FAQ from Divinity’s Dean of Students Office

Please note that this much of the information below is specific to students in the University of Chicago School of Divinity School. 

Internet Access

Internet Essentials is providing 60 days free of internet service. Information and applications can be found here. Additionally, if you are in need of a computer, they have discounted laptops and desktops available. Comcast is also ramping up connectivity to combat the virus, info here.

1. How will online classes be delivered?  What infrastructure is in place at the University of Chicago to enable remote learning?

The University will use our Canvas course website and Zoom software to teach courses. Zoom will be the platform instructors uses to interact live with the class and that all of us will use to conduct video and audio meetings and virtual events.  Check out the Zoom website for more information, including Quick Guides for getting started.

Students should use this link to host online meetings and discussions to set up a Zoom account: https://uchicagostudents.zoom.us/.  It is important that you use this link, rather than the general Zoom website. The UChicago student account is a premium account that contains features the general free Zoom account does not.

We highly recommend that students take advantage of the student Zoom trainings at their earliest convenience.  We also recommend that you review the information about Zoom on the University’s Q&A page.

2. Will Swift Hall remain open?

Swift Hall is currently closed and will remain so at least until April 6th. Key card access is needed to access the building. Neither the Dean’s nor the Dean of Students Office is available to accept mail for faculty or students.

Additionally, all campus libraries, including Regenstein, will close by Friday, March 20 at 5 pm for a two-week period.  Crerar, Eckhart, Mansueto, SSA, and the D’Angelo Law Library are already closed. The University will soon share a sustainable plan to ensure that campus library services and resources can be accessed in a manner that ensures our Library users and staff will remain safe and secure.  More information is available here.

3. Can I take my online classes from outside the country?

Yes. There will be no online courses that require that a student be in the Chicago area at all during the spring quarter.  It is possible that field placements will resume as some point during the quarter.

Per the OIA Q&A page“Current government guidance suggests that a student enrolling in full-time online courses in spring quarter is otherwise maintaining F or J visa status. This will not impact your eligibility for CPT in summer quarter or OPT if spring quarter 2020 is your final quarter before graduation. If you decide to leave the U.S., please review your I-20 or DS-2019 to ensure your program end-date is in the future and the travel signature provided will be valid for entry back into the U.S. over summer or leading up to autumn quarter 2020. For more on travel while in F-1 or J-1 status review this OIA webpage.”  In short, you maintain your immigration status by being enrolled in 3 UChicago courses, even if you are taking those courses from outside the U.S.

It is important for students to consider whether they will have reliable internet access and whether they will face any issues with internet firewall issues. We are working to get further guidance on how to help students avoid these issues through use of VPN, etc. Students should also consider how time zone differences could impact their ability to take courses with synchronous components.

Students should direct further questions about Visa issues to their OIA Advisor.

4. Do I still have access to University support services?

Yes.  Continuing to provide students with access to wellness resources and emergency support remains a priority, both for the large number of students who will remain in Hyde Park and those who will not. Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS), UChicago HELP, and the Dean-on-Call and Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call programs will continue to remain available to students.  Outside of regular business hours, students can access the Therapist-on-Call at 773.702.3625.

To better accommodate those students who leave Chicago and those who would prefer to avoid in-person meetings due to public health concerns, the University will also offer tele-health options.  You can learn about those and other efforts to maintain effective student support here.

5. Will students still pay the quarterly student services fee during spring quarter?

Graduate and professional students will be assessed the Student Services Fee for Spring Quarter. However, those students who will be more than 50 miles away from campus for the duration of spring quarter may petition to have the Student Services fee waived by submitting their request to bursar@uchicago.edu by April 15, 2020.  The bursar’s office has provided further answers to anticipated questions about Spring Quarter here, including updates on financial aid, stipends, federal loans and grants, and payment deadlines.

