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.
The University of Michigan is planning to hold a fall semester mostly featuring a return to normalcy, including in-person instruction for small and medium size classes, on-campus housing and large crowds at sports games. This is largely due to the state of Michigan’s and the University’s progress in COVID-19 vaccinations.
In a previous interview with The Michigan Daily, University President Mark Schlissel said vaccinations against COVID-19 are crucial to the University’s plans to open in the fall.
“The greater fraction of people who are vaccinated, the more likely we are to have a semester in the fall that feels as close to normal as possible,” Schlissel said. “The best case scenario is that 95 or 98% of students and an overwhelming majority of faculty and staff are vaccinated.”
Everybody over the age of 12 in Michigan is currently eligible to get vaccinated. At the time of publication, 58.1% of eligible Michigan residents have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Washtenaw County has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 vaccination in Michigan, with 62.4% of those eligible receiving at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Anybody 12 years or older can receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Michigan Medicine. The University urges vaccinated students to report their vaccination status to Wolverine Access. This information will be used to inform plans for the fall semester and will allow students to opt out of regular COVID-19 testing in the fall.
LSA sophomore Ava Ben-David was impressed with how easy it is to access COVID-19 vaccines in Ann Arbor.
“(I) think that vaccinations are very accessible, and that people are getting them,” Ben-David said. “Every single one of my friends is vaccinated, and I don’t really know anyone that isn’t vaccinated.”
In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said the University expects many students to get a COVID-19 vaccine without making it mandatory.
“We remain confident that … we will have a sufficiently high percentage of our community vaccinated,” Broekhuizen wrote. “Encouragement may be more effective than a mandate to achieve the goal of maximizing vaccinations against COVID-19 in the months ahead. Any student who is in need of vaccination will have the opportunity to be vaccinated when they arrive in Ann Arbor.”
Some faculty have grown frustrated with the lack of a vaccine mandate for students living on campus and attending classes during the upcoming fall semester. In early May, over 700 instructors signed on to a petition calling for a vaccine mandate. In the event that the administration refused to institute a mandate, the faculty members requested that instructors uncomfortable with teaching unvaccinated students be able to opt out of in person instruction.
Students who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 will be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. However, as of May 20, Broekhuizen said the University has verified more than 13,300 vaccinated students.
In December 2020, shortly after the first Emergency Use Authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, Michigan Medicine released the “Blue Queue Questionnaire.” All U-M and Michigan Medicine students, faculty, staff and employees were encouraged to fill out the Questionnaire. The Questionnaire asked participants about certain criteria, such as age and occupation, as well as interest level in getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Participants were emailed when they became eligible for a vaccine.
On Tuesday, May 18, the Blue Queue sent an email writing that everybody who demonstrated interest in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine through the Blue Queue have been officially told that they are eligible for vaccination.
“We have at this point been able to clear the ‘Queue,’” the email said. “All U-M Personnel who completed the Blue Queue questionnaire and indicated an interest in the COVID-19 vaccine have been invited to schedule an appointment or received the vaccine elsewhere.”
Residence halls are planning to open this fall at no more than 80% capacity. Students planning to live in on-campus housing are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and need to report receiving the vaccine to Wolverine Access by 5 p.m. on July 16. The Michigan Housing website says any students unable to meet this deadline should contact MHousing. The University will accept any vaccines approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Jannsen vaccines, or the World Health Organization (WHO), including the AstraZeneca (Covishield) and Sinopharm vaccines.
The University said it will help students get a vaccine if they arrive on campus unvaccinated, which has been of particular concern for some international students who come from countries that have not received many doses of the vaccine.
According to the MHousing website, limited exceptions to the vaccination requirement will be allowed. Students may apply for a vaccine waiver no later than July 16. Students who receive a vaccine waiver will be required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing to live on-campus.
The University plans to offer most classes in person this fall. According to Broekhuizen, 89% of classes will be in person, 5% of classes will be hybrid and 7% of classes will be fully online according to current projections.
