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University of Michigan urges undergrad students to stay home, take remote classes for winter semester

Students who don’t need to live on campus asked to stay home due to COVID-19

University of Michigan
University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan is urging undergrad students who don’t have to be on campus to stay home and take remote classes during the winter semester due to the spread of COVID-19.

The university announced all housing contracts for undergrads are being canceled for the winter semester.

Michigan’s winter semester plans include more remote courses and fewer undergraduate students living on campus. The university wants to reduce the number of people living in residence halls.

Undergraduate students living, learning, working or doing research in person at the Ann Arbor campus will have to undergo mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing.

Michigan will also require increased asymptomatic testing for the entire campus community.

“We have engaged broadly across the campus to gather input from faculty, staff and students,” President Mark Schlissel wrote in an email. “Our plan for the winter term reflects the best of what we learned and what we’ve heard that you hope to achieve going forward.”

“I appreciate the thought, energy and care that so many have contributed to developing a path forward for our university,” Provost Susan M. Collins said.

Academics

Michigan will limit in-person classes to those that clearly benefit from that format and those that must be in-person for licensure.

Instructors will be able to use the format they believe is most appropriate. There will be fewer hybrid classes that are partially online and partially in person, based on feedback from instructors about the difficulty in teaching them.

No instructor will be required to teach in-person if they would prefer not to.

COVID-19 testing

The university will implement a mandatory weekly testing program for undergraduates who live on campus or attend in-person classes or activities, perform research, use facilities such as libraries, unions or rec sports, or work on campus.

Weekly asymptomatic testing will be available for all graduate, professional and undergraduate students who are not otherwise covered by a mandatory program, as well as staff and faculty working or teaching on campus.

Here are some of the new testing rules:

  • Negative COVID-19 test required from all residence hall residents before move-in.
  • Mandatory weekly testing for all undergraduate students who live in residence halls.
  • Mandatory weekly testing for all undergraduate students who come to campus to attend in-person classes or activities, use facilities, work or do research on campus. Testing for this group prior to starting any on-campus activities also is required and will be made available. Compliance with mandatory testing requirements will be linked to Mcard activation and facilities access.
  • Weekly asymptomatic testing to all graduate, professional and undergraduate students who are not otherwise covered by a mandatory program, as well as faculty teaching in-person and staff working on campus.
  • Negative test required for undergraduates leaving university housing before returning to their permanent residence. A negative test will be recommended and testing made available for all other undergraduate and graduate students.
  • Expanded testing of individuals in quarantine to students living off campus and not using U of M quarantine housing.

Existing testing initiatives including surveillance testing, quarantine testing, symptomatic testing, and the testing of those exposed to persons with COVID-19 will continue.

University officials said some recommendations are still being considered, such as mandatory entry testing for all instructional faculty and graduate student instructors with in-person teaching and weekly mandatory testing for those teaching in settings where certain classroom mitigation policies are exempt -- such as certain music and dance classes.

On-campus housing

Undergraduate students who don’t need to live in residence halls should remain at their permanent residences for the semester, the university announced.

All U of M housing contracts for undergraduate residents will be canceled for the winter semester.

“We know that asking students to leave their residence halls in the middle of the year is disappointing and disruptive, and we apologize for that,” said Martino Harmon, vice president for student life. “The community created within a residence hall is an important part of the college experience, but safety has to come first.”

Undergraduates who need to be on campus for the winter term can request housing based on certain need-based criteria, such as health, wellness or safety concerns, financial need, specific academic need, status as international students or U of M Housing ResStaff student employees, or other extraordinary, extenuating circumstances.

Undergraduate housing will be assigned one person per room.

Public health policy enforcement

Students returning to campus in the winter will follow strict, no-tolerance protocols.

Depending on violations, penalties will include automatic probation, housing contract termination and removing university recognition for student organizations hosting or participating in social gatherings.

Enforcement will take a no-tolerance approach for certain violations. Social gatherings of three or more on-campus residence hall residents will result in automatic probation, and public health violations by students in quarantine or isolation housing would mean automatic termination of their university housing contract.

