University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel discussed the University’s fall 2020 response to the COVID-19 pandemic and plans for the winter 2021 semester at the Central Student Government meeting Tuesday night.
Schlissel spoke to the Assembly about the University’s winter plan, which ensures faculty and Graduate Student Instructors are not mandated to teach in-person courses, lowers the number of students in residence halls and requires students using campus facilities to take COVID-19 tests at least once a week.
He said though he wishes he could have done more at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester to make more students’ lives as normal as possible, he believes the University did everything it could in executing a public health-informed response to the pandemic. He added that it was difficult to make decisions before the semester with less information about COVID-19 than is available now, but administrators have implemented what they have learned this semester in the winter plan.
“I honestly don’t have regrets. I think the student body is healthy,” Schlissel said. “(Students have) made it through the semester, they’re going to get credit for their courses, we’ve learned as we’ve gone along. So I really don’t have regrets.”
Schlissel said that while the majority of students have followed public health guidelines, some did not, which prompted the out-of-classroom spread of COVID-19 the campus experienced this semester. He noted that there were two instances of students having parties in quarantine and isolation housing and that many students living in residence halls would not comply with University expectations for testing until they threatened to terminate the housing contracts of non-compliant students.
He also spoke about the issues faced by the University in terms of expanding testing on campus. He said that initially, the University’s reliance on Michigan Medicine prevented them from expanding students’ accessibility to tests.
“The health system’s first responsibility is to take care of sick people, not healthy people,” Schlissel said. “They were using their tests on sick people and patients in the emergency room at the hospital.”
The University has now expanded its testing capabilities by working with startup LynxDx to ensure tests are available to students. He said having enough testing was not the only factor in combating the spread of COVID-19, noting that approximately 150 out of 800 student athletes contracted the virus this semester despite being tested multiple times each week.
“Testing helps in identifying people and putting folks in quarantine, but all by itself it does not replace wearing a mask, staying in small groups and washing your hands,” Schlissel said.
Schlissel also discussed the University’s labor dispute with the Graduate Employees’ Organization earlier in the semester. The University asked the court to issue an injunction against the graduate students to stop the strike.
He said the GEO strike prevented the University from keeping its promise to students that it would adequately teach them this semester.
“I am really disappointed that GEO ended up striking,” Schlissel said. “GEO three months earlier signed a piece of paper pledging not to strike as part of their last negotiation. (The Board of Regents) felt that the integrity of the semester was threatened.”
Multiple CSG members noted a lack of trust between students and faculty and U-M administration. Members noted the Faculty Senate’s contentious vote of no confidence in Schlissel’s leadership that passed by a razor-thin margin, explaining that they and other community members expected more from a top-tier institution.
LSA junior Sam Burnstein expressed his disappointment in the University’s response to COVID-19, specifically its delay in moving classes online in March compared to other schools and the 1.9% tuition increase in June.
“I’ve always had an immense sense of pride in the University of Michigan and being a Wolverine, but for the first time in my eight years of living in Ann Arbor, I’ve honestly felt a genuine sense of embarrassment when I tell people I go to the University of Michigan,” Burnstein said.
The Assembly passed a declarative resolution to advocate for the implementation of University fall 2020 and winter 2021 grading policy for the Dearborn and Flint campuses. LSA junior Annie Mintun said the Students of Michigan committee, which has delegates from all three U-M campuses, believes it is essential to have similar grading policies to ensure an equitable academic experience.
“We believe that this resolution is a sign of unity,” Mintun said. “It shows tri-campus unity and it also shows that since we are one university with three campuses, all three campuses should be treated equally.”
The Assembly allocated $4941.14 from the Legislative Discretionary Fund to purchase 272 pot and pan kits for the University’s quarantine and isolation housing. These kits will be donated to Maize & Blue Cupboard after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Assembly also confirmed LSA senior Morgan Solomon as Government Relations Coordinator.
Daily Staff Reporter Navya Gupta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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