
Regarding facilities, our elevators are limited to a maximum of four occupants, and there are signs in all elevator banks noting this limit. We have also opened access to building internal stairwells to provide students with an additional means of accessing the library. All Chicago-Kent student IDs will be programmed to “disarm” the stairwell gates when the library is open. All faculty and staff IDs will be programmed to disarm the stairwell gates when the building is open. You will need to tap your ID on the card reader to deactivate the alarm and door lock.

Departments throughout the school have floor or other signs with instructions on where people should stand or sit in these areas to maintain social distancing. There is similar signage for entry into locker areas. Plexiglass barriers are in place at all reception desks and open areas at which staff provide services, including the ninth floor library and front lobby public safety desk.   

Drinking fountains are equipped with bottle-filling fixtures only. The cafeteria will be open, with revised hours based on the anticipated occupancy, and will have a more limited menu to meet traffic flow and social distancing needs.  

Seating on the second floor and in the third floor cafeteria, and in student lounges and open seating areas, is set to meet the six-foot social distancing requirements. These areas, as well as the library when open, will be available for studying. We will do enhanced cleaning throughout the day and at night for high-traffic and high-touch areas throughout the building.    

Events; Persons from Outside IIT
We often receive questions about events. Students may hold events of no more than 50 people and no more than 25 percent capacity per room, whichever is less, provided that they adhere to social distancing guidelines and mask requirements. No one from outside the university community may be invited to events, including as speakers, unless they have been pre-approved to attend or participate. More broadly, no one from outside the university community may enter the building other than by appointment and with pre-approval to enter.

Health and Safety Practices
A few words on our health and safety procedures: Hand sanitizer stations are positioned throughout the building, and cleaning supplies (disinfectant and paper towels) will be available in the classrooms. We strongly encourage students to wash their hands and use sanitizer frequently and to disinfect their seating and desk areas in the classrooms.  

Face coverings are required in all public areas of Conviser Law Center including lobbies, elevators, restrooms, and corridors. They are also required in class and in other common areas, such as the library. We anticipate that most students, faculty, and staff are already wearing masks, and we encourage you to bring your masks to campus. But we do have masks for anyone who loses theirs or needs a replacement for another reason.

Additionally, we have installed a temperature scanner at the Adams Street entrance of the building so that people coming into the building may scan their temperatures. And, of course, all of our faculty, staff, and students must also be tested before in-person classes start.

Assistance for Chicago-Kent Students
Finally, I want to note that, in the spring, the law school established a student emergency assistance fund using contributions from faculty, staff, alumni, and the Student Bar Association. This fund has already provided substantial resources to law students experiencing food insecurity or other financial burdens as a result of the pandemic. Funds are still available, and I again encourage law students to continue to request assistance if they have unexpected financial needs.  

I greatly appreciate the hard work of our faculty and staff in preparing for the fall, and I look forward to a successful semester.

Thank you.

 

Questions and Responses

1. Many questions were asked about our COVID-19 testing strategy. Please describe the strategy and what options are available to students. 

Katie Stetz: Our original schedule for testing using Matrix Medical was devised to screen our community and assist many to get a test prior to arriving on campus. The Mies Campus offered three days, and one day of testing at Conviser Law Center, the week of August 17. We have added August 21, September 9, and September 21 to the testing schedule, and all spots have filled.

We are currently working with Matrix Medical to add at least one additional date prior to September 9. More information is to come.

We wanted to offer the “screening” testing option so that we could calculate and monitor the positivity rate on our campus. This rate will assist us in making decisions about the operations of campus.

The second step to our testing strategy is to have a point-of-care unit on our campus. This will allow those who have either come into close contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms to get an immediate test and results within the hour. We are expecting our BioFire machine and testing modules to arrive next week. This service is scheduled to be available the week of August 31.
In addition to everything we have done and will do on campus, we are also encouraging those who have not been tested to use local resources. President Cramb actually went to Loop Medical Center this week—Loop Medical Center at 1921 South Michigan Avenue (loopmedicalcenter.com). It is an official IDPH COVID-19 testing site. He scheduled his appointment online in three minutes, visited the location on 19th and Michigan, and was in and out within 10 minutes.

We have also stated that all members of the Illinois Tech community who plan to be on campus after September 8 show proof of a COVID-19 test by September 4. Those who are not able to comply with this expectation may be required to leave campus.

2. What measures have been put in place to enforce the safety protocols for COVID-19? Are there any random inspections? How are staff penalized for not wearing masks, especially those preparing or serving meals, and the cleaning staff? 

Bruce Watts: It is very important, and is our expectation, that all members of our community, including staff, faculty, and students, voluntarily comply with the public health protocols not only on campus but also when they are away from our campuses. Our commuter students, our faculty, our staff, and our residential students need to comply with the public health protocols, whether on or off campus, to minimize the risk of an outbreak which may force us to go completely online again.

