With the end of summer drawing near, many students, faculty and staff fearfully anticipate the repercussions of University President Mark Schlissel’s vague and impractical plan for a public health-informed fall semester. Beside basic measures such as increasing social distancing in classrooms, requiring face masks on all campus grounds and offering a great number of online courses, few concrete steps have been taken to repress a COVID-19 outbreak on any of the three University of Michigan campuses. Schlissel himself stated that much of the reopening plan is dependent on students following public health guidelines, which — as we’ve seen as students begin to move back to Ann Arbor — is unlikely to happen. Despite the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moving classes online after one week and Central Michigan University increasing their case numbers tenfold within the first week of classes, both due to student behavior, Schlissel somehow still believes that our campuses will have a different result.
It could be considered flattering that Schlissel is outwardly showing such strong faith in the student body. However, this outlook assumes that the immunologist running one of the world’s best public universities is naive and ignorant enough to believe his students, who have been partying throughout the summer, are suddenly going to stop. In his most recent announcement to the University of Michigan community, he implied that students who don’t follow public health guidelines will be to blame if the University is forced to revert to online-only classes. Placing the responsibility on the students to follow public health guidelines upon returning to campus is an attempt to scapegoat the student body so that the administration cannot be held accountable for triggering the inevitable viral outbreak. While any student who hosts or attends a party with more than 25 people is culpable for whatever consequences that gathering has on their campus or surrounding communities, the University administration is still at fault for enabling them.
If the University had any true intent to keep our campuses open throughout the upcoming school year, there would be explicitly stated and properly severe consequences for any student found to be violating public health guidelines. There would be a plan for rigorous asymptomatic testing of the entire campus throughout the semester. Every single course would have the option to be taken online. All students living in dorms would live in single rooms and be provided with adequate personal protective equipment. Bathrooms would have plexiglass between sinks. Any and all testing and COVID-19 related treatment for students, staff and faculty living on any of the three U-M campuses would be paid for by the University. These demands are included in a petition created by #NotMICampus, a coalition of students from various universities in the state of Michigan demanding changes in problematic reopening plans arising from their schools. The petition can be found here, and I strongly urge anybody concerned about the University’s current reopening plan to sign it.
Still, if the administration truly cared about the well-being of its students, staff and faculty as well as the communities that host our campuses, classes would have already been moved online for the upcoming semesters. In fact, there would not have been a plan for in-person classes in the first place. The university with a leading School of Public Health would have lived up to its “Leaders and the Best” slogan by leading the transition into an entirely online education throughout the rest of this pandemic. There would not have been a 1.9 percent tuition increase but rather a reduction in tuition for all three campuses to compensate for the lack of university facilities being used throughout the school year. The administration would have dipped into its massive endowment fund in order to provide financial support to its students, staff and faculty throughout the recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of the demands arising from the University’s ResStaff, the residential advisors and employees of University Housing, would be met and respected. Students, who were forced to pay a $50 COVID-19 fee for a safety kit whether they were returning to campus or not, would not be required to pick up said kit in person during limited time windows. The University’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund, funded by the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, would be more widely advertised and accessible.
At this point, it’s nearly impossible to argue that the University is still moving forward with its current reopening plan with the health and safety of its students, staff and faculty in mind. Schlissel and his administration are likely aware of how problematic their current plan is but are still moving forward with it — even their own COVID-19 Ethics and Privacy Committee explicitly stated its disapproval in a statement released on July 31. In order to take action, we must sign the #NotMICampus petition, sign and share this petition that demands the cancellation of in-person classes and email the President’s Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) explaining our disdain for the current plans. Additionally, those who are willing and able to continue protesting must do so. If enough people put this pressure on the administration, the University may just do something about it.
Until then, stay safe Ann Arbor.
Elayna Swift can be reached at email@example.com.