University leaders conducted extensive outreach to students, faculty and staff to inform and shape the plans outlined Nov. 6 for the 2021 winter term.
President Mark Schlissel, Provost Susan M. Collins and Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon have led the engagement efforts over the past several weeks, meeting with groups of students, faculty and staff to understand their concerns and aspirations for the term, and to learn firsthand what went well in the fall semester and what did not.
In an email message to the campus community, Schlissel said, “Thanks to your experiences and the feedback you’ve shared and our continual commitment to learning and doing better, we can apply several important lessons that will help us in the months ahead.
“Our plan for the winter term reflects what we learned, what many of you have recommended, and what we’ve heard that you hope to achieve going forward.”
Engagement by these leaders — along with other executive officers, deans and key staff members — has included weekly live COVID briefings, meetings with faculty leaders, consultations with student leaders and discussions with staff across the campus.
There have been visits to residence halls and in-person classes, student fireside chats and meetings with faculty members, department chairs, resident assistants, student advisory committees, staff groups and campus labor leaders.
The president also spoke with members of the Environment, Health & Safety team that is responsible for case investigation and contact tracing in the U-M community, and with Washtenaw County Health Department leadership.
Schlissel and Collins worked with the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs to create the COVID-19 Faculty Council, to meet with the president and the provost to bring forward ideas, discuss concerns and offer suggestions about the university’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 16 members of the council were appointed by SACUA. The president and provost also have regularly consulted with the university’s governing Board of Regents throughout the fall term.
Collins has consulted broadly with a faculty advisory committee, deans, faculty members serving as department chairs, and with Central Student Government. Harmon has met with housing resident advisers, Michigan Dining employees, student leaders and student advisory groups.
Separate from the individual and small-group outreach, all degree-seeking students on the Ann Arbor campus and every instructional faculty member were offered a survey about their experiences in the fall semester and what was important to them in the transition to the winter semester. Staff in areas that interact closely with students also were surveyed.
The student survey showed that at least 85 percent of respondents at each degree level intend to remain enrolled for the winter semester if it is in the same format as the fall 2020 semester. The survey also showed that students at all levels reported their fall, mostly remote, academic workload was more than what they expected or experienced in the past.
More than 82 percent of respondents to the instructor survey said their courses were going either as expected or better than expected. Most said they were teaching virtually and had made that choice because of concerns over virus safety.
More than half of the staff respondents indicated they thought the winter term should be carried out in a similar manner to the fall term, although they had concerns for student safety and staff burnout and wanted more robust testing.
Safety was an overriding concern throughout the community that came through in both surveys, focus groups with students and outreach to key groups of student-facing staff members.
“We saw this in our surveys and heard it first-hand in discussions,” Schlissel said.
Plans for the winter term will prioritize the health of students, staff, faculty and the surrounding community.
“Our winter plans include major increases in asymptomatic testing that will be mandatory for some and easier to access for anyone coming to campus. We will also reduce density in our residence halls and move exclusively to single-room occupancy,” the president said.
The testing protocols for winter term are just one of several changes that came directly from engagement by campus leaders with members of the university community.