UM hopes for students on campus in fall; Wayne State, Michigan State lean online

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Wayne State University is "unlikely" to have in-person classes in fall, Michigan State University is planning online classes, but University of Michigan is hoping to bring students back on campus with measures that will lower students' risk with COVID-19.

The fall semester projections for Michigan's three largest public universities came Thursday during a Detroit Regional Chamber tele-town hall with WSU President M. Roy WIlson, MSU President Samuel Stanley and UM President Mark Schlissel.

Wayne State is looking at opening laboratories for research soon, Wilson said, but having in-person classes is looking doubtful. 

WSU President Roy Wilson before the start of the board meeting. Wayne State University Board meeting with a vote on extending present WSU President Roy Wilson's contract, which they did approve, at the McGregor Memorial Conference Center at WU in Detroit,  Michigan on December 7, 2018.

"All of us, and I am pretty sure I speak for the three of us, would love it if we could open our campus up and have in-person classes," Wilson said. "The reality is that that is unlikely ... so we are going to plan for having to do it online. If for some reason happens and we are really surprised and we can do it in person, we'll pivot."

But the University of Michigan is planning for a return to campus, Schlissel said.

"We are hoping to have a fall semester," Schlissel said. "What I am calling it is a public-health-informed fall semester."

The semester "won't be normal," he said, but it will take advantage of the best advice from the university's pubic health officials, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's team the and Washtenaw County health leaders.

"We think it's very important we figure out how to get life and our state and life in our country back on some kind of positive trajectory," Schlissel said. "We may have similar classes and do the large class components online. We may ask our students to wear masks, we may decrease the density in our buildings. But we are very hopeful that we can apply our expertise and figure out how to bring our students back to campus at a low level of risk."

Mark Schlissel

Michigan State is developing online classes as well, Stanley said, and focusing on large classes because risk needs to be taken away in those environments if there is a return of students.

"We are working on a plan that we have to be prepared to be online again as we come back in the fall," Stanley said. "We want to keep the possibility that we could have students back on (campus) and be prepared for that."

There are mixed opinions among officials who were part of a recent  Association of Public and Land Grant Universities conference about what would be be necessary to open campuses, he said.

"There are some schools that are still thinking about the possibility of having students on campus," Stanley said. "But there are a lot of daunting concerns about that, that are not just what happens on your campus but what happens on the community around your campus. We have a lot of things to think about. It's a big decision for us."

MSU is planning for online but also being prepared and thinking about how to get back to campus because that's the goal, he said.

A Harvard-trained biomedical researcher, Samuel Stanley Jr., center, earned a reputation at Stony Brook as a leader who strengthened the university, especially in science, technology, engineering and math, but struggled with transparency and communication skills.

"There is so much advantage to be in the residential component," Stanley said. "But on the other hand, you can still get a great education from Michigan State University, from University of Michigan or from Wayne State University online as well. It's still the same faculty."