The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
Over 800 University of Michigan students and faculty members have signed an open letter asking the University to modify plans for the beginning of the Winter 2022 semester.
The letter, dated Dec.17, calls on the University to delay instruction of in-person classes by at least two weeks in order to combat the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is now the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. As the variant continues to spread rapidly throughout the country, the letter says the University can prevent the spread on campus by moving the Winter 2022 schedule back two weeks and condensing course schedules or to begin the semester virtually and then switch to in-person instruction.
“We understand that each of these possible scenarios brings with it a number of issues that would have to be addressed and so we hope that the administration would seek advice from and work together with faculty, staff, and students to devise a suitable alternative,” the letter reads. “We also hope that the administration would at least consider leaving it to instructor discretion whether to teach virtually or in-person as long as there is a significant threat of a serious outbreak on campus.”
The letter comes after several other universities have modified their plans for the upcoming semester in response to the Omicron variant. Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., reported over 900 positive cases in less than one week, moved final exams online and canceled their December commencement. Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. will begin the semester with three weeks of online instruction in order to mitigate the spread of the variant.
When asked for comment on the letter, University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen directed The Michigan Daily to the adjusted Winter 2022 policy that was announced on Friday. The updated policy includes mandatory COVID-19 booster shots, face-coverings in residence halls until at least Jan. 17 and mandatory testing for all individuals living in residence halls.
History professor John Carson – one of the principal authors of the letter — said in an interview with The Daily that he wrote the letter because he felt the University did not have an adequate plan to address the Omicron variant.
“I thought everyone was going home, or seeing people and friends and relatives for the holidays, and then coming quickly back to Ann Arbor for classes to start on Jan. 5.It seemed like a recipe for disaster,” Carson said.
One of the demands in the letter calls for the University to require boosters for all faculty, staff and students on all three campuses. While this demand was met by the new policy, Carson said he is concerned with how much time individuals are being given to receive a booster shot.
“The mandatory boosters seems to be a good idea, but waiting until February (4), seems very late… Michigan State is also mandating boosters for faculty and staff and students, but by January 10,” Carson said. “By February (4), we could already be in a huge surge, and then what’s having the booster (distributed) by then going to really accomplish?”
In a message to The Daily, CSG President Nithya Arun, a Public Health senior, said that as other universities are altering their plans for the winter semester, she believes that the University of Michigan should modify the current in-person learning plans. She believes all students and professors should have more flexibility in their choices based on comfort level.
“Given the rise in prevalence of the Omicron variant as well as the probable spike in cases over winter break as students travel, classes should be held exclusively online for the first two weeks of the semester,” Arun wrote. “Additionally, after the two week period both professors and students should have the autonomy in choosing whether to hold classes or go to classes in person or virtually depending on their immune status and comfort level. The University should ensure that both testing and booster vaccinations are accessible.”
Amid faculty concerns regarding spread of the Omicron variant, many students are still hoping to be able to return to campus on Jan. 5. LSA sophomore Amanda Mackey said she hopes in-person learning resumes on the scheduled date and continues throughout the full semester, as she believes in-person classes benefited her academic performance..
“I absolutely think that UM should stay in person for the entire winter of 2022,” Mackey said. “After being in person this semester I have seen a notable difference in the value that I am getting out of my education, especially compared to last year when we were fully online. I am able to connect with my professors and classmates much more easily in person versus online.”
In an email to The Daily, Silke-Maria Weineck, professor of comparative literature and German studies and one of the signers of the letter, wrote the pandemic has taken an increasing toll on faculty with children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Weineck said going online for the start of the semester would help ease that burden.
“We know that the burden of care falls overwhelmingly on women, with single mothers bearing the brunt,” Weineck wrote. “It seems to me that the University is simply counting on them to carry on, at the cost of their careers and their mental health. It’s textbook structural misogyny, and I find it unconscionable. To give all of us some breathing space by starting online is the absolute minimum I’d expect from ~(University administration).”
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