6. Can students choose not to take courses this spring quarter? What is the process for that?

Students always have the option to take a leave of absence of up to one year. To request a leave of absence, students should complete the leave request form on the Dean of Students website and submit it via email to divinitydos@uchicago.edu.

Students have until the end of the 2 week add/drop period (for spring quarter that is Friday, April 17) to decide to take a leave of absence without tuition penalty. As always, students who need to drop their classes due to health or other emergencies after the add/drop deadline should contact the Dean of Students Office.

It is important to note that students are not eligible for University health insurance (USHIP) while on leave of absence and are also not eligible for federal student loans. If your loans disburse before you decide to take a leave of absence, you will have to return any loan funds immediately. This is something to keep in mind if you use loan funds to pay for living expenses.

It is also possible to reduce the number of courses you take in spring 2020 without taking a full leave of absence. If you need help thinking through whether you should take a leave of absence or reduce your course load please speak with your advisor.

7. What are the additional considerations for international students who want to take a leave of absence? I’ve heard the deadline to request a leave of absence through OIA is Monday the 23.

All of the information about leaves of absence listed above are also true for international students.  But international students have some additional factors to consider when deciding whether to take a leave of absence. Here is some information to inform your decision-making. We also strongly recommend that any international student considering a leave of absence consult the OIA Q&A page and speak with their OIA advisor.

  • First, the deadline is not Monday. While OIA prefers, under normal circumstances, that students let them know about leaves of absence 2 weeks in advance, students can file for a leave of absence at any point. For practical purposes the deadline for international students to request a leave of absence is the same as for domestic students – the end of add/drop for the quarter (April 17) in order to get a full refund on tuition.
  • International students cannot remain in the United States during a leave of absence.
  • After taking a leave of absence international students can only return to the country to resume a full-time study (3 courses/quarter). While this resumption could theoretically take place in the summer, for most people it may be in autumn quarter.  Returning in autumn would mean that the leave was longer than 5 months, so the student will have to go through the I-20/DS-2019 request process again, and if needed, re-apply for a visa stamp from a U.S. consulate/embassy abroad.
  • CPT requires 3 consecutive quarters of full-time study. For most international students, taking a leave of absence means that they will not be eligible for CPT upon return, depending on how many quarters they have remaining after the leave.
  • Students who had been planning to graduate in spring 2020 and now wish to take a leave and graduate later should consult OIA about implications for OPT.
  • OIA has asked that any questions from international students about leaves of absence and the effect on immigration status. Given the developing guidance from the government, it’s best she answer those questions
  • We are working with OIA to schedule a virtual info session for our international students. We will send an invite when that date is set.

8. What will the remote learning classes be like? Will I need to log in at the time that the class was originally scheduled?

There will be a variety of ways that instructors adapt their courses to the online environment to best achieve their course objectives. Most classes will have a live component. We are asking that these live components on Zoom commence at the scheduled class start times. This portion of the class may not last the full duration of the scheduled time. Many classes will also have additional asynchronous components that students will access through their Canvas course site.

For example, if a class was previously scheduled to meet for 3 hours once a week, in the new online format students may be required to log in for a discussion for the first 90 minutes of that time frame. We are recommending that instructors record all live content so that if a student misses part of a class meeting (if their internet goes out, have childcare issues, etc.) they can still watch what they missed. We know this raises privacy issues for both students and instructors as what you say in class may live somewhere accessible for a long time, but think this is the best course for students.

We are working now with instructors to help them figure out how to adapt their courses to the online environment.

9. Will any Divinity classes be cancelled?

Professor Marion has cancelled his courses. Professor Kapstein has cancelled his spring courses and moved them to autumn quarter 2020. RELP 50403, an MDiv elective, has been cancelled. No other cancellations are foreseen.

10. Can I make changes to the classes I’m currently enrolled in?

Yes. Just as in every other quarter, students can make changes to their course schedule through the end of the add/drop period.

11. Will enrollment caps on classes be removed now that courses are entirely online?

Online classes may be best experienced as small as possible. There may be exceptions.