Off-campus students who are determined to have engaged in those behaviors would be referred to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, the Washtenaw County Health Department or both.

In addition to the more serious penalties, the university will maintain the COVID Concerns Reporting Line for reporting off-campus concerns, and will continue enforcement partnerships with the Ann Arbor Police Department and Washtenaw County Health Department.

Mental health, well-being

The university will add two mid-week, one-day “well-being breaks” without any scheduled academic activities on Feb. 24 and March 23.

Counseling and Psychological Services is expanding this year with eight additional counselors to reduce wait times and augment services, which are mostly virtual for students during the pandemic.

Additional wellness services, such as Wolverine Wellness and rec sports facilities, also will continue to be available.

U of M staff members working from home will continue to do so throughout the winter semester.

The university announced three additional paid days off during the upcoming holiday breaks for eligible faculty and staff.

“We will continue to face challenges this winter just as we did this fall, but we’ve learned from these experiences and the feedback from our community,” Harmon said. “This plan allows us to meet the critical needs of our students, faculty and staff while keeping their safety and the safety of the greater community at the forefront.”

COVID-19 spread

The number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths in Michigan has continued to rise. Recently, the state’s seven-day average for new daily cases reached the highest it has ever been, and hospitalizations across the state are increasing.

The state trends for the virus reflect a larger surge in COVID-19 happening across the country.

A 14-day Washtenaw County Health Department stay-in-place order for U-M undergraduates expired Nov. 3 with cases among 18- to 29-year-olds in the county decreasing.

The percentage of the county’s cases that were associated with U of M students dropped from 60% when the order was issued to about 33%.

Still, the number of cases in Washtenaw County remains high overall, and the weekly test positivity rate has increased to nearly 4%, according to county officials.

“We all must continue to do everything we can to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on each of us and on our community,” said Jimena Loveluck, a health officer for Washtenaw County. “Recent weeks have left no doubt that the virus continues to circulate and have also confirmed that we can minimize its negative impacts by continuing to use face coverings and distance and cooperating fully with all public health guidance.”

Campus feedback

A survey sent to all degree-seeking students on the Ann Arbor campus last month showed that at least 85% of respondents at each degree level intend to remain enrolled for the winter semester if it is in the same format as the fall 2020 semester, according to U of M.

About a quarter of undergraduates responded that they were not sure of their plans or would take the semester off if the school went fully remote, according to the study.

More than 82% of respondents to an instructor survey said their courses were going either as expected or better than expected, U of M reports.

Undergraduate housing

The university will reduce undergraduate housing density through a process that limits access only to undergraduates with certain need-based criteria.

Most undergraduates will be strongly encouraged to remain at their permanent addresses and access instruction remotely, including those currently living in off-campus housing in Ann Arbor.

Undergraduate students might be able to keep living in campus housing for the following reasons:

  • Health, wellness or safety concerns
  • International status
  • Financial need
  • Specific academic need
  • Michigan Housing ResStaff student employees
  • Other extraordinary or extenuating circumstances

The process for students to request consideration for winter semester housing will be shared directly with students living in university housing.

Graduate and professional students are able to continue living on campus in their current locations and densities because there have been very few cases of COVID-19 within the graduate student communities, according to the university.

School officials said the shift to fewer on-campus undergrads is important at a time when winter weather prevents outdoor activities and the risk of virus spread is greater.

Residence hall, dining changes

Under the new plan, lounge spaces in university housing will be accessible by reservation only.

Dine-in options in the dining halls will not be available.

The university will maintain or increase its quarantine and isolation housing capacity of 600 units.

More than one in five undergraduates currently living in university housing said in a survey that they plan to move out, are unsure of their plans, or intend not to enroll in the winter if the university maintains the same instructional format, U of M reports.

The university is continuing to operate rec sports facilities and programs, as well as club sports activities, under their current protocols for health and safety.

Additionally, Student Life will offer co-curricular educational programs and support offerings in a virtual format, including programming centered on health and well-being, student advocacy, support and intervention, and developing a community at U of M, the university announced.


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