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Ferris State plans fall reopening, places 280 employees on temporary leave amid coronavirus

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Courtesy; MLive

BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WLNS) – Ferris State University announced this week plans for students to safely return to campus this fall for face-to-face classes.

According to our media partners MLive, President David Eisler made the announcement during a virtual town hall Tuesday. The university is among several Michigan institutions, including Grand Valley State University, moving forward with plans for in-person re-engagement amid the novel coronavirus.

Like other universities, Ferris has faced financial challenges with closing its campus and shifting to instruction online to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. As of April 10, 280 employees were placed on temporary leave – 230 full-time and 50 part-time staff, according Michelle Rasmussen, communications officer for Eisler.

“These are employees who, by the nature of their assignment, could not work remotely,’’ she said

“This enabled these employees to receive both state unemployment and federal pandemic unemployment, while the university continued to pay benefits, including healthcare.’’

Rasmussen said the greatest number of employees work in the physical plant, dining services and housing, all of which are closed. She said some of the employees will be recalled as the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order is lifted.

Western Michigan University has laid off 240 employees, lost $45 million in revenue, and is preparing to cut 20% of general fund spending in each university division. Grand Valley State University has lost an estimated $13 million in revenue during the current budget year but has not issued furloughs, layoffs or pay cuts, officials say.

Rasmussen said Ferris has not instituted any pay cuts or layoffs.

As for revenue lost due to the pandemic, she said a pro-rated housing and dining refund to students equated to $5 million. She didn’t have information about financial losses specifically from parking or canceled events prior to publication.

The Ferris town hall was focused on preparing to reopen. Fall classes are slated to begin Monday, Aug. 31. The university has around 13,000 students on the Big Rapids campus.

“Our students were able to finish the semester strong because of the dedication of our faculty and staff,” Eisler said. “As we look toward the fall, we know there will be challenges ahead, but our intent is to be open and to provide our students with a safe and engaging learning and living experience.”

In mid-March, Ferris completely transformed to teaching, learning and working remotely,

A committee led by Vice President for Student Affairs Jeanine Ward-Roof, has been charged with preparing the university for its return to in-person teaching and learning this fall.

“The committee is reviewing a number of factors to be implemented to ensure a safe welcome back to campus for students,” said Ward-Roof, in a press release recapping the town hall.

“This includes reviewing classroom utilization, strengthening cleaning protocols, implementing social distancing measures and sharing COVID-19 related education throughout the university community.”

Ferris closed in-person classes in March along with other universities and community colleges and shifted to remote learning.

During the town hall, Eisler spoke about the likelihood of uncertainty in the months ahead and how providing flexible teaching and learning approaches is an important part of planning for the next academic year.

He said Ferris has developed plans to move back to remote delivery should conditions require it.

“We are also developing online learning opportunities for students who may desire them and remote instructional accommodations for faculty who may be in high risk categories,” Eisler said.

During the town hall, Eisler also spoke about its newly created Student Hardship Fund as it relates to federal and university-sponsored financial assistance available to students. He said hundreds of supporters have raised more than $100,000 to help students in need.

“The impact of COVID-19 on our university and our students has been unlike anything we have ever seen,” said Eisler. ‘

Students, parents, faculty and staff are encouraged to stay informed of the university’s plans for fall by visiting ferris.edu.

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