This email was also forwarded to parents.
Dear SAIC Students,
This week as School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) faculty and student services began remote delivery of courses and support to locations around the world, we want to let you know that we received your many requests for additional support, monetary refunds, and opportunities for programming. We hear you. We agree that for the remaining weeks of the spring semester, classrooms, studios, and campus life will be different than any of us anticipated. We have also heard your calls for greater transparency and your wish for more certainty in this still-evolving situation. Over the next few paragraphs, and in a detailed list at the bottom of this email, we endeavor to respond to the many requests received, noting where we have support to offer, where we do not, and where we are still working on a solution. While this email is lengthy, the number and complexity of your requests and questions requires a considered response. We will be as candid as possible.
During emergency situations, like that precipitated by COVID-19, SAIC utilizes a Campus Emergency Operations Plan (CEOP), which is a crisis management strategy that all Illinois colleges are state-mandated to follow. Our plan guides our decision-making through the formation of different working groups to address complex problems. Many of these groups have been meeting nonstop, seven days a week, to work through challenges and provide solutions that best support our students today while also ensuring the long-term safety, health, and viability of our entire campus community of students, faculty, and staff.
SAIC is its people. The well-being of you and our faculty and staff are always at the heart of our decision-making, especially now. While our facilities, studios, equipment, and programming are treasured elements of our campus, it is the education that we make together that is core to SAIC’s mission. The students who study and create, the faculty who teach and research, and the staff who support and administrate at the School are our most precious resource. Fulfilling our promise to help you complete your educational goals and to next year’s returning and new students, requires that we continue to go on teaching and learning, so that when we return, we’ll have all the tools and services we rely on.
SAIC, like most colleges in the United States, is a nonprofit institution, and we carefully steward the revenue we receive from tuition, donations, and grants so as not to exceed our operating expenses. Approximately 79 percent of our revenue comes directly from tuition, and nearly 70 percent of every dollar we receive goes directly to fund compensation for faculty and staff, including student employees. Equipment purchases, rent, maintenance, and interest on debt takes up much of the rest. Using the limited funds that remain, we have nonetheless made several commitments to our students, faculty, and staff.
To date, we made a large number of investments in services for students. We are:
- committing to paying all faculty; staff; contract services employees, such as security and food service; teaching assistants; and student employees whether they can work remotely or not, through the spring semester so that they can continue to support students;
- keeping residence halls open to students with extenuating circumstances, now each living in their own room, and providing virtual programming (Residence Life);
- continuing to support and advocate for international students with visa issues and other concerns (International Affairs, Chinese and Korean Student Advising);
- maintaining vital student services online, including career services (CAPX); health, counseling, and disability learning services (Wellness Center); and course registration (Academic Advising);
- working with student groups to reimagine their planned events for remote presentation; and
- establishing the new Student Emergency Relief Campaign, described below, to help students with immediate hardships, including living expenses, online learning needs, and food assistance.
These are commitments not all colleges and universities have been willing or able to make.
Making these commitments comes at a cost. This semester, lost revenue and the addition of new costs—which include housing refunds, canceled Continuing Studies courses, and a significant investment in the move to online teaching—total more than $6 million. If the pandemic continues through the summer, or any part of it, we will have additional, very dramatic summer revenue losses. As noted above, the overwhelming majority of our budget goes toward compensating our faculty and staff, and we are doing everything we can to help you earn necessary credits and complete requirements while we grapple with a global crisis and ensure our institution can provide coming generations of students with a world-class education. To pay for tuition refunds, we would be forced to lay off a significant number of faculty and staff. There is no other way we could fund such a sizable expense.
Given this reality, we cannot issue tuition refunds. However, we are working on a strategy that will permit continued access to campus facilities for graduating students into the fall. This fall, we also hope to accommodate in-person, end-of-year exhibitions and events for MFA and graduate design students to augment the online versions of all those in-person events lost this semester. Beyond these, we also heard requests for programming, student services, online learning support, and wellness, many of which we can support. Please continue reading for more information. We also anticipate that many of you will have follow-up questions, so we will host an online meeting with students, during which we will answer any questions you have; we’ll announce the time for the student meeting by Monday, April 13, and it will take place by the end of next week.
Even with all of these efforts, we know you will grieve for the semester we anticipated. Furthermore, we understand that while COVID-19 has forced us to reimagine our semester, it has also caused uncertainty regarding the physical health, mental well-being, and financial stability of many in the SAIC community, from students and families to faculty and staff. Please know that we are working tirelessly to address your concerns as quickly and as clearly as possible, and we will continue to do so. However, it is perhaps true that no college can make up for all their students have sacrificed, or ameliorate all the uncertainty they feel, during a crisis of this scale while preserving the staff and faculty positions needed to continuing educating current students and go on to educate the next generation of artists, designers, and scholars.
