Northwestern University plans to hold a series of virtual town hall meetings, where faculty members can ask questions about policies for the reopening of school in September.

Associate Professor Lois Hedman, president of the Faculty Senate, says the first town hall session will be Thursday at noon and that faculty members have just received an email regarding Northwestern’s flexible work arrangements for the Fall Quarter.

Those arrangements are available for faculty and staff due to medical and personal hardships imposed by COVID-19.

Hedman says child care is a major issue for Northwestern’s 3,300 faculty members. “It’s a big concern because no one knows what day care and school will be like in the fall.”

Another big issue, of course, is health and safety, and protection from the spread of the novel coronavirus. Hedman says the administration and Faculty Senate have been discussing the safest way to have school in the fall. She believes “Northwestern values shared governance,” and faculty input is respected.

Hedman teaches physical therapy at the medical school, where classes have already started. “I’ve felt very safe,” she says. “I have confidence in the safety measures,” she adds.

The University’s Human Resources web site outlines the flexible work options, which run through the end of 2020. Those options could also be modified or extended. Faculty and staff who want a flexible work plan must apply to the University. Approval is not guaranteed, but the web site states denial of such a request “should be considered an exception.”

Reasons for requesting an alternative work option include exposure to coronavirus for the employee or members of the employee’s household, inability to find child care or elder care and limited access to safe transportation options.

Northwestern faculty members are not represented by a union for collective bargaining, so there is not a contract which provides for back-to-work or time-off provisions.

However, the university says potentially allowable flexible options are to work remotely, take a scheduled leave early, team teach or reschedule teaching responsibilities to a later quarter.

Northwestern has said that while some classes will be held in person this fall, most will be taught remotely. In addition to the 3,300 faculty members, Northwestern has about 6,500 full-and-part-time staff.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.