When setting enrollment caps it is important that we consider the amount of student support needed from the instructor and TAs to ensure effective and meaningful academic engagement and balance that with the desire to get students into the courses they most want to take.

All course cap increases must be approved by the Collegiate Masters for courses with undergraduates enrolled. Other enrollment numbers will not change unless otherwise noted. If there is a specific class that is currently full that you are interested in, feel free to reach out to Irema Halilovic, Operations Administrator.

12. Can I take two classes that were previously scheduled for the same time slot if one of them has only asynchronous content?

Since we expect online live class components to occur during regularly scheduled class hours, no.

13. Can we still take Reading/Research (independent study) courses in Spring 2020?

Yes, you can still take independent study courses in the Spring. Nothing about that process has changed, although in-person meetings with the faculty member whom you’re working with may be limited.

14. Will we still be able to take classes outside of Divinity?

Yes, you will still be able to take classes outside of Divinity. There are no changes to any processes related to this, and nearly all spring courses across campus will still be held.

15. Is it possible that the University will decide to return to in-person instruction during spring quarter, or is the decision final?

Final. According to the email that was sent by the University president, Robert J. Zimmer and the University provost, Ka Yee C. Lee: “The University of Chicago is moving to remote learning for undergraduate and graduate classes for the entire Spring Quarter of 2020, beginning on Monday, March 30, the first day of the Spring Quarter.”

16. Will staff work remotely? Will they still be available to help me?

Yes and yes. The University has requested that all staff who are not absolutely required to be on campus to do their jobs (facilities, security, etc.) work remotely to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We do not yet know how long staff will work remotely, but it is possible that staff will return to working from campus at some point during Spring Quarter. Students still have full access to DOS and other staff. Students can email any staff member to set up a virtual meeting or get help over email.

17. How do I get assistance to purchase needed items to participate in a virtual learning environment?

Divinity students needing to purchase technology items should apply for Swift Cares. Be sure to include a screenshot of the item(s) needed and a budget of the amount, including applicable taxes and shipping.

18. I am concerned about getting books for the spring quarter.

The University has partnered with Barnes & Noble and Seminary Co-op to offer free shipping on online purchases during Spring Quarter.  These purchases will be directly assessed to your Student Account and you will remit payment for them along with your regular Student Account payment process.  Please visit the respective bookstore site for ordering information. This service will be available beginning Monday, March 16 to Friday, April 24, 2020.

19. How do I know if the symptoms I am experiencing are associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) and what can I do to reduce my risk of COVID-19 exposure?

The CDC recommends everyday preventive actions that you can find here. If you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing you should:

  • Seek medical advice – Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room. Tell them about your symptoms. We encourage any student who is not feeling well to contact the Student Health Service at 773-702-4156. In the case of a medical emergency, call 911.
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Not travel on public transportation while sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to avoid spreading the virus to others.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Please keep in mind hospitals, including the UChicago Medical Center, are following public health guidance regarding when to test. There is no guarantee that you will be tested for COVID-19 if you do not meet the screening requirements. There is no need to self-quarantine if the guidance was not provided by a medical or public health professional. If you feel sick, however, it is prudent to stay home.

Helpful Links

We know that there is a lot of information coming from multiple directions. While we will continue to provide updates as we get them, much of the information is being provided at the University-wide level. Here are some of the webpages that are most useful to SSA students related to the current situation. Many of these pages have information added daily.

We are still working with many University offices to get further information and updates sent out to you regularly. Things are evolving fast. It is useful to remember that the decision to take all courses online was made last Wednesday – just one week ago. This is a major change for this University and requires re-thinking of nearly everything that we do in a very short amount of time. Please know that many people at the Divinity School and the University are working very hard with students’ interests and concerns at the very center of decision-making.

If you have any other questions please reach out to us. We will stay closely in touch over the coming days to share more information. In the meantime, take care of yourself and be well.