May, 27, 2020: Letter to the campus community

Dear Spartan community:

Based on guidance from health care professionals, feedback from faculty, staff and students as well as MSU leadership and recommendations from the university’s COVID-19 Reopening Campus Task Force, I am writing today to inform you of our intention to bring Spartans back on campus this fall.

How did we make this decision?

In the earliest phase of the appearance of COVID-19 in Michigan, we suspended nearly all in-person operations at MSU, including research and face-to-face instruction. This was challenging, as universities such as Michigan State University are critical institutions for our communities, states, nation and the world. Therefore, since the pandemic hit Michigan, we also have been thinking about how we might approach the critical issues involved in responsibly bringing people back to campus. As a university, we already have taken several important steps to enhance overall safety, including increased cleaning standards, establishing a strong supply chain for appropriate amounts of personal protection equipment and partnering with local health care facilities in preparation for an outbreak.

Last month, I informed you of the task force I appointed to take on this important work. Drs. Norman Beauchamp and David Weismantel have co-chaired this effort and have been thorough and inclusive in their approach and information gathering. They met with a variety of groups and leaders across campus and completed an initial summary for my review, including the principles and values that must guide our work. If you would like to read more about their efforts, please visit our Reopening Campus webpage. As physicians, they are ensuring we are collectively making decisions based on health data, science and safety for our community.

Next steps

We are now well into our planning, which centers on answering the question: How do we responsibly open campus for students, staff and faculty this fall? Work has been proceeding for some time in critical areas, including alterations to our academic calendar, approaches to contact tracing and testing, managing our residence halls, and allocating and scheduling our class spaces. New workgroups are being formed to address other key issues, and we will continue to seek input whenever possible. At this point, we believe that a values-driven return is possible and can be done in a way that mitigates the risks to our community.

Of course, our campus reopening cannot be done in isolation. A critical component to any decision we make now and in the future will be the status of the pandemic in our region, our state and the nation. As I write, there has been significant progress in controlling COVID-19 infections in our region and state. The governor recently extended the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order to June 12. While early exemptions have been made for lab research and some facilities and businesses to reopen in northern Michigan, we will continue to follow the guidelines set in place by the governor. I will remind you, however, that MSU made the decision to transition to remote learning and working from home in mid-March, before the state started its shelter orders. Although exemptions are being announced and the shelter order may lift in mid-June, you also should expect our university to continue making decisions for what is best for our community. We will not have a mass return to work once the shelter order lifts. Employees should remain working from home until otherwise directed by their supervisors. Units and colleges are working on individual return plans, in conjunction with the task force’s principles and guidance, based on job responsibilities and functions.  

Fall 2020

Several things about the fall 2020 semester have been decided. We will begin classes Wednesday, Sept. 2, as previously scheduled. There will be both in-person and online components to instruction in the fall semester. We plan to end all in-person instruction on Wednesday, Nov. 25, with remaining instruction, study sessions and final examinations moving remotely for the remaining three weeks of the semester. Students will have the option of returning to their permanent residences for the Thanksgiving holiday and not returning to campus, or remaining on campus until the semester ends. This plan is designed to address epidemiologic models that suggest a potential resurgence in COVID-19 cases in December and give students the opportunity to return to their permanent residences before peak influenza season if they choose. Because of this new schedule, we will forego the pilot fall break that had been scheduled for October. We hope to return to the fall break in future years.

The fall 2020 semester will look different from any previous semester at MSU. The driving factor behind our decisions will continue to be the health, safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff.  For teaching, this will almost certainly entail the continued use of some online and remote classes while adding more hybrid classes and resuming some purely in-person options. Physical distancing and the wearing of face coverings on campus will be essential components of this effort. We also anticipate that large gatherings will be strictly limited and regulated. We can and will do this in a responsible manner that works to mitigate risk to the entire university community while preserving the high quality of an MSU education, our extension mission, our world-class research and the social interactions that make MSU special.   

We recognize that some students may choose not to return to campus for health or other reasons, and we will endeavor to provide an enhanced selection of remote classes that allow them to begin or continue progress toward their Michigan State University degree. For our new and current international students who may have trouble getting to the campus, we also promise to provide remote classes that will allow them to start or continue the pursuit of their MSU degrees. More details on all of these topics will follow in future communications.

I want to look back one more time to thank all of you — our faculty, staff and students — for your hard work, commitment and dedication. The last three months have been unprecedented and difficult in so many ways, and for many in our community, devastating. COVID-19 has disrupted and affected the lives of all of our Spartans. But you have stepped up, overcome difficulties and pushed not only yourselves but our entire community forward. Together, we will navigate the new challenges, and together we will find a path forward to continue our vital pioneering land-grant mission.  

I am proud to lead this institution, and I look forward to seeing you back on campus!  

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.