January 11, 2021

Good morning,

Welcome back to The University Insider. We hope your break was restful and that you are feeling ready to take on the new semester.

This week, the University returns to classes in person as some instructors choose to go virtual and COVID-19 cases rise. As professors grapple with course modalities, their students struggle obtaining quarantine housing. Read on for this and more.

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Some U-M faculty, graduate student instructors turn to e-pivot for first two weeks of semester

As the omicron variant spreads, some faculty members have taken it upon themselves to move their classes online. The Graduate Employees’ Organization held an emergency general membership meeting Tuesday in which 95% of members voted to perform an e-pivot, a temporary move to virtual instruction. While faculty members valued in-person instruction, those supporting the e-pivot cited the unknowns surrounding the omicron variant.

“A lot of (Lecturers’ Employee Organization) members want to teach in-person,” LEO President Kirsten Herold said. “We are calling on the administration to allow instructor discretion – at least for the first few weeks … . We find the distrust in faculty members to make the right choice really disheartening.”

GEO held a press conference Wednesday announcing the e-pivot. The organization’s president, Joey Valle, said the shift to hybrid learning was going to happen due to the elevated COVID-19 case counts. 

“The University has repeatedly made the claim that classrooms are safe and there’s no transmission in classrooms, however after repeated asking, they have not provided the evidence of that,” Valle said. “The University’s stance that people need to be in person … despite many unknowns on how omicron is transmitted within our University’s campus represents a situation that is very concerning for many of our members.” 

Before the meeting, faculty members penned an open letter to University administrators asking for an e-pivot. The University continued to assert that classrooms remain safe, declining to move to virtual instruction.

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‘I feel disrespected overall by the administration’: UMich students face long waits, difficulties with quarantine and isolation policies

LSA freshman Ruide Xu lives in South Quadrangle. When he tested positive for COVID-19 last Wednesday, he called the quarantine housing hotline to no avail. As of Friday evening, he still had not been assigned to a quarantine and isolation unit.

Xu isn’t alone among University students, who have reported numerous obstacles to obtaining quarantine housing. Students who live off campus are ineligible for quarantine and isolation housing, leaving undergraduates like LSA junior Kristina Wendling – who lives with nine other people off campus – without a place to stay safe, trying to adapt their lives to accommodate their roommates.

Resident advisors, too, expressed concerns about their residents being forced to stay in their dorms overnight after testing positive. One RA, referred to as Charlie to protect them from professional retaliation, said they worry about the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on dorm life.

“It has kind of made me scared to go on duty,” Charlie said. “Specifically, just going to the bathroom because certain residents who have community bathrooms that have tested positive have not been taken to quarantine right away. One resident in particular has been (taken to quarantine) but it took more than 24 hours. A positive test was reported yesterday around 10 a.m., and they just got taken today at around 1 p.m.”

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Schlissel on Winter 2022: ‘The goal has sort of shifted from preventing cases to preventing serious illness’

The Michigan Daily sat down with University President Mark Schlissel to discuss the rise in COVID-19 cases on campus.

When asked about the instructor-led e-pivot, Schlissel reiterated the University’s expectation that faculty teach in person but also acknowledged the administration is not actively enforcing that expectation.

Schlissel also explained the University’s approach to monitoring the spread of COVID-19 on campus has changed this semester. Instead of focusing on case counts as in the past, he and his colleagues are focusing on hospitalizations and those who are physically sick.

“I think it’s quite likely that most of us are going to get omicron at some point,” Schlissel said. “The hope is to slow it down, to protect people who are immunocompromised or folks who would do particularly poorly if they got COVID-19. But the idea of preventing people from getting infected with COVID-19, I think the ship has sailed.”

While the approach has attracted significant criticism, Schlissel said the University is asking faculty to be accommodating when students fall ill during the semester.

“​​We don’t want to set up an incentive where somebody’s sick, but they don’t want to get marked off, so they come to class and spread disease,” Schlissel said. “That would be terrible. So we’ll try to be as firm about… not penalizing students for staying home if they’re sick.”

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The “test optional” debate hides the real inequities in higher education

The University of Michigan’s student body in many ways fails to reflect the population it serves. Many have argued that the University’s use of standardized testing in applications has encouraged this disparity, as high school GPAs correlate more strongly to collegiate success than test scores. Others argue the University should consider standardized test scores since they provide an objective, if not unbiased, metric of success. Daily Opinion Columnist Alex Yee asks why standardized testing dominates the discussion over educational inequities. Schools lack the resources to provide each student with everything they need for success. As well, many students lose out even before reaching the SAT. Primary and secondary education is lacking in the U.S. Yee argues this should be the crux of discussions of inequity in postsecondary institutions. Resolving disparities in K-12 education would go a long way to resolving those in higher education.

The University added 144 units to quarantine and isolation housing Saturday by allowing two students to live in two-bedroom apartments rather than one. Quarantine and isolation housing occupancy is down to 17.5%, down from Friday’s peak of 41.7%.

On Monday, the University began reporting daily case COVID-19 counts, citing elevated transmission levels caused by the omicron variant. 727 cases have been preliminarily reported for the week ending Jan. 1. 66% of cases diagnosed at UHS had mild symptoms, and the remainder of those diagnosed were asymptomatic. The daily case counts for this past week show cases peaked on Jan. 5, with 337 cases reported, before dropping to 192 Friday.

First Print Edition of 2022

This Wednesday will be the first print edition of The Michigan Daily for 2022. Grab a copy to see the biggest stories from the start of the new year and the new semester.

For up-to-the-minute news on the issues most important to faculty and staff, check our website and social media.

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