Fall 2020: What we know


Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

A mask is taped to NIU’s Olive Goyle statue next to Altgeld Hall June 3.

By Ahyen Labanan

DeKALB — Back to school will look different this year; here’s what we know.

Health and safety 

NIU task forces have been creating health and safety plans in preparation for the fall. 

NIU will release a plan titled “Protecting the Pack” the week of July 20. The plan will serve as guidance for faculty, staff and students on working, living, learning and teaching on campus, Matt Streb, chief of staff to the president, said. 

The plan will also provide information on classroom cleaning procedures. Classrooms will be cleaned in between each set of students coming in, and cleaning products should be available in classrooms, Provost Beth Ingram said. 

Classrooms will have a 20% capacity, and students should maintain a six-foot distance from one another, Streb said. 

Students will be expected to use face coverings and follow physical distancing rules in public spaces on campus such as during in-person classes and in the library, Streb said. 

Ingram said the NIU community should emphasize protecting each other as much as themselves. 

There are also plans for quarantine, isolation and contact tracing. 

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, the health department will contact the student and discuss who the student has been in contact with and what they’ve done. The health department will then inform anyone the student has been in contact with about the situation and provide guidance, Streb said. 

These plans were made with guidance by the DeKalb County Health Department and other public health experts, Streb said. 

Public health students may also have the opportunity to work with contact tracers in the fall, Streb said. 

NIU is also looking into gateway testing, surveillance testing and pool testing for COVID-19; however, no final decisions have been made, Streb said. 

NIU is not expecting the same campus density as previous semesters, though it will be more dense than the spring semester, Streb said. 

Student life 

The Holmes Student Center and Founder’s Memorial Library will be open and available to students with modified furniture arrangements and hours of operation, Dean of Students Kelly Wesener Michael said.

The sun sets on NIU’s Founder’s Memorial Library on Tuesday, June 23rd at 8:12p.m. (Patrick Murphy)

The counseling center will also be available to students. 

Wesener Michael said NIU knows the importance of having spaces for students to gather and have access to Wi-Fi. 

NIU is in the process of creating guidelines for the operation of student organizations in the fall, Wesener Michael said. There will be safety guidelines, parameters for activities and information on room reservations. 

Wesener Michael said more information will be released in the upcoming weeks to help student organizations move forward. 

NIU will also offer a modified Welcome Week for first-year students with virtual, face-to-face and hybrid opportunities. Wesener Michael said it’s important first-year students have the opportunity to feel a sense of belonging in a way that makes them comfortable. 

“Recognize that things will look different, but we’ll do everything we possibly can to make a great student experience inside and outside the classroom safely,” Wesener Michael said. 


About half of all classes are online, 25% are face-to-face, and 25% are hybrid, Ingram said. 

“It’s gonna look different,” Ingram said. 

NIU will offer online, face-to-face, staggered and hybrid courses for the fall. Online classes can be synchronous, in which there’s a set virtual meeting time every week or asynchronous, which doesn’t have a set meeting time. Staggered classes will meet face-to-face, with some students in the class meeting on different days, while hybrid classes will incorporate in-person and online instruction, according to MyNIU. 

Professors will still be expected to have office hours. Virtual office hours are a possibility, which should be convenient for students, Ingram said. 

All colleges and departments are working to connect with students, and plans to connect with students are underway. Colleges and departments want to make sure students can meet and have rich experiences with their major, Ingram said. 

Ingram said one thing the university learned from the spring was that attendance at advising appointments increased, likely because of the convenience of online meetings.

Faculty members that will be teaching online classes have attended virtual bootcamps to learn more about teaching better online, Ingram said. 

Ingram said she advises students to make the best of the fall semester by being adaptable and seeking out opportunities that will enhance their education. First-year students should engage with their majors more quickly and make the effort to stay in touch, Ingram said. 

If students experience problems with anything, Ingram said they should ask faculty and staff members for help. 

“We’re here to support you [and] make sure you’re successful,” Ingram said.