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EMU suspends move-in, puts classes online for three weeks due to virus

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

 Eastern Michigan University is delaying move-in for students living in residence halls by three weeks — and moving all of its fall classes to online through Sept. 20 after watching the spread of COVID-19 on other campuses.

Move in was scheduled for Thursday. Classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 31. 

The decision comes after EMU’s Safe Return Steering Committee, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and the University’s Executive leadership team examined other campuses that have grappled with COVID-19 outbreaks following a return to campus and some students gathered socially in large groups, officials said.

“From the outset of our planning process, we have stated that the health, safety and well-being of our campus community were paramount in our actions,” said James Smith, president of Eastern Michigan University. “We also made clear that we would evolve our planning in order to be responsive to the changing science, data, government directives and other critical information regarding COVID-19.

“The events of the last week at campuses across the region and nation demonstrate that despite the best efforts to keep students, employees and communities safe from transmission, the dangers of increasing the spread of the virus and the challenges of maintaining physical distance and safe behavior heading into Labor Day weekend remain quite serious.”

EMU's in-person, on-campus courses make up approximately 20-25 percent of classes for the fall semester. Between Aug. 31-Sept. 20, those classes will be in an online format. 

A few of Michigan's public universities have already began classes, but most start classes next week.

Central Michigan University, which began classes last week, is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak linked to parties, with 38 cases linked to the CMU community, and eight probable cases as of last week. School officials are threatening to fine or suspend students if they host or attend large gatherings, and possibly sending students home.

Northern Michigan University suspended classes for a week pending delayed COVID-19 test results, but in-person classes resume today.

The Upper Peninsula college tested 7,697 of the campus community, of which 34 were identified to have the virus, according to the NMU's COVID-19 dashboard. Of those, 24 were students living on campus, nine were students living off campus and three were NMU employees.

Unlike CMU, NMU spokesman Derek Hall said those who tested positive were not linked to large gatherings. The number of people who tested positive are 0.44% of the campus community, he said. 

Meanwhile, students and faculty are expressing concerns about face-to-face instruction.

Faculty members at the University of Michigan have protested. UM resident advisers in university housing have asked for more protections, according to the Michigan Daily, UM's student newspaper.

The Daily also spoke with UM President Mark Schlissel, who said he thinks UM has "a very good chance of doing this."

"I’d be foolish to say that I was 100 percent confident because we’ve never done this before," Schlissel said. "To be honest, a big part of the reason we’re doing this, as I mentioned already, is out of a notion of the importance of education. The other things you get out of being on a college campus are the social aspects of learning that occur. But also out of respect to students, I get a little insulted when everybody says there’s no way that students are going to wear masks, and there’s no way that they’re not going to party in dangerous fashions, and there’s no way they’re mature enough to recognize the importance of the moment and behave like the adults that you all are ... I think you can and will step up as a community. I’d like to give the community the chance to actually figure out together, with us, how we can coexist with a disease that none of us welcomes, that’s a real problem for everybody."

Schlissel said he believes "it’s more likely than not that we will make it through the semester."  

Northern Michigan University graduate students have started a change.org petition that has garnered 715 signatures.

"The Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) 'Considerations for Institutions of Higher Education' states that an environment which provides entirely virtual learning options, activities and events assumes the lowest risk of COVID-19 spread," according to the change.org petition. "Northern Michigan University is entirely capable of converting to an all-online format for the Fall 2020 semester, as it did for the majority of the Winter 2020 semester. However, current plans for the Fall 2020 semester include small, in-person gatherings which the CDC categorizes as “More Risk”, and “High Risk” for COVID-19 transmission.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com