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Michigan State students to return to campus in fall, university president says

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Michigan State University students are heading back to campus in the fall amid COVID-19, President Samuel Stanley announced Wednesday. 

"At this point, we believe that a values-driven return is possible and can be done in a way that mitigates the risks to our community," Stanley wrote in a letter to the campus community.

Classes will begin Sept. 2 and will include in-person and online components. In-person instruction will end Nov. 25, before Thanksgiving, with the remainder of the semester conducted virtually. There won't be a fall break.

The campus efforts to limit the spread of the virus will include physical distancing, mask-wearing and restrictions on large gatherings, Stanley wrote. Teaching will include the some online and remote classes, more hybrid classes and some in-person classes.

"This plan is designed to address epidemiologic models that suggest a potential resurgence in COVID-19 cases in December and give students the opportunity to return to their permanent residences before peak influenza season if they choose," Stanley said.

Michigan State was the first university to suspend in-person classes in March as state officials reported the first COVID-19 cases. Classes pivoted to online, and officials encouraged students living in dormitories to go home. As the novel coronavirus began spreading in the state and around the country, MSU canceled commencement ceremonies.

During the past two months, when residents have been staying home per the directive of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to limit the spread of the virus, pressure has been mounting on officials to reopen the economy. Universities have been part of the discussion, and Stanley appointed a task force to research the issue and offer recommendations.

"The fall 2020 semester will look different from any previous semester at MSU," Stanley wrote. "The driving factor behind our decisions will continue to be the health, safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff."

The announcement brought mixed reactions on MSU's Facebook page, where officials posted the announcement.

 "I’m so conflicted as a grad student of MSU and a healthcare professional that works with COVID patients," wrote Solana Windsor-Silvia. "I’m hopeful I get to walk in a graduation ceremony next May but I also don’t want to see another surge. We are all so burnt out. I don’t envy those who are planning the logistics of this and I hope everyone on campus stays healthy and safe."

For those who won't or can't return to campus, the president outlined accommodations.

"We recognize that some students may choose not to return to campus for health or other reasons, and we will endeavor to provide an enhanced selection of remote classes that allow them to begin or continue progress toward their Michigan State University degree," Stanley wrote. "For our new and current international students who may have trouble getting to the campus, we also promise to provide remote classes that will allow them to start or continue the pursuit of their MSU degrees. More details on all of these topics will follow in future communications."

Of the 15 public universities in the state, several have announced plans for fall. Stanley's announcement makes MSU the first of the big three universities to announce its plans. University of Michigan and Wayne State University have yet to make announcements for fall.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com