Incoming LSA freshman Ellie Sampson said she is excited to have classes in person because it will be easier to connect with her classmates directly than it would be online.
“It’s definitely easier to interact and communicate with people if it’s in person,” Sampson said. “Being in person allows that connection, human connection, when interacting, better than on Zoom calls.”
LSA sophomore Alexander Manthous said he is disappointed some of his classes will be online in the fall.
“(I) had no classes in person last semester … ,” Manthous said. “I was a freshman last year, and now I’m going to be a sophomore and still have remote classes. It’s just disappointing. It is harder to focus, and it’s just harder to create a schedule and actually be productive throughout the day.”
The University is returning to a more traditional academic calendar after changes to the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters. Students noticed an increase in mental health struggles in the last academic year with the elimination of fall break and spring break. The Winter 2021 semester included two non-consecutive “well-being breaks,” during which no classes were held, to promote mental health and give students time off without allowing enough time for students to travel. However, many students said these breaks failed to improve their mental health, and University President Mark Schlissel admitted in a previous interview with The Daily that the well-being breaks were not sufficient.
The 2021 fall semester will include a fall break from October 16-19.
Ben-David said she’s happy to have a long weekend in the fall as a time to relax and disengage from the typically stressful school year.
“We’re all really hard-working students, but at the end of the day we’re still people,” Ben-David said. “It’ll kind of mitigate that burnout that a lot of students have been feeling this year.”
The University is planning to have an in-person Festifall, which typically sees more than 500 student organizations enticing new members to join, after having a virtual Festifall in 2020. Despite being virtual, more than 1,000 students attended the first day of the Festifall last year. While some students appreciated the increased accessibility of an online club fair, some students noted a decreased interest in clubs.
Many student organizations are planning to have in-person components. LSA senior Allister Ho, director of finance for the University Activity Center said many clubs are planning for both in-person and virtual meetings and large events.
“(We’re figuring out) how we balance whether we do in-person meetings or have a hybrid of in-person … meetings with a virtual component,” Ho said. “(Clubs) are planning for in person, as an ideal scenario, but they are still aware that public health comes first, so they’re going to be able to adapt their events, whether it has to be … smaller groups or just completely virtual altogether.”
Ben-David said she is excited to make friends in some of the student organizations she is involved with.
“I’m part of a lot of clubs… I think it’ll feel a lot less like a chore and I’ll be able to make a lot of friends,” Ben-David said. “It’ll be a lot of fun to physically meet people instead of just on Zoom.”
Additionally, Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently announced that all outdoor capacity limits in Michigan will be lifted on June 1, while indoor capacity limits will remain at 50%. This announcement follows the CDC’s statement which clarified it is mostly safe for fully vaccinated people to be without masks or social distancing.
On May 20, Michigan Athletics announced that athletic events will return to full capacity beginning in the fall. The announcement also stated sports events will currently fall under U-M’s face covering policy, which requires masks inside, on U-M transportation and outside in groups larger than 100 people. When the University updated their social distancing guidelines on May 7, it said social distancing and face covering policies may be further relaxed with increasing vaccination rates.
“Guidance from the State of Michigan clears the path for Michigan Athletics events to return to full capacity beginning with the fall competition,” the announcement said. “Should federal, state, local or campus public health guidelines change, we will update you as soon as that information becomes available.”
Manthous said the return of in-person sports is one of the things he is most looking forward to in the fall. He said he is specifically looking forward to football games and tailgates.
“I’m really excited for sports events … and going to games with my friends on the weekends,” Manthous said. “Before the whole pandemic I had looked into the University, and … I would see TikToks saying ‘Come to the University of Michigan’ … and then they’ll show a TikTok of The Big House and tailgating. So I had seen that aspect through a screen, but I haven’t actually experienced it.”
Daily Staff Reporter Justin O’Beirne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org