1. Announcing a responsible return to in-person education and a residential fall semester

    March 12, 2021

    To All Members of the Campus Community:

    Here are the main updates at-a-glance:

    • For the fall semester on the Ann Arbor campus, we will teach most classes in person and have greater occupancy in our residence halls, in-person dining and student support services, along with some continuing precautions to maximize health and safety for our university community. This aligns with our goal of an innovative, responsible return to in-person education and a residential campus experience.
    • These plans presume that any of our faculty, graduate student instructors and staff who wish to be vaccinated will have access to vaccination before the fall semester, and that a significant fraction of our students will have been vaccinated by then as well. If the levels of vaccination exceed these expectations, we will adjust as the semester progresses by further increasing in-person activities and relaxing public health measures.
    • The rate of new COVID-19 cases related to students continues to go down, and now represent only 18 percent of the total cases in Washtenaw County. The positivity rate for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing on campus continues to trend downward and is at about 0.2 percent the past two weeks.
    • Michigan Medicine continues to open COVID-19 vaccination appointments as supply allows and posts regular vaccination updates.
    • We can be more optimistic about fall because of the positive trends we are seeing in lower case numbers and increasing vaccine supply and the hard work all of you have done. Thank you. We know there is still much more work to do in planning for the fall semester together, and appreciate your continued engagement in our preparations.

    A More Residential Fall Semester

    Based on the hopeful trends of decreasing COVID-19 cases and increased vaccine supply – along with the collective efforts and creative will of the University of Michigan community – I’m pleased to announce that for the fall semester on the Ann Arbor campus, we will teach most classes in person and have greater occupancy in our residence halls, in-person dining and student support services, along with some continuing precautions to maximize health and safety for our university community.

    This aligns with our goal of an innovative, responsible return to in-person education and a residential campus experience.

    These plans presume that any of our faculty, graduate student instructors and staff who wish to be vaccinated will have access to vaccination before the fall semester, and that a significant fraction of our students will have been vaccinated by then as well. We strongly encourage students to be vaccinated this spring and summer at home or in Ann Arbor when supplies are available. If the levels of vaccination exceed these expectations, we will adjust as the semester progresses by further increasing in-person activities and relaxing public health measures.

    At today’s Campus COVID-19 Briefing, we shared information about our plans for the fall and the ongoing engagement with our community that will take place as more certainties emerge and our plans progress. Additional details are here, and the main points include:

    • Most medium to small classes, seminars and discussion sections will be conducted in person, while most large lecture classes will continue to be offered remotely. There could be variations by school and college for pedagogical purposes.
    • Our residence halls will have greater occupancy. All new students can be confident they will be able to live on campus this fall, and we will accommodate as many others as conditions allow. We project overall capacity will be nearly 80 percent. Campus dining will offer in-person dining, as well as meals to go.
    • Our services and facilities will be open with larger in-person capacities, including libraries, museums, University Unions, recreation facilities, and performance venues.
    • Many student-facing services, such as advising, will offer in-person support with safety measures in place, while continuing to maintain remote options, and student organizations will be able to resume many of their in-person activities.

    Most decisions about course modalities will be made for pedagogical reasons, at the unit level. This moves us back to the ways course scheduling has taken place historically.

    Recent developments and trends are bolstering our optimism and indicate significantly lower risk. A third highly effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine has been approved, President Biden has called for all adults to be eligible for vaccination by May 1, we’re seeing fewer cases on campus and across the nation, and forecasts for hospitalizations are decreasing. Though a definitive vaccine timeline continues to evolve, we can expect that by the end of the summer, the vast majority of our adult community will be vaccinated, and we will be moving quickly to a safer environment.

    Planning and Engagement Remain Ongoing

    Campus leaders are continuing to engage with many groups of students, faculty and staff to help inform the framework for our aspirations for the fall. We appreciate your candor and willingness to participate in shaping what lies ahead. These collaborations will continue as we now do the hard work to implement our goal.

    We’ll also be prepared to change if necessary, and please know that as conditions change and more certainties emerge throughout the coming months, we will continue to discuss those developments with you. In particular, we are working to develop scenarios that build on our public health efforts and employ many mitigation measures to both assist with more detailed planning and provide guidelines to our units. These will go hand in hand with capturing the benefits of what we’ve learned about remote work – from efficiencies to environmental benefits to employee satisfaction.

    Our preparations for fall will mean that certain groups of employees who currently work remotely, particularly those that are in student-facing roles, will be returning to in-person work in spring and early summer. We’ll be reaching out at the unit level since that is where the decisions about staffing needs are made.

    We recognize the disruptions this pandemic continues to cause, and our overall approach still applies: When more of us return to more in-person work, we’ll do it gradually, and we’ll provide as much notice as we can so that affected employees can make plans. Units are already developing plans for the longer-term future of both in-person and remote work, based on their engagements with employees and the precise nature of their responsibilities. We will have more to say about goals in this area in the months ahead.

    Earlier this week, Michigan Athletics announced that plans are underway to bring back fans for our sporting events in the fall. I also hope that we can resume live performances in our various arts venues on campus. These are a few of the many features of our university that we are working to restore in an innovative and safe fashion, to promote a more traditional feel and campus experience to the upcoming fall semester in Ann Arbor.

    Thank You

    Many of our activities have been safely ramping up over the last few months. That is a credit to all of you, your dedication, and the sacrifices you have made throughout this pandemic.  Getting our community to a place of optimism for fall on campus has required the diligence of thousands in our community, and I want to say thank you.

    Our student COVID-19 case counts continue to decrease because you have followed public health guidelines and care about the health and safety of our campus, as well as the people who live or work in Washtenaw County.

    Our faculty, students and staff have risen to the challenge of this pandemic to uphold our mission. Our labs are at 75 percent capacity, our libraries and museums are open to Mcard holders, our students are making progress towards their degrees both remotely and in person, and our hospitals and clinics are saving lives and administering 100 percent of the vaccines we receive. We have not seen COVID-19 transmission in our classrooms or labs. We’re serving our students and providing COVID-19 testing to tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff each week.

    Closing Thoughts

    It was a year ago yesterday that we announced that classes would shift to remote formats for the remainder of the semester. A year ago tomorrow we encouraged students to move home and employees to work from home.

    I would assert that those were the moments that also set the stage for our road to recovery.

    Since then, it’s not been easy for anyone. You’ve persevered and are working to get us back to the University of Michigan that we all love: a vibrant, energized and ambitious community of students, faculty and staff; a residential university that teaches, learns, conducts world-class research, serves the public and cares for millions of patients.

    You can read more about our impact over the past year in the University Record and at Michigan Medicine.

    We’ve heard from faculty advisors and parents that the pandemic has increased our students’ concern and anxiety about their futures. This point was raised in a faculty governance meeting I attended earlier this week, as well. Whether it’s our undergraduates wondering about getting their first jobs or a Ph.D. student concerned about the availability of faculty positions after graduation, our return to a more normal in-person fall semester represents an opportunity to come together and help our students best prepare for an uncertain future.

    We want our students to learn in the best way possible, and our faculty and staff to do what they do best and succeed at the highest levels. This goal is within our grasp.

    Thank you so much.

    Sincerely,

    Mark S. Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D.
    President