As University of Michigan students wait to hear whether their fall term will be online, in-person or some combination of the two University President Mark Schlissel predicts that whatever decision is made regarding classes will likely last through the academic year, not just for fall semester. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Schlissel discussed making the call on whether classes are online or in person for the following school year.
“Any decision we make for this coming fall is likely going to be the case for the whole academic year,” Schlissel said. “What’s going to be different in January?”
Schlissel, an immunologist by training, pointed out that the winter semester comes with public health concerns as well and with COVID-19, those months could be worse due to the flu season. Roughly half of University students are from out of state, which means both semesters will be marked with an influx of travel from COVID-19 hotspots.
Schlissel said his leadership team is working to lower the risk of COVID-19 for students and staff so it is indistinguishable from the risk at home. According to him, the school may consider quarantining some people upon their arrival to campus, along with widespread symptom screening, testing, social distancing and using personal protective equipment.
Schools nationwide are taking a variety of approaches. For example, the California State University system announced that their fall term will be mainly online and University of Notre Dame is planning to start the fall term early to end before Thanksgiving. However, Schlissel warned that the more promising announcements from other institutions are still subject to approval by local officials.
“I don’t want to set false expectations,” Schlissel said. “(The announcements are) really not as declarative as they appear.”
The interview came days after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer relaxed the stay-at-home order, which was extended to June 12, to allow groups of less than ten people to congregate in one location.
The NCAA voted a few days prior to allow voluntary football and basketball workouts to resume starting on June 1, and while other schools have plans to bring back football players for voluntary training, Michigan has not announced any sort of plan yet. According to Schlissel, the University won’t have a football season in the fall unless all students are able to be back on campus for classes.
“If there is no on-campus instruction then there won’t be intercollegiate athletics, at least for Michigan,” Schlissel said. “(I have) some degree of doubt as to whether there will be college athletics (anywhere), at least in the fall.”
Schlissel added that Michigan is in a better position than other universities to take the revenue loss from not having a football season. The athletic department’s budget last season was $185 million, and about $83 million –– 43% of the athletic department’s revenue –– came from football last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Although trouble in a $185 million unit is a big deal, it isn’t of the scale that it threatens the university,” Schlissel said.
Schlissel said he expects to make the decision for how the upcoming academic year functions in the coming weeks.
Daily Staff Reporter Iulia Dobrin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org