Despite these difficulties, we are certain we can continue to fulfill the educational promise we made to you, as SAIC has been doing for more than 150 years, through fires and polar vortexes, great depressions and censorship controversies. We have the most talented students, best art and design faculty, and the most dedicated staff anywhere. We are confident in our ability to address the most pressing issues and challenges we face today, as artists often do, with creativity and new ways of thinking and working.
Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs
Resources and Support Available to Students
Below are resources and support available to students. Some things you asked about we have addressed, online when necessary, through announcements we previously made and new solutions we are announcing today. In this section, please find information on:
- Future Facilities Access
- Continued Pay for Student Workers
- Continued Scholarships and Fellowships
- Student Emergency Relief Campaign
- Housing and Meal Plan Refunds
- Student Health Insurance
- Wellness Center
- Writing Center
- International Affairs and Student Visa Support
- Career Support
- Awarding Credit and Withdrawals
- Programming and Resources
- Online Connectivity Issues
As announced in an email to students on April 6, students have three options to participate in Commencement:
- They can attend SAIC’s virtual 2020 Commencement ceremony online.
- They can attend the in-person 2021 Commencement ceremony in May of next year.
- They can attend both the 2020 Commencement ceremony online and the 2021 Commencement ceremony in-person.
Students will receive additional communication about how to participate.
Future Facilities Access
Assuming that we are able to return to normal operations this fall, we will invite students who are graduating this semester to make use of our facilities such as shops, labs, the Media Center, and libraries and special collections into the first eight weeks of the fall 2020 semester, ending Saturday, October 31. Unfortunately, this cannot include access to graduate studios. Additionally, future facilities access will need to align with all social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines if still in place.
Continued Pay for Student Workers
All student workers, including teaching assistants, will be paid through the end of the semester, whether they are able to work on campus or not. Students working remotely will be paid time-and-a-half for actual hours worked; a recent communication to students detailed how they can report their hours, as ARTICtime will not be used for the rest of the semester. That communication also had information about signing up for direct deposit, allowing the School to deposit pay directly to each student’s bank account. If you have yet to do so, we encourage all student workers to sign up for direct deposit, in case the ability to make and mail paper checks becomes limited in response to health and safety precautions.
Continued Scholarships and Fellowships
All scholarships and financial assistance students received as part of their 2019–20 aid package will continue as promised.
Student Emergency Relief Campaign
Inaugurated by Anita Sinha, chair of SAIC’s Board of Governors, and generously supported by faculty, staff, alums, and friends of SAIC, an emergency relief fund has been established for students. Students may apply to this grant fund to support their emergency needs caused by the COVID-19 health crisis, including living expenses, online learning needs, and food assistance. These awards are not loans and do not need to be paid back. All monies raised for the Student Emergency Relief Campaign will go directly to students, and SAIC is matching all donor contributions to the fund, doubling the available aid.
Additionally, students may be eligible to take out Butler Loans. These interest-free, SAIC-sponsored loans can be used for any living, educational, or crisis-related expenses. Repayment on these loans begins in the fall with a minimum $50/month payment with full repayment due by June 30, 2021.
Students seeking support from either the Student Emergency Relief Campaign and/or the Butler Loan should submit their request here. Each request will be considered in relation to all requests, with priority consideration given to students of greatest need.
Housing and Meal Plan Refunds
Students who left the residence halls were only charged for living in the residence halls through March 22. This includes students who have left the residence halls but still have items remaining in the halls. A credit was sent to students’ accounts. This credit reflects the prorated amount for housing from March 22 until the end of the semester. Residence Life has waived the contract breakage fee, and any unused meal plan funds will roll over to the following semester. Refunds of any resulting credit balance on a total student account balance will be processed within 3–5 weeks and issued via eRefund. Students not yet enrolled in eRefund should set up their account in CASHNET, which can be accessed through Self-Service. If you have difficulty with your refund process please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As advance registration is underway, please know that registration holds for students who have a balance under $10,000 have been removed. This allows most students to register for the fall semester with the opportunity to choose their best class schedule for fall 2020, during their designated time spot.
Student Health Insurance
SAIC contracts with a third-party provider, Academic HealthPlans (AHP), for student health insurance coverage that is Affordable Care Act compliant. The current plan is provided through National Guardian Life and uses the Cigna PPO Network. Students currently enrolled in the student health insurance plan are covered through August 17. Because this coverage is continuous through this date, the provider does not offer refunds.
