1. Our collective efforts in response to COVID-19

    June 12, 2020

    Dear Colleagues:

    As we see different sectors of our state and economy resume activities and state and local restrictions relaxed, I want to remind all of us that unless specified by your supervisor, everyone who can work from home must continue to do so. This is consistent with the governor’s most recent executive order.

    I am continuing to work from home – and have instructed those on my leadership team who can do their work from home to continue to do so. By continuing to follow guidelines, we all can help to maintain the positive trajectory we have established in the battle against the pandemic.

    Three months ago, the University of Michigan moved quickly to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester and directed employees to work from home whenever possible. These were the first steps we took to reduce density on our campuses, flatten the curve, and slow the spread of the COVID-19 – and they are working.

    Today, we are in a much better place because of your ability and willingness to adapt and your incredible diligence in the face of adversity.

    What is even more remarkable is the compassion and care that you have demonstrated for people in our community and beyond – our students, colleagues, peers, patients and loved ones – even as we endured personal losses and professional struggles from COVID-19.

    Without your tremendous efforts to care for one another’s well-being and follow safety guidelines, we wouldn’t be in a position to consider resuming more of our in-person activities and possibly bringing students back in the fall.

    Our fall planning work is continuing with cautious optimism that we will be able to offer a public health-informed semester on our three campuses safely combining in-person and remote instruction. We will announce a decision before the end of June.

    In the meantime, I want to express my appreciation to the hundreds of members of our community who have engaged in this important planning work. We’ve approached this challenge from multiple angles that befit the breadth of U-M’s problem-solving capacity, including health and safety, ethics and privacy, and the many educational and workplace needs of a university of our diversity and scale.

    We’re examining a multitude of specific issues related to public health and the delivery of our mission, including density in classrooms and offices, face coverings, coronavirus and antibody testing, contact tracing, pedagogy, the needs of our graduate and professional students, and the many dimensions of student life. This planning further includes how we would protect vulnerable populations, monitor the spread of the virus, implement measures to contain the virus, care for anyone who is sick, strengthen our public health infrastructure to protect our community, and enact ongoing mitigation strategies, including interventions we would deploy in advance of the semester and as conditions change.

    I have posted a list of the committees and groups that Interim Provost Susan M. Collins, Interim Vice President for Student Life Simone Himbeault Taylor and I stood up to respond to the pandemic and plan for the fall. These committees include many of our foremost faculty and staff experts in public health, innovative teaching, engaged learning, physical space use, and much more, and Student Life has engaged with hundreds of students. I know many other individuals are working in our schools, colleges and units, and UM-Dearborn Chancellor Domenico Grasso and UM-Flint Chancellor Debasish Dutta have convened broad groups as well. All of these groups have spent countless hours deeply engaged in efforts to help plan the right course for us for the fall.

    As we do everything we can to put in place protections for health and safety, we also need your help to protect all members of our community. Our hopes for the fall semester and beyond rely on everyone continuing to care for one another by respecting social distancing, wearing face coverings when six feet of distance can’t be maintained, practicing sound hygiene, and keeping density low by working from home whenever possible.

    We’ve also begun to have discussions at the leadership level about how the future of work at U-M could look different, and if we can enact changes that would help us deal with longstanding issues such as parking, our environmental impact and traffic. There is much further work to be done here, but already you have showed us how much can be done remotely.

    While much uncertainty remains, we do know that COVID-19 will be with us until a vaccine is developed and tested or drug treatments can be proven effective and made widely available. Until then, we all share the responsibility to keep our community as healthy and safe as possible.

    Together, we have demonstrated the power of our collective effort and slowed the spread of the virus. I am grateful for your everlasting compassion for the University of Michigan and for your dedication to each other during this pandemic. I will be in touch as soon as possible when we have an update on our fall plans.


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