Update: Fall Semester Planning Process - May 21, 2020

To the Eastern Michigan University community:

As outlined in my message to the campus on May 7, 2020, we have begun a comprehensive planning process to ensure the University is well prepared to support students and employees in the coming months and in the fall semester. I have tremendous confidence that we can conduct an inclusive planning process that involves our campus stakeholders as we face the challenge of how best to educate and serve our students in a time of great change and challenge.    

It is worth repeating that, despite the many uncertainties facing every aspect of our lives, 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.

In this context, we will continue to regularly update the campus about our planning process to keep our campus community safe and resume on-campus operations in the near future.

Our goals

While some factors may not be in our control, our goal is to resume in person operations for the fall semester including, wherever safely possible, classroom instruction, housing, dining, and similar activities. But we will not likely return to anything like the “normal” we left behind in March. In the coming months, we must develop health protocols, cleaning schedules, new ideas around space, traffic patterns, room configurations, hybrid work designs, and much more. We must have as our goal the remaking of our community in a way that upholds the key relationship between us and our students that defines Eastern Michigan University.  Several principles will guide this planning process.

Our principles

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 COVID-19 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 and its standing committees, the Academic Affairs Educational Environment & Facilities Committee (EEFC), and University Budget Council (UBC). When needed, we will create ad-hoc work groups to address specific issues.  Each group will be expected to not only bring their individual expertise to the questions and challenges we face, but also to engage the campus community of experts to inform their work and to seek feedback and input from appropriate bodies as they deliberate.

Our process

Following the principles outlined above, our planning process will be thorough, deliberate, and inclusive.

As I previously announced, a Steering Committee of staff and faculty from throughout the University 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. This group will oversee planning and communications efforts and include faculty and staff members skilled in those needed areas.  I have also invited and await an appointment from our Faculty Senate.

We have convened a Public Health Work Group to recommend public health standards and protocols that will help guide the University as we resume on-campus operations. As outlined in my message on May 7, this group is comprised of faculty, administrators from our College of Health & Human Services, the Dean of Students who has been the University’s point person with the county and state health officials throughout this crisis, and other staff from key areas.  I have charged them to convene other campus experts from our faculty and staff as they conduct their work and to engage with government officials for guidance and expertise as needed. Some outcomes may warrant focused dialogue with our campus union leaders around health and safety issues as we receive recommendations and guidance both internal and external.

We will soon launch a Remote Work Group that will develop trainings, resources and any needed policies surrounding remote work for our administrative, service and other non-instructional staff. They will advise and recommend policies, strategies and practices to ensure that staff working remotely have the tools available to continue to provide excellent service to current and prospective students, co-workers, and other stakeholders. This group will be chaired by Jeff Ammons, the Assistant General Counsel and Interim Chief Human Resources Officer, and will include faculty and staff experts whose specialties include organizational behavior, design, and strategy.

The academic planning process will be managed by the Provost’s Office, our Deans and the University Librarian. They too will engage additional faculty and staff experts and each will seek contractual input from key faculty bodies as appropriate.

The Provost has charged Wade Tornquist, Interim Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Education, to convene a group of faculty and administrators to draft a process for re-opening research laboratories, as permitted in the Governor’s recent Executive Order. This process will be submitted to the Faculty Senate for review at their June meeting. Provost Longworth will also convene working groups around instructional delivery and support, student support services, and Supporting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Further, Provost Longworth and her Academic and Student Affairs team will confer with the Faculty Senate and its standing committees (Budget, EEFC, GEC) regarding calendar, policy, facility, and capacity issues, as well as the budget implications we face as the result of the COVID-19 situation.  We know our new working parameters will impact our mix of course offerings and needed delivery formats but specific plans and guidance are needed. We will likely have a higher percentage of classes offered online, and more classes in creative hybrid formats or hy-flex designs, or offered remotely. These issues must be discussed among faculty, instructors, Academic and Student Affairs staff at the department, college and university levels in the coming weeks and months as we develop and finalize our fall semester plans.

We truly are fortunate to have robust processes in place to consider the myriad issues that must be addressed, and we appreciate the work that will be done by faculty leaders over the summer to recommend courses of action on these issues.

We will continue to inform the campus community about our planning efforts as this process evolves. Unfortunately, during this unprecedented era in which we live and work, there are, for now, more questions than answers. With patience and diligence, that trend will slowly reverse. In the meantime, we will continue to adhere to these principles and update the campus as often as possible about this planning process.

James Smith, Ph.D.

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