All international students and full-time domestic students (including those enrolled in summer 2020 classes full time) are automatically enrolled in the student insurance plan. New students enrolling in summer 2020 part-time are not automatically enrolled, but coverage is available upon request. Continuing degree students who are enrolled in any summer 2020 class are eligible to enroll in the summer health insurance plan during the open enrollment period. Active summer coverage dates extend from June 14 to August 17.
Students with comparable coverage can opt out of the plan when they register for classes. Although AHP’s enrollment period for student health insurance for the spring semester has ended, they will review situations known as a qualifying event, such as losing coverage under a student or parent employer plan due to an employment status change or turning 26 years old and no longer being eligible for coverage under a parent’s health insurance plan. If you believe you have a qualifying event and wish to request student health insurance for the spring 2020 semester, please contact email@example.com.
Students without a qualifying event who are seeking health insurance coverage for themselves and/or their dependents are encouraged to explore options available through healthcare.gov.
For updates regarding COVID-19 provided by your carrier, please go to saic.myahpcare.com for more details.
The Wellness Center, which includes Counseling Services, Health Services, and the Disability and Learning Resource Center, can be contacted at the following emails and phone numbers:
The Writing Center is open and tutors are available online to help students with writing and brainstorming. Tutors can assist with artist statements, application materials, essays, presentation texts, thesis drafts, proposals, and creative projects. Sign up for an appointment here or send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Affairs and Student Visa Support
Due to the campus closure, many students have returned to their permanent residence, including international students. Nevertheless, students’ immigration status will not be impacted by the academic changes. The move to online learning allows international students to remain enrolled full-time and complete their spring term coursework, thereby maintaining their immigration status. Moreover, though primarily working remotely, the Office of International Affairs remains open and will receive all communications from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), including Optional Practical Training (OPT) Receipts, Requests for Evidence and OPT/EAD Cards. They will notify students of any documents received and will send them to international students via courier.
International students who have left the United States, or who plan to do so, and have not yet contacted International Affairs to discuss their plans are encouraged to do so. International Affairs staff are available remotely to discuss travel outside the United States, OPT applications, and I-20 filing status. Students with questions about these or other visa concerns are encouraged to contact International Affairs by emailing email@example.com.
All Career and Professional Experience (CAPX) services and resources are available to students virtually. Career advisors are available to meet by phone or on Google Hangouts to discuss career options and offer advice on resumes, cover letters, portfolios, websites, and other professional materials. Career advisors can help students explore postgraduate opportunities including residencies, grants and fellowships, and graduate school. CAPX has increased the number of appointments available to students and alums, and students should schedule virtual career advising appointments on Handshake. The Expert Exchange program will also resume online in the next few weeks.
Additionally, CAPX continues to work with organizations that wish to recruit SAIC students and alums. Employers are posting internships and jobs on Handshake, and students are encouraged to complete their profiles on Handshake so they are visible to peers and employers.
Awarding Credit and Withdrawals
Some students have expressed concern that the work they make away from campus and facilities will not be sufficiently sophisticated enough for their faculty. Fear not. Faculty understand that this is an extraordinary time. While they still anticipate you will meet assignment requirements, they will understand that not all tools available to you on campus will be available at home. Additionally, the withdrawal deadline was pushed to April 30, which means you can take a “W” grade past the usual deadline.
Programming and Resources
The John M. Flaxman Library, Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection, Fashion Resource Center, Roger Brown Study Collection, Video Data Bank, and Visiting Artists Program have online resources for students.
Library and Special Collections
Many resources and services of the library and special collections are available remotely. Moreover, please disregard due dates; no overdue fines will accrue during campus closure.
Additionally, the Video Data Bank (VDB) has a selection of its collection available on Panopto, including some of their “greatest hits.” VDB will be adding close to 50 new titles each week for students to access.
Requests for particular VDB titles to be added to Panopto, as well as questions specific to the library or any SAIC special collections, can be directed to the appropriate staff via the following contact information:
Visiting Artist Program
While the Visiting Artists Program works to reschedule events canceled this semester, please enjoy previous lectures archived on the website. Recently, spring 2020 lectures by Suzanne Anker and distinguished alum Emil Ferris (BFA 2008, MFA 2010) were added.
Online Connectivity Issues
We appreciate that not everyone has reliable internet service at home, and we want to support students in purchasing this service wherever it is possible to do so. In the frequently asked question sections of saic.edu/alerts, you will find a list of discounted services many internet providers are offering during the COVID-19 pandemic. To fund the service, students may appeal to the emergency relief fund, described above.
