The University of Michigan will launch the fall semester Aug. 31 with a blend of in-person and remote classes, an adjusted academic calendar and an emphasis on the use of face coverings, social distancing and other public health measures.
The details of the fall semester are being guided by public health experts paired with guidance from the U-M community.
President Mark Schlissel made the announcement June 22 in a video message and email to the campus community. The chancellors of UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint also announced plans specific to those campuses.
“I am pleased to announce that the University of Michigan plans to offer a public health-informed in-residence semester this fall,” Schlissel said in his message. He said the plan for the fall semester reflects the university’s “commitment to promoting public health while fulfilling our fundamental mission of transformative undergraduate, graduate and professional education.”
In the meantime, all staff and faculty who can work from home will continue to do so as the university continues to gradually and carefully resume various on-campus activities.
The president said the “thoughtful and deliberate efforts of hundreds of members of the U-M community” have produced a path forward for the university as it continues to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We now have the opportunity to begin a new journey together, equipped with the very best guidance and ideas from our leading scholars, innovative students and expert staff,” Schlissel said.
Fall on the Ann Arbor campus will have a different feel this year. “But the pandemic won’t change our commitment to the members of our community,” the president said.
The university has launched a “Maize and Blueprint” website with more information about the ramping up of campus this fall. It will be updated regularly as more details are finalized. Among the changes for the fall semester are:
- An adjusted academic calendar, with on-campus classes ending at Thanksgiving in the fall to minimize student travel home and back to campus. Winter semester will start later in January. Both the fall and winter breaks will be eliminated.
- A combination of in-person, remote and hybrid classes. In general, small classes will continue to meet in person, but larger lecture classes will be delivered remotely. Class formats will be determined by individual schools, colleges and academic units.
- Although not all courses will be available in every format, most students will be able to choose whether to return to Ann Arbor for a hybrid learning experience or study from home in a fully remote mode.
- Residence halls and dining facilities will be open and Michigan Housing will reserve some units to serve as quarantine housing as needed. Density in dining halls will be reduced, and more boxed meals will be offered.
- The university will purchase more hand sanitizer, masks and other forms of personal protective equipment to keep the university community safe.
- The university will emphasize the critical importance of all students, faculty and staff getting a seasonal flu shot, staying home when sick and closely monitoring any symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses.
- U-M is finalizing plans and protocols for student, faculty and staff testing for infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. The university also is building capacity for additional contact tracing for those who are infected.
- Faculty and staff will be able to perform their own health screenings by accessing a university website through their phones. This new tool, being made available this week, will make returning to work on campus smoother and safer when employees need to come to campus.
Schlissel, himself a physician-scientist, said the U-M plan for an in-person semester relies on every member of the community following basic public health strategies. That includes social distancing, minimizing out-of-area travel, wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, symptom screening, and quarantine when needed. The university will continue or strengthen actions such as clinical testing, contact tracing, cleaning and real-time monitoring of the spread of the virus.
“We will protect our students, faculty and staff with a broad array of research-based public health measures and tools. We will make full use of our longstanding excellence in teaching and learning, both in person and online, and tap our innovative spirit to deliver a world-class Michigan educational experience in these most unusual times. And we will ask all of you to join in prudent health and safety actions that will embody our commitment to caring for one another,” he said.
Students on the Ann Arbor campus will be able to choose from a full set of courses. Courses will be offered in formats that include in-person, remote and mixed instruction depending on curricular needs. Some students will choose or need to take all their classes remotely, and the university’s 19 schools and colleges will provide a robust set of fully remote classes that will enable most students to make that choice.
Decisions about which courses and sections to offer in which formats will be made by schools, colleges and departments to fulfill their unique educational needs. Generally, large classes will be conducted remotely, small classes will be in person and medium-size classes will be a hybrid of the two.
“We know that many faculty, staff and students have concerns about returning to in-person learning, teaching and work. We’re continuing to develop plans to protect vulnerable members of our community — and will encourage students and employees with high levels of risk to teach, learn and support our mission remotely. Schools, colleges and units will work with individuals to every extent possible to address their concerns. We know that the pandemic has differential impacts on our communities,” Schlissel said.
For the Ann Arbor campus, classes will begin Aug. 31, as previously scheduled, but fall break will be eliminated. The last day of in-person classes for the semester will be Nov. 20. After a nine-day Thanksgiving break, classes will resume remotely Nov. 30 and continue until Dec. 8, with final exams running Dec. 10-18. The professional schools and colleges may have different calendars based on their programs’ requirements.
There will not be a December commencement ceremony, and those graduates will be invited to participate in spring ceremonies as they normally are.
For the winter term, classes will begin Jan. 19, 2021, immediately after U-M’s traditional Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Symposium on Jan. 18. The later start will allow time for implementing any needed public health protocols before students return to campus. Winter break also will be eliminated, and final exams will run April 22-29.
These new semester calendars are designed to reduce the amount of back-and-forth travel for students. Many peer institutions have taken similar steps with their calendars.
The Division of Student Life is engaging with hundreds of students in preparation for the fall semester, and that work is ongoing. Housing and dining will be open for fall on the Ann Arbor campus, and the university is taking a number of steps to provide a public health-informed campus experience for students living off-campus as well.
Most students live in communal settings, whether in residence halls or in off-campus houses and apartments. Conceptually, these settings resemble “family units” — and all students will be expected to follow public health guidelines just as they would when living in their permanent residences. University officials are working with students to define a shared commitment that will promote the importance of acting to protect and care for one another and all members of the community.
Many of Student Life’s educational programs, community-building activities and learning experiences are being adapted to serve students during this challenging time. For instance, students have been able to participate in initiatives that focus on community engagement and career skills this summer as many in-person internships and opportunities were canceled. Campus public health experts also are advising university leaders on how they may be able to offer recreational sports opportunities for students.
Students also will see additional changes to their campus experience such as physical distancing requirements in libraries and other common spaces and buildings, limited access to certain areas, additional cleaning, boxed meals and staggered timelines for activities such as move-in and dining. A group of experts is examining potential safety changes for the campus bus system.
Students planning to live in Ann Arbor campus residence halls will receive more specific information from Michigan Housing, and more detailed information about plans for fall will be shared in the weeks ahead.
Schlissel said in his message he was enlisting everyone’s help for a successful return to campus this fall.
“We all face a test of our ability to live, study and work in a world where COVID-19 has not yet been tamed. The success of the upcoming semester will depend on all of us respecting the guidelines set forth by our experts and remaining mindful of the fact that each of us has the responsibility to be safe so we can protect our classmates, peers, teachers, mentors, colleagues and loved ones,” he said.
“As students, faculty and staff at the nation’s top public research university, we have the opportunity to show the world that this can be done. At the same time, our ‘public’ responsibility has never been more literal and important.
“Everything we do has the potential to affect one another and the wider public, whether we are working to slow the spread of the virus or inspiring others to make our society better and healthier. I have every confidence that we will rise to this occasion, this singular moment in our history, to challenge the future and emerge, as always, as leaders and best.”