COVID-19 Update to Campus: July 10, 2020

To the Eastern Michigan University community:

We continue to move forward with planning for the fall semester against a backdrop of unknowns, the biggest of which, as noted in last week’s message, is the roughly three-week long increase in COVID-19 cases in the state.

This trend is deeply concerning. The University’s leadership team, members of the Safe Return to Campus Steering Committee and the Public Health Work Group, among other faculty and staff, are closely monitoring developments. We remain committed to following government and public health guidance and directives and are prepared to respond accordingly. We couldn’t agree more with Governor Whitmer’s new executive order, issued today, requiring broader use of face coverings.  

The Safe Return to Campus Steering Committee discussed these and other related items at length during yesterday’s meeting. Among the areas covered:

  • The recommendations of the Public Health Work Group will be reviewed for input by the Faculty Senate at next week’s Faculty Senate meeting. (The Public Health Work Group’s preliminary recommendations were shared at the June 23 town hall meetings). The recommendations will be posted once finalized.
  • Dean of Students Ellen Gold initiated a discussion of process, communications and needed materials related to the assessment of case reports, screening outcomes, reporting of verified cases of COVID-19 involving members of the campus community and contact tracing efforts. Several communication pieces and materials will be developed in advance of fall. Once finalized, the plan will be posted.
  • Provost and Executive Vice President Rhonda Longworth discussed the plan for course and room assignments, which is ongoing and quite complex, based on room mapping for physical distancing and pedagogical needs regarding in-person or online class delivery. As part of this discussion, Faculty Senate President and Professor of University Library, and Women's and Gender Studies, Suzanne Gray, discussed the results of a survey of faculty members about their desired instructional preferences for fall (in person or online). A separate process will follow to address individual accommodations and requests.
  • The Safe Return to Campus Guidebook is nearing completion and will be finalized once the recommendations of the Public Health Work Group are adopted. This will be a visual guide to the University’s current plans for the fall semester – including face coverings, physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, and more. It will be posted publicly and is designed to be updated as the evolving and changing situation dictates.

We are making good progress -- but much work remains to be done. And, as I noted at the beginning of this message, our planning must take into account the changing circumstances and evolving directives designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. I’d like to thank all of the members of our community who are participating in these efforts, whether taking part in a survey or providing input and ideas that contribute to the planning process. All of these actions and expertise are critically important to our institutional planning.

Eastern joins formal opposition to new government policy targeting international students

We were shocked and deeply disappointed in a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy, released on July 6, which curtails visa rights for international students who wish to take full course-loads online at American universities. As a member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, we are working in strong opposition to this new policy, and will proudly sign the Alliance’s amicus brief to the court in support of a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, challenging ICE’s action.

As stated on Wednesday, we take great pride in being a welcoming environment for international students, as evidenced by the 100 light post banners around our campus and the large 80-foot mural celebrating "You Are Welcome Here" with images of international students and flags of their home nations. The recently announced policy change by the government runs counter to our efforts to support international students, who bring great diversity of thought, culture and perspective to our campus community and to our classrooms. We are proud to have them as part of our campus community.

We will continue to evaluate the best ways to support our international students so that they may continue their education in this country safely.

10 days left for online registration to vote in August 4 primary election

The online voter registration deadline for the August 4 primary election is Monday, July 20. To make sure that you can cast your vote in the upcoming local, state, and federal elections, you need to be registered to vote.

Students can register here if they are registering for the first time of if they need to update their registration status and address.

The Michigan Secretary of State’s office also provides an online voter registration process. 

In-person voter registration is offered through Election Day at the local clerk’s office where you live. 

Now is the time to make your voice heard. I encourage all of you to get registered, and vote!

Students (and others) needed for paid election worker positions

Poll workers are urgently needed to staff polling sites in our communities for the August 4 primary election and the November 3 general election. The Michigan Secretary of State’s office informs us that due to the current COVID-19 crisis, local clerks statewide are facing poll worker shortages. These are paid positions. Clerks rely on election workers – they are critical to the running of safe, smooth and fair elections. Election workers will assist clerks and count ballots. According to the Secretary of State’s office, election workers will follow strict public health guidelines, including exercising physical distancing, using sanitary equipment, and maintaining strong hygiene to protect themselves and others from coronavirus transmission. Those interested in learning more about this opportunity can visit the Secretary of State’s information and application site, Democracy MVP.

Student and faculty excellence

I like to conclude these weekly updates with examples of excellence among our students, faculty and staff. The work of Associate Professor of Biology and Neuroscience Tom Mast is such an example. Dr. Mast is a pre-health advisor supporting undergraduate students who are pursuing careers as doctors by applying to medical school. This past year, Dr. Mast’s efforts helped 11 recent Eastern graduates enter medical school. I encourage you to read the EMU Today story, A Holistic Process: Eastern's pre-health sciences track is more than science classes and straight A's about Dr. Mast’s efforts, and also learn about some recent student success stories.

Please be safe this weekend.

James Smith, Ph.D.