Aug. 3, 2020: Defining the student experience and expectations

Dear Michigan State University students and parents,

As MSU makes final preparations for the start of classes this fall semester and reacts to the newest state executive orders and updates from government leaders, I wanted to provide an update to help describe the student experience and set campus expectations.

With adequate information, we believe you and your family can make informed choices that are in your best interest under these very difficult circumstances. The location, duration and intensity of COVID-19 outbreaks remind us that this disease continues to have an impact across the United States and the world, and further changes in transmission patterns could impact what MSU can offer.

Here are some answers to common questions.

How is safety being addressed on campus?
The health and safety of our entire campus community continues to drive our decisions and actions. The COVID-19 pandemic presents significant and unpredictable health risks. COVID-19 is extremely contagious and can be spread by people who do not know they have the virus. There is no guarantee that persons on campus will not become infected by COVID-19.

But we’ve learned a great deal about the novel coronavirus since classes moved to a remote format in March. The university is taking a multitude of steps to address safety on campus, from cleaning procedures to physical distancing (at least 6 feet, or 2 meters, apart) and mask requirements. We also know safety is greatly affected by students’ own behaviors and the circumstances and actions of those around them. A community compact has been established with directives and expectations for all. Classrooms have been retrofitted, cleaning stations established and clear requirements for face coverings and physical distancing are in place, among many other measures.

How can I prepare myself for coming to campus?
MSU has spent months preparing the campus to be as safe as possible, but recent experiences within MSU Athletics and other areas have shown that there will indeed be COVID-19 cases and we must be prepared. We must take actions that reduce or prevent transmission of the disease. To slow its spread, dining hall layouts and procedures have been updated, student rooms adjusted and study spaces marked for physical distancing. Seating and capacity in classrooms have been reduced and new technology added to assist with instruction.

As a student, you have an important role to play, too. You should avoid large gatherings, whether in a bar or at a party, or during passage between classes. It’s critical that all of us follow the compact and directives — whether on campus, at home or in nearby communities. For more information about our safety protocols in the residence halls, please visit this Residence Education and Housing Services webpage.

Do I have to live on campus if I’m an incoming student or if I have a residence hall contract?
MSU is granting a one-time waiver of the requirement to live on campus for all first-year students this fall. In fact, for anyone with a residence hall contract, you may be released from it by simply applying in your My Housing Account by 11:59 p.m., Aug. 5. We would like to know your intentions so we can plan, but the short answer is that we are not compelling any student to live in a residence hall on campus.

All my classes are remote. Should I remain at home?
If you can live safely and study successfully at home, we encourage you to consider that option for the fall semester. The vast majority of first-year students this fall will have course schedules that are completely online. Living away from campus may be the best choice for you and your family, particularly if you have family members at higher health risk. We have adjusted some of our residence hall rules recently, so please apply as soon as possible to be released from your contract, if that is your choice.

What if I want to live on campus?
You should make your choice based on what is the safest and best place for you to live and learn. We know many students consider MSU their home and don’t have another appropriate living space. Many international students cannot, or prefer not to, return to their home locations at this time. We also are aware that some students reside in places where the technology availability, the degree of disease prevalence, personal support or physical surroundings are not conducive to remote learning. MSU will continue to accommodate all students who need a safe place to live.

In normal circumstances, living on campus is part of a very rich educational experience. We know that meeting people from other places and backgrounds is a fundamental and important part of college life, but these are not normal circumstances. In fact, many of the usual campus experiences are being completely rethought and will be offered in remote-access formats. The choice to live on campus should be based on safety and success.

What will be different on campus?
As a student, you will be able to meet others and experience much of what MSU offers in a more remote or distanced fashion. Gatherings in dining areas and study spaces will change. We are not allowing overnight guests in residence halls. Face coverings are required on campus both indoors and outdoors. Study groups will be virtual or held where more than 6 feet of physical distance can be accommodated at all times. We don’t envision intramural sports taking place or indoor exercise facilities being available, given current state executive orders. Strict adherence to group limits of 10 or fewer people with face coverings and distancing will be required, as defined by the recent executive order from Michigan’s governor (outside of classroom settings). We believe this creates opportunities to socially engage and make new friends while on campus, but the experience will be different.

