UPDATE: Michigan State, Wayne State planning for online fall classes. University of Michigan still hopeful to be back

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Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids.

MICHIGAN (WLNS) – UPDATE from MSU Deputy Spokesperson: “MSU is hoping for campus to be fully open and classes to proceed as usual for the fall semester. However, we have to be prepared that at least some learning may need to be done virtually, and we are planning for that possibility. Any decision we make will be grounded in the best available data and what is best for the health and safety of our Spartan community. To help assess that, President Stanley has appointed a task force to research return to campus options and to put contingency recommendations in place as we make decisions. We will communicate with our students, faculty and staff as these decisions are reached.”

ORIGINAL POST: It’s only spring, but the presidents of Michigan’s three largest universities are already planning for how their campuses may look in fall 2020, once the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down.

For Michigan State University and Wayne State University, that likely means online classes, their presidents said Thursday, April 23 during a tele-town hall meeting. But University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel remains hopeful of having in-person classes, while taking advice from public health officials.

“We’re hoping to have a fall semester… but I’m calling it a public health informed fall semester,” Schlissel said. “We think it’s important that we figure out how to get life in our state, life in our country, back on some kind of positive trajectory.”

According to our media partners MLive, UM announced earlier this week that anticipated losses from the COVID-19 pandemic could range from $400 million to $1 billion. The university implemented hiring and salary freezes, as well as a number of other cost-cutting strategies to help lessen the blow.

If UM were to have fall classes, Schlissel said there could be a number of things done to keep students safe, including some select online classes, asking students to wear masks and decreasing the density in campus buildings. UM is also hoping to more fully open its research operations, not just for the purpose of the pandemic.

“We’re very hopeful that we can apply our expertise to figure out how to bring students back to campus at a low level of risk so that we can get on with the mission of the university,” Schlissel said.

At Wayne State University, President M. Roy Wilson said online classes are being developed now assuming it won’t be possible to conduct face-to-face teaching. However, Wilson said WSU would “try to pivot quickly” if able to.

“(We) would love it if we could open our campus up and have in-person classes. The reality is that that’s unlikely,” Wilson said. “We’re going to plan for having to do it online, and if for some reason something happens and we’re really surprised and we can do it in person, we’ll pivot.”

It takes a lot of preparation to put together a strong online course, Wilson said, adding that what was done in the second half of this past semester was not online classes but “remote teaching.”

Compared to MSU and UM, Wilson believes WSU will do a little bit better in terms of its risk exposure because it doesn’t have a large hospital like UM or large Division I athletic programs, both of which are major economic sources for UM and MSU.

However, that doesn’t mean Wayne State won’t be affected.

“There’s no university in this country that is not going to be affected, and many affected severely by the pandemic,” Wilson said.

MSU is “working on a plan” to be prepared to be online again when students come back in the fall, President Samuel L. Stanley said, but the university wants to remain prepared if students are allowed to return to campus.

During a meeting between schools at the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, Stanley said there were mixed opinions about having students on campus.

“A lot of it is not just what happens on your campus but what happens in the community around your campus,” Stanley said. “You might be able to mitigate some risk in day-to-day on your campus, but what would happen around it?”

MSU announced last week it would implement pay cuts and reductions to some university expenditures and construction projects. Revenue reductions and real costs are already in the $50 million to $60 million range for fiscal year 2020, Stanley said in an email to staff last week.

Although it remains to be seen if the schools will formally adopt online classes for the fall semester, Stanley said, in any case, students will still get great educations from MSU, UM and WSU, because classes will be taught by “that same talented faculty.”

“We are going to get through this, but it’s going to take work and effort, and again — science, research and the incredibly talented people who set out in the workforce are all going to be a critical part of this, so we look forward to partnering with you,” Stanley said.

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