MSU president emphasizes safety as school plans for fall

Sam Jones
The Detroit News

As Michigan State University plans to welcome students back to campus in September, school officials are busy developing precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, President Samuel Stanley said during a virtual panel discussion Wednesday.

“Our goal has to be to focus on health and safety,” said Stanley, a former infectious disease professor. “We’re working hard to make the best evidence-based decisions.”

Under MSU's reopening plans, announced in late May, 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.

Under MSU's reopening plans, announced in late May, 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. 

In addition to Stanley, the other panel members included Robert Jones, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Jo Ann Rooney, president of Loyola University in Chicago, and Rebecca Blank, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

New regulations and procedures will be implemented to ensure the safety of students, Stanley said.  

“If you’re going to be a Spartan on campus, these are things you have to do,” he said. “The most important thing is people in our community buying into taking care of others.”

The university has emphasized certain practices such as social distancing, personal hygiene and avoiding large groups of people. Officials even plan to amend the flow of traffic in hallways to ensure minimal interpersonal contact. 

There will be COVID-19 testing available for anyone who needs it, with those who test positive being placed in quarantine. A “trace-back” investigation will follow to analyze all contact points for that individual. This new practice will help show where the individual contracted COVID-19, according to Stanley. 

Much of this process will be dependent on communication with health officials, Stanley said, adding that students need to ask themselves questions such as “do I have a fever?” and “am I not feeling well?” on a daily basis. 

“This entire process will be simplified by everyone wearing a mask at all times,” Stanley added. 

The panel discussed COVID-19 impacts on areas including enrollment. Stanley said he expected the biggest hit to come among international students, especially after the recent announcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that such students would not be permitted to stay in the country if their schools offer online courses only.

In response, universities such as Harvard and MIT sued the Trump administration Wednesday. 

Stanley added that nothing is certain for the upcoming school year. After seeing the outcomes of distance learning in the spring of 2020, the panel members agreed that having safe, in-person lectures is beneficial for students, faculty and universities as a whole. 

Stanley discounted the idea that universities could lower their costs by holding classes online.

“Teaching online does not save us money, in any way,” he said. “We created a summer program and actually paid faculty. We actually gave them money to take these courses. We had about 650 faculty take these courses to improve online.”