These protocols apply to everyone, not just staff, as the question was worded. Administrators and supervisors have been coached to reinforce the protocols across campus and will be frequenting classrooms and public spaces to ensure compliance. Individuals who are seen not complying will be reminded and counseled. Repeat and/or willful violations will be handled through the applicable employer or student discipline process. All of that said, this will be most successful as a cultural community awareness approach where everyone participates in a positive way, rather than something that is completely dependent on a rules and infractions approach. So, we all need to set the example and protect one another. 

Students in our residence halls and in Greek houses must also understand that the state’s definition of “family unit” status in terms of public health protocols is limited to roommates. This means that roommates do not need to wear a face covering while they and only they are in their room, but that face coverings must be worn outside the room and/or when a non-roommate is in the room. It is wrong to think that everyone in a Greek house or a residence hall wing is considered part of a family unit and, therefore, does not need to wear a face covering while anywhere in the house or the residence hall wing. Recent news reports indicate that outbreaks at other universities are associated with campus residence halls and/or Greek houses. So, more than just rules, this is critically important to stopping the spread. 

3. Will the Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC) provide required vaccinations like before? What will be the timing for these? 

Katie Stetz: Yes. All students are required to submit proof of vaccination to the university. Students who are up to date on their vaccinations can simply upload proof of vaccinations at medproctor.com. Those who need to receive vaccinations are encouraged to obtain one at any Walgreens or CVS pharmacy. However, the SHWC will have appointments available beginning August 31. Students can call the center or email at student.health@iit.edu. Please check in with the staff in IIT Tower Lobby (behind the elevator bays) for your appointment.
 

4. Why are we not allowed to have guests in our rooms? For most of us, especially during this pandemic where we are avoiding public places and crowds, our homes and rooms will be where we spend the majority of our time. It will be where we will be collaborating with our classmates if necessary, safely connecting with our friends, seeing some of our families, and physically connecting with our most loved ones. You should propose a rule that maybe allows a student only one guest at a time, but not allowing residents to not have any guests is invasive of one’s personal life and a threat to all residents’ mental health. We understood when this rule was first proposed when the pandemic started, but you need to have a more strategic approach for it now. 

Katie Stetz: Effective August 24, non-residential guests—unless helping with move-in—will not be allowed in the residence halls until at least in-person instruction begins on September 8. The rationale is that we are trying to keep people who do not need to be on campus from coming to campus. Residential students can visit each other in their respective residence halls. Students who live in the residence halls can leave the halls to visit their friends and families. Of course, we expect that in any public place, on campus or off campus, students observe our requirement that face coverings be worn and that proper social distancing be observed.

Also at this time, we are not allowing visitors onto campus. This includes prospective student visits, performers, and the like. Those who are taking classes, teaching classes, and/or working on campus are the individuals allowed to be on campus at this time.

5. What are the sanctions for students, faculty, and staff that are unable to be tested by the expected date? 

Peter Kilpatrick: Given that it is impossible to test everyone simultaneously, we recognize that the mass testing at the beginning of our school year is helpful for establishing our baseline positivity rate and to catch as many positive cases as possible. Of course, all persons who test positive will be mandated to self-isolate for two weeks, and we will, consistent with public health guidance, seek to contact trace all with whom they were in close contact. Thus, we will allow students, staff, and faculty access to campus if they have been tested by September 4. However, after September 4, those who have not demonstrated proof of testing will not have public access to campus and will have to engage our campus community virtually.

6. I see that tuition fees are increased for fall 2020. A number of institutions have said they will discount tuition by 10 percent, in some cases reversing planned increases in tuition and additionally slashing student activity fees (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/07/24/some-colleges-discount-tuition-prices-online-fall). Kindly consider reversing increases in tuition and slashing student activity fees. 

Mike Horan: Illinois Tech has invested very heavily to prepare for this semester in classroom technology, new personnel, testing, plexiglass barriers, and many other items. We feel our tuition is justified. It should also be noted that 98 percent of our students receive financial aid, and the average financial aid award is in excess of $25,000.

7. How deep do our financial losses have to be before we start considering cuts to salaries? 

Alan Cramb: At this time, the current expense-saving measures that we have put into action are expected to accommodate fully the revenue losses that we have projected. If the losses end up being greater than predicted, we have additional budget measures identified that we can put into place before we would look at cutting people’s pay. Once we’ve exhausted all other alternatives, we would make sure that any approach that would impact an employee’s pay would be fair and equitable across the entire faculty, staff, and administrative population. Our strategy has been to maintain all full-time personnel’s normal bi-weekly or monthly salary. Thus, the 4 percent reduction in the pension plan that occurred this summer was applied to everyone—faculty, staff, and administrators—but did not affect one’s bi-weekly or monthly salary.

If salary decreases become necessary, and we will not know this until early September, the strategy for salary decreases would be that those who earn more would lose more than those who earn less. Salary cuts would be applied to everyone: faculty, staff, and administrators. As I noted in the previous town hall, I and other people eligible for a bonus due to their employment agreements will not receive any bonuses in this calendar year or until salary cuts, if any, are restored.

I have not implemented salary cuts for our senior administrators and faculty as this is not necessary at this time. Faculty and staff are working diligently to allow our university to be successful, and I do not think it appropriate at this time to reduce anyone’s salary, beyond the steps I outlined in the last town hall.