COVID-19 Update to Campus: July 17, 2020

To the Eastern Michigan University community:

We were again confronted with the scope of the ongoing public health threat caused by COVID-19 as the number of new cases in Michigan swelled to 891 on Wednesday, the highest number of new cases since mid-May. Last week’s executive order from Governor Whitmer mandates the wearing of face coverings in all indoor public spaces as well as crowded public outdoor spaces.

This requirement includes the wearing of face coverings on campus and is in alignment with our campus plans for fall as recommended by the Public Health Work Group.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of following public health directives to slow the spread of this disease. The health, safety and well-being of everyone in our campus community are paramount as we actively plan for the fall semester.

Our team has been actively planning and developing protocols for safe operations. We will be sharing that information throughout the summer on the EMU Safe website. We also are preparing mailings, social media posts and other communication materials to disseminate this information as we expand our scope of operations during August.

The Eastern Michigan University community continues to be supportive of wearing face coverings, keeping physical distance, engaging in frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers. We need everyone in our community to maintain that commitment.

We are closely monitoring the evolving situation and know that circumstances, government directives and health guidance may change. We are prepared to adapt to any changes in operations that are necessary to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff.

A high percentage of classes will be offered in modified formats this fall, including in fully online, remote (synchronous meetings online) and hybrid designs. The University is conducting an intensive process to identify the best method for individual course delivery based on necessary adjustments that include changing room/building assignments to accommodate the need for physical distancing as well as faculty input on course delivery.

The University’s facilities team plans a detailed and proactive cleaning and disinfecting regimen. This includes regular cleaning and disinfecting of classrooms, surfaces, bathrooms, high volume touch points such as doorknobs and handles, and shared common areas. Facilities also will employ a new antimicrobial polymer that when applied to surfaces, materials and equipment kills a wide variety of viruses, including COVID-19. Once applied, the antimicrobial adheres to surfaces and remains effective in killing viruses for several months. Other universities in Michigan and health care facilities successfully use this product as well.

The physical plant team also is making adjustments to air intake in buildings on campus in order to bring in more outside/fresh air.

Highly visible hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout campus. To encourage ongoing disinfecting, hand sanitizer stations will be available in buildings, entrances, residence halls, classrooms and other areas. 

In conjunction with the Washtenaw County Health Department, we are finalizing a comprehensive contact tracing protocol for those who come in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

#EMUSafe signage, window/mirror clings and floor markings promoting a safe community will be placed across campus. These include messages promoting physical distancing (did you know the average wingspan of an Eagle is six feet?) and hand washing, as well as signage for building entrances and exits, and arrows on the floor for one-way walking where necessary. You can view the #EMUSafe printable signs and stickers/window clings on the EMU Safe website.

Initial recommendations from the Public Health Work Group are being reviewed by our Steering Committee. They were presented to the Faculty Senate for review during its meeting on Wednesday and a final set of adjustments will be made before they are finalized and shared broadly with the campus community shortly.

The planning effort for a return to campus this fall continues to be a collaborative process. I remain grateful for the expertise of our faculty and staff colleagues who contribute so significantly to addressing the issues at hand. It is a collective priority to ensure the health and safety of all members of our campus community.

It is important to note that the planning process does not end with the approved recommendations from the Public Health Work Group. Additional planning teams will continue to work through the summer and into the fall. We all stand prepared to address any future changes in health guidance or government directives.

Online course fees for fall semester

Earlier this week, to clear up confusion and misinformation, the University clarified its plans for assessing student fees for online courses this fall semester:

1) If a course was originally listed during registration as an in-person class and is transitioned to an online or remote course because of COVID-19 concerns, no additional fees will be added to the course. Students in these sections will be charged the amount that was originally scheduled to be charged. We understand that students registering for in-person courses had an expectation for no additional online course fees and the University will not add such fees if the course is modified to online delivery.

2) If the course was originally designated as an online/remote/hybrid course during regular registration, the fee structure will remain the same as initially offered to the student at registration. There will be no change in the originally communicated fee structure for the class since there are no changes in the initial plan for course delivery from the time the student registered.

Final course delivery determinations for the fall semester, whether in person or virtual/online, are expected to be completed in the coming weeks based on feedback from departments/schools and colleges.

GameAbove $400 gift remains available to new first-year students

The generous $400 Alumni Pay-It-Forward gift for every new first-year student from the alumni group GameAbove remains available to students enrolling through the start of the fall semester. The $400 gift is to be used at the student’s discretion without obligations or restrictions – it does not have to be applied to tuition, housing or a meal plan. We thank GameAbove’s members for their ongoing strong support of our University and our students and faculty. Game Above has donated more than $15 million in funding a variety of initiatives supporting the University and our community over the past eight months. We thank its members for their unprecedented support.

Broad levels of student financial support

The University has several initiatives in place to help students navigate the unprecedented challenges associated with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. These include