Fall Semester Planning Process - May 7, 2020

To the Eastern Michigan University community:

With the close of the winter semester, I again extend my deep appreciation to students, faculty and staff who have endured an unprecedented upheaval in their educational experiences and workplaces. 

As we begin the summer term, many uncertainties permeate every aspect of our lives. There are, however, at least two certainties. First, Eastern Michigan University will continue to provide an outstanding education to our students. That is our mission, and our commitment to that mission remains unchanged. Second, our university -- like every other university -- faces a challenging financial future as a result of the global pandemic and resulting rapid contraction of the global economy. These challenges require careful planning but decisive and quick action. 

It is in this context that we now turn our attention to planning to resume on-campus operations in what can best be described as a “new normal.”

Our goals

While some factors may not be in our control, we are planning for University operations to be held in person on campus this fall including, wherever possible, classroom instruction, housing, dining, and similar activities. Several principles will guide this planning process.

Our number one priority is the health, safety and well being of our students, faculty and staff. This will be the guiding principle in every action we take. We are committed to providing students with the outstanding education they deserve, excellent service to our community, and a safe working environment for our employees.

Many questions remain unanswered about the epidemiology and future pattern of the COVID19 virus. Therefore, our planning process will not make specific predictions about a single course of action. Instead, we will model different scenarios with varying timelines and contingencies.

This planning process should be expeditious but cannot be rushed; our goal is to make the best decisions, not necessarily the fastest decisions. I therefore ask that our campus community remain patient.

Whenever possible, owing to their expertise, existing campus committees will be used to propose, evaluate, and respond to plans for topic areas within their purview. Examples of such groups include the Faculty Senate, the Educational Environment & Facilities Committee (EEFC), and University Budget Council (UBC), When needed, we will create ad-hoc work groups to address specific issues.

Steering Committee

When most on-campus activities began operating remotely in March, I quickly convened a group of administrators and faculty to focus on responding to the crisis and the countless decisions that needed to be made. That group has met regularly, several times each week, for more than two months.  It has been extremely effective, and I thank the team members for their excellent work. 

It is now time to transition our focus away from crisis management and toward planning for the future. We are convening a steering group of staff and faculty from key areas of the campus who will oversee the planning process. I will chair the group with support from Rhonda Longworth, the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic & Student Affairs, and Mike Valdes, the Chief Financial Officer.  

Public Health Work Group

The first step in the planning process must be the identification of public health standards that will help guide the University as we resume on-campus operations. We have convened a Public Health Work Group to recommend such standards for the campus. They will begin work immediately, consult with relevant experts from the campus and community, and rely on applicable government guidance. 

This group will be led by Murali Nair, Dean of the College of Health & Human Services. Other members are: Michael Williams, Director of the School of Nursing; Sherry Bumpus, Director of Nursing Operations; Bev Mihalko, Associate Professor of Health Administration; Andrea Gossett Zakrajsek, Professor of Occupational Therapy; Ellen Gold, Dean of Students; Dieter Otto, Director of Custodial Services & Grounds; and Elizabeth Radzilowski, University Human Resources Business Partner.

Additional planning

Other aspects of the campus planning process are under way or will begin soon. Issues to be addressed include developing scenarios for academic instruction in the fall, management of campus events, and offering a vibrant but safe student life program (e.g., housing, dining, recreation).

Again, the principles outlined above will guide this planning process, including, where applicable, the use of existing campus committees. For example, Provost Rhonda Longworth and I will meet with the Faculty Senate next week where we expect to begin discussions about planning academic operations and budget.

Thank you again for your patience and passion. I will continue to update the campus as often as possible. This is a challenging time, but I know we are up to the task of providing an excellent campus environment for all of our community members.

James Smith, Ph.D.

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