As communities around the state, nation and world experience mixed success in their efforts to manage an ongoing pandemic, and the threat of spiking COVID-19 cases looms, EMU continues to move forward “cautiously but deliberately” with the university’s plan for classes and some other activities to return to campus this fall.
Universities across the country and globe vary widely in their planning and approaches to the coming fall semester. Strategies range from some hoping to resume “normal” on-campus activities to others intending to keep operations fully online for the remainder of 2020. While EMU may fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, our administration has made clear its intent to reopen to the greatest extent that is safe and possible. Recommendations prepared by EMU’s Public Health Working Group, while not yet finalized, give us some idea of what campus might look like in our “new normal” this fall.
In the meantime, President Smith affirms that the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff are and remain the “guiding principle” in EMU’s planning process. I am glad to hear this — and, as planning proceeds and more details are forthcoming, I implore the university to continue to hold this priority paramount. Face coverings, physical distancing, single-occupant dorm rooms, and enhanced cleaning protocols are all critical, but these measures alone (even assuming effective enforcement) will not ensure that campus is a safe enough environment for all students, staff, and faculty members to feel comfortable returning.
The impact of campus spread of COVID-19 does not stop at Oakwood.
This problem is particularly stark for those members of the EMU community in older age brackets, or with preexisting health conditions that mark them particularly vulnerable to complications from the coronavirus — as well as for those living with others in high-risk categories. Hopefully, vulnerable individuals will have access to accommodations through channels such as the Disability Resource Center or Human Resources.
Will these services also provide for those students, staff, and faculty who may not themselves be part of high-risk populations, but who fear infecting vulnerable family members? After all, the impact of campus spread of COVID-19 does not stop at Oakwood. It is crucial that the administration considers this reality and plans accordingly.
No member of our community should feel obligated to risk their lives, or the lives of their loved ones, by coming to campus to teach or take a class.
Any and all plans or policies involving on-campus instruction or other operations need to take into account students, staff, and faculty in these and similar predicaments. I trust that administrative leadership is well aware of these issues, and as such, will be sure to provide flexibility, accommodations, and a wide range of remote educational options. This may sound obvious, yet it must be stated and emphasized: No member of our community should feel obligated to risk their lives, or the lives of their loved ones, by coming to campus to teach or take a class.
To my fellow students, and to our staff and faculty, whatever your circumstances may be, if you have concerns relating to the Fall 2020 reopening, I hope that you are speaking up and sharing your circumstances and concerns with university leadership — as I know many of you are. Please continue to advocate for your needs, and for the needs of our community as a whole. It is up to us to voice our concerns. And it is up to the administration to hear our voices, and to address our concerns.
Balancing health and safety precautions against educational demands and revenue losses is undoubtedly a complex and challenging process. I don’t envy the job of the university officials responsible for developing a safe and practicable plan for the fall semester, and I don’t claim to have all the answers as to how best to negotiate this difficult and unprecedented situation. But in any planning effort, it is essential that health and safety truly do remain the absolute first priority — in principle and in practice.
When lives hang in the balance, we must take these issues seriously.