Published in the Lansing State Journal Aug. 9, 2020
Michigan State University is preparing to welcome students back for a new academic year, as it has for more than 160 years. This year will look and feel very different, with new health precautions and expectations.
Safety drives our decision-making as we work to offer learning and living options that best ensure students’ well-being and success. Some students will move in for a semester that includes online, in-person or hybrid classes. Others are choosing to study online from home.
Faculty members maintain broad discretion in their course delivery, and many completed training this summer to sharpen their online skills. Staff members continue to work on campus only as necessary, including arranging residence and dining halls, classrooms and other spaces for physical distancing. I can’t thank our faculty and staff enough for their dedication, because the last five months have not been easy.
Although we look forward to athletics this fall and the Big Ten Conference has a new football schedule, we will be prepared to shift or cancel competitions if necessary.
As a physician with a background in infectious disease research, I noticed the novel coronavirus as it emerged and hoped it would be brought under control through public health actions, as have similar pathogens. Michigan State promptly called for the shift to online instruction in March after the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Michigan.
Our fall planning is informed by what we have learned since then about how to reduce this virus’s transmission. We know certain measures have proved to be effective, including wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distance, testing symptomatic individuals, isolating those infected and identifying and quarantining those who may have been exposed.
We are sensitive to students who don’t wish to return to campus yet. Students who would have been living on campus were allowed to select our learn-from-home option to be released from residence hall housing contracts for the semester. But many students want to return for in-person learning and to be part of campus and community life. We believe most MSU students are willing to be adaptable and responsible when community well-being is at stake, and that they will be motivated to preserve the campus experience.
We think Spartans will rise to meet this challenge, and a community compact lays out expectations for all students, faculty, staff, alumni, contractors, vendors and visitors to support everyone’s safety. Compliance measures are part of that compact, but we also will rely on community behavioral norms and Spartan pride in doing what is right. We stand ready to make additional changes if necessary, as we did in March.
Many researchers are back on campus, and essentially all MSU research facilities are open. Lessons learned in reopening these spaces safely are being applied to the return of in-person learning. We also continue vital research on COVID-19 diagnostics and therapies, as well as our outreach into communities throughout Michigan. Over the past few months, MSU faculty, staff and others have stepped up to help supply vital personal protective equipment to our communities and offered support and resources for Michigan’s teachers, businesses and families. You can learn more at msu.edu/together-we-will.
This health crisis underscores the value of universities with the scope and scale of MSU. Michigan State and America’s other leading research universities are helping navigate through it with evidence-based practices, deep local engagement and discovery focused on society’s most urgent needs.
Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., is the 21st president of Michigan State University