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UM fall plan: In-person classes, open dorms and fans at football games

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The University of Michigan announced a plan Friday that calls for most classes to be in-person this fall, dorms open at nearly 80% capacity and attendance at football games and other athletic events. 

UM's Shapiro Undergraduate Library

President Mark Schlissel made the announcement a COVID-19 briefing over Zoom with other university officials.

“Based on the hopeful trends of decreasing COVID-19 cases and increased vaccine supply — along with the collective efforts and creative will of the University of Michigan community — I’m pleased to announce that for the fall semester on the Ann Arbor campus, we will teach most classes in person and have greater occupancy in our residence halls, in-person dining and student support services, along with some continuing precautions to maximize health and safety for our university community,” he said.

“This aligns with our goal of an innovative, responsible return to in-person education and a residential campus experience.”

UM said it expects all staff, faculty and graduate assistants to have the option of being vaccinated by fall and for most students to have received a vaccine.

In his first national TV address, President Joe Biden announced Thursday evening all U.S. adults would be eligible to register for a vaccine by May 1. A day later, Michigan officials announced all residents age 16 and older will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on April 5.

UM officials said details will be developed over the next several months, but the plan calls for:

  • A "gradual, phased" return to campus over the summer for employees who have been remote.
  • Most moderate to small classes taught in person, while most lecture classes will continue to be offered remotely. 
  • Campus dining facilities will offer in-person and carry-out meals.
  • Libraries, museums, study spaces, recreational sports facilities, counseling, wellness and other support services will have "expanded in-person opportunities," with remote options remaining in place.

Other universities in Michigan are beginning to reveal what is expected on campus this fall.

Most Michigan State University students will be returning to in-person classes in the fall and spectators are expected to be in the stands for sporting events, President Samuel Stanley announced March 5.

Stanley said 75% of undergraduate classes will be held in-person when the next academic year begins in August. Other classes will be held in a hybrid format and some will remain online, especially those that would traditionally be held in large lecture halls.

Ferris State University announced last week it also is planning in-person classes.

Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson addressed the fall semester during his Feb. 23 address to the community and posted on his Instagram account. Wilson said there is a restart committee that has been meeting regularly, and he predicted classes would be mostly in-person.

UM regent Jordan Acker said Friday the university's plans allow for flexibility as the pandemic continues and as vaccination rates increase. 

"I am really happy with it. There is a lot of optimism now, and it's reflected in the plan," he said. "Things are looking good, and I am looking forward to a good semester, walking around campus and walking into the Big House."

The regents were consulted by Schlissel and his staff about the plan and several meetings were held to get input from stakeholders, Acker said.

"If we are able to get vaccines in the way Biden believes we can, then we may need less public health measures come the fall. That is a good thing. The plan really allows that flexibility," he said.

Amir Fleischmann, secretary of the UM Graduate Employees Organization, said he wishes the university had consulted with that group on the plan. Its 1,500 members are mandated to teach online right now.

"Our position is we want to go back as quickly as we can and as safely and we can," he said. "As the plan stands, we still have concerns as to whether it can be done safely in-person."

Fleischmann said his members want a universal remote teaching option if there are safety concerns.

"It's an open question for us to what extent our members and the student population will be vaccinated by the fall," he said. "We want some assurances that they expect a high percentage of student and staff vaccinated."

Bill Kercorian’s two children, Dale and Emma, attend UM and he says it is time for them to learn in-person.

"Both of my kids go there. It’s about time," said Kercorian, who lives in Commerce Township. "They are both incredibly sick of online classes. They’ve been miserable."

On Tuesday, UM athletic director Warde Manuel said he is planning for fans to be in attendance in the fall, although that has not been finalized in terms of the capacity in the facilities.

“That will be a combination of a decision by the Big Ten presidents and then, obviously, our state and county health officials," Manuel said. "We’re trying to look at different models there to be prepared if fans are allowed at our competitions.”

Manuel has projected $80 million in budget losses for the athletics department this year because of the pandemic.

Staff Writer Angelique S. Chengelis contributed.