What if where I am living this summer is seeing a spike in cases or is regarded as a hot spot? Will there be a quarantine requirement?
We’ve seen a gradual increase in cases in Michigan, as well as spikes in other states and communities across the nation and around the world. All students should step up the safety practices of mask wearing, physical distancing, sheltering at home and avoiding gatherings in the two weeks before the start of classes. For students arriving from hot spot locations as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Ingham County Health Department, we recommend a quarantine period after campus arrival. (NOTE: At MSU, we use “isolation” to refer to those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or who test positive, and “quarantine” to refer to those who may be at risk due to a known exposure and need to self-monitor for a period of time.)

Will all students be tested for COVID-19? Do we have to be tested prior to arriving on campus?
Any student showing symptoms will have access to testing through MSU’s Olin Health Center and other sites on campus. Testing is an important part of the overall response to COVID-19, helping identify positive cases so the spread can be contained and the individual can be promptly treated. MSU is working closely with the Ingham County Health Department on contact tracing. Students will be notified if there is a concern they may have been exposed to the virus and need to self-monitor, get a test or self-quarantine. We also are exploring options to help identify populations that need additional testing through a procedure the CDC refers to as “surveillance.” This technique involves ongoing collection, analysis and interpretation of health-related data through the collection of saliva samples.

Our current plan does not include testing all students prior to campus arrival.

The MSU football team recently quarantined. Is that likely to happen to other students?
Our protocols are clear that once someone tests positive for COVID-19, that person will be asked to isolate to avoid other contacts. Those with whom they have closely interacted will be asked to quarantine for up to two weeks. For on-campus students who need assistance, we have identified living spaces for isolation and quarantine, and students will be moved to those locations if needed.

Why are most of my classes remote?
A number of factors are driving what’s offered, when and why. Courses are being offered in various modalities. Large lecture classes are being offered online to avoid large gatherings. For those in-person classes still occurring, a great deal of effort has gone into retrofitting classrooms to make them safer, with seats marked off and enhanced technology to improve the experience and outcomes for students and instructors. Some laboratories, professional studies programs and performance classes will be held in person following the strict protocols of mask wearing, enhanced sanitation and physical distancing.

Since so many classes are being held remotely, will tuition be reduced?
Throughout the pandemic, MSU has remained committed to its land-grant roots and core mission of providing an outstanding education for all students. Regardless of the format of instruction, MSU is delivering courses taught by highly qualified and world-class faculty, tutoring services, faculty office hours and access, academic advising and access to our libraries. The value of an MSU degree is significant and the modality of instruction does not reduce that value.

Additionally, the university incurs costs related to course design, professional development, increased technology and the hardware needs of students and faculty. Our faculty members understand the need to prepare students for life and careers beyond MSU, and we have invested heavily in ensuring we can meet those expectations.

For these reasons, MSU is not offering tuition discounts at this time.

Will in-person extracurricular activities and registered student organization events still be allowed?
Yes, but with some changes. Any in-person activity or event will be limited to 10 people or fewer for indoor settings and 100 people or fewer for outdoor settings. In both settings, face coverings must be worn and appropriate physical distancing must be maintained. Virtual events and activities may also be organized.

Together, We Will
It is deeply regrettable that so many young people are saddled with an experience that is quite different from what they hoped for as they graduated from high school or applied for college. Others have had to deal with the loss of what they have known as the MSU student experience because our current environment is fundamentally different. Hopefully this information will give you a better picture of what the student experience will be like this semester. We have also put together a series of videos to help get you prepared.

We appreciate the many students who are working, supporting their family members, advancing their education, practicing good habits and protecting themselves and their loved ones. We are urging all Spartans to continue to practice safe behaviors and to persevere under these difficult circumstances. Together, we will.


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.