Requests We Are Unable to Accommodate
Though faculty and staff are working tirelessly to support students, there are some things that we simply cannot do or are not in our purview to address. In this section, please find information about:
- Tuition and Future Course Vouchers
- In-Person Critiques
Tuition and Future Course Vouchers
As we explained above, our duty to preserve SAIC’s educational mission through and beyond this unprecedented global health crisis means we cannot offer tuition refunds. Credit hours earned through the remainder of the semester will be awarded. Other tuition-based ideas you have suggested, such as waivers or discounts on future tuition, are similarly unsustainable.
Fees, like tuition, cover the expenses for necessary elements of the School’s operations; while we understand that online learning is not your preferred way of learning, the School has absorbed significant cost increases in moving to online education in an effort to preserve the semester, so allowing students to graduate and make timely progress toward their degrees; therefore, we cannot make across-the-board fee refunds. If the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent changes to online learning have caused you financial hardship, however, you may appeal to the Student Emergency Relief Campaign, described above.
Unfortunately, the School does not have jurisdiction over the U-Pass program. The Chicago Transit Authority, which administers the U-Pass for degree-seeking students at Chicago-based colleges and universities, has informed us that they will not be issuing refunds for spring U-Passes; however, the passes will remain active through May 13.
For the health and safety of everyone, we must adhere to the governor’s stay-at-home order and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for social distancing. Unfortunately, given the pandemic, we are unable to have in-person critiques at this time; however, faculty will continue to provide dialogue and reflection on student work remotely.
Events and Resources Being Developed
Other requests we received are being actively worked on by groups of staff and faculty, and further information is forthcoming. In this section, please find information on:
- End-of-Year Exhibitions and Events
- Summer Courses and Study Trips
End-of-Year Exhibitions and Events
A dedicated group of faculty and staff, in consultation with departments and deans, are hard at work reimagining ways to showcase end-of-year programs virtually, which includes the MFA and Design shows and other end-of-year events. Degree requirements, where applicable, will be completed through participation in these new opportunities. Please note that the group strongly desires to identify future, in-person exhibitions, screenings, and performance events this fall for graduating MFA and graduate design students who wish to participate, and hopes to be able to do so. They will also begin arranging online documentation of the spring 2020 Undergraduate Exhibition, whose run was truncated due to the campus closure. More information is forthcoming.
Summer Courses and Study Trips
A team of faculty and staff are currently reviewing the entire summer interim, and we anticipate further news about on-campus summer courses later this month.
All summer study trips have been canceled, and faculty and registered students have been informed. Study trip deposits will be refunded to students, and Student Financial Services will process refunds by the end of April. There is no action needed on students’ part at this time. Student Financial Services will reach out if anything is needed.
Students will be dropped from their summer study trips, which will be reflected in PeopleSoft Self-Service. To identify alternatives to complete these credits, undergraduate students may contact Academic Advising at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312.629.6800 and graduate students may contact their department. Students who were registered for a study trip to fulfill an off-campus credit requirement will be offered the option to have this waived. Please email email@example.com if you have any questions.
Additional Concerns and Resources
In addition to the specific requests we’ve received, which we have endeavored to answer above, we also heard about worries that were more complex and personal in nature. We want to offer support for these concerns, too. In this section, please find advice on:
- Support for Asian and Asian American Students
- Campus Is Where I Can Be Myself
Support for Asian and Asian American Students
SAIC is committed to maintaining an educational and working environment that is free from any form of unlawful discrimination. Sadly, we know that the fear of this pandemic has sparked anti-Asian and anti-Asian American xenophobia across the United States, and there is a heightened sense of vulnerability, especially for our Asian and Asian American students, staff, and faculty, and the School stands with them.
Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Academic Affairs Christina Gómez and Interim Dean of Faculty Jefferson Pinder sent out an email to faculty reiterating this message, which was subsequently shared with students and staff.
Additionally, Chinese and Korean Student Advising and Multicultural Affairs are actively reaching out to students and affinity and alum groups to provide additional support.
Campus is Where I Can Be Myself
Some concerns we have heard were about community—not facilities—enabling art making, with some students sharing that they safely felt like themselves only on campus. Our hearts go out to you. Please remember that all Wellness Center services, which includes counseling services, are available remotely.
Additionally, Campus Life eNewsletters are an excellent resource for how the SAIC community continues to build a space of belonging, even at a distance. Many programs and student groups are still active, including student government elections, Peanut Butter and Jelly Award applications, CH/LL meditation series, and the League of Extraordinary Genders’ resources guide shared in celebration of March 31’s International Transgender Day of Visibility.