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Over 700 University of Michigan students have penned an open letter calling for the University to keep its plan for the Winter 2022 semester – which includes a face covering mandate, mandatory COVID-19 booster shots, and primarily in-person classes.
The letter, dated Dec. 22, comes after over 900 members of the University community wrote an open letter to University President Mark Schlissel to delay in-person learning in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The Dec. 22 letter claims there is no evidence delaying the start of the semester will curb the spread of COVID-19, and in-person learning will not pose a health risk to student or faculty population.
“There is no conclusive data suggesting this new variant causes significant harm to our vaccinated population,” the letter reads. “The students and faculty have done their part by being vaccinated, and by altering the academic calendar or mode of instruction, the university leadership will fail to uphold their end of the deal. There is no definitive data or evidence that suggests in-person learning is a significant risk to the population.”
The letter says virtual learning is inferior to in-person instruction, and valuable experiences – such as networking and social opportunities – are lost when classes are conducted remotely.
“The intent of this letter is not to shame university leadership; instead, this letter suggests a compromise in which the university continues to allow in-person instruction due to the 98% vaccination rate among students and faculty,” the letter reads. “The student body is willing to endure mask mandates and booster requirements if the university is willing to continue delivering high-quality, in-person education. We expect that the university continues to move forward with the logical decision to uphold the current plan for the winter 2022 term.”
In a statement to The Michigan Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said that the vaccination rates on campus among students and faculty on campus are one of the highest in the nation. The University currently plans to return to fully in-person learning on Jan. 5.
“The university plans to resume in-person classes on Jan. 5. There are no plans at this time to move to a remote format for the start of the winter term,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The vaccination rates of the U-M student community and faculty are among the highest in the state and the nation.”
Fitzgerald wrote the University would continue to monitor the spread of the Omicron variant and would continue to seek guidance from public health experts. He also asserted there has been little COVID-19 transmission in classrooms.
LSA sophomore Drew Joliet and Business sophomore Mitchell Reinitz – two of the principal authors of the letter — told the Daily they wrote the letter to show there was support for in-person classes, especially among students. Joliet and Reinitz pointed to high vaccination rates and booster requirements as key reasons why they thought delaying the start of the semester or temporarily moving online was unnecessary.
“We came to the conclusion when we saw the letter written by other members of the Michigan community about possibly altering the academic calendar and postponing in-person classes, and we thought (our) letter would be a good response to show the University that we thought in-person classes should be starting on time and the academic calendar should stay how it is,” Joliet said.
Reinitz said online education made it difficult to get to know and work with classmates.
“It’s really hard to collaborate with your classmates when you’re in a virtual setting,” Reinitz said. “We’re paying for in-person classes, and I think that’s something we should get.”
Joliet said his experiences with hybrid classes this past semester showcased the benefits of in-person instruction.
“When I was in the classroom, I felt like I learned much more than (when) I was online,” Joliet said. “It keeps your focus on schoolwork and not distractions around you.”
Reinitz and Joliet sent their letter to University President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins on Dec. 24.
As of Dec. 20, Washtenaw County has been identified as an area of high risk infection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Dec. 17, the University also mandated all students to receive the COVID-19 booster shot by Feb. 4 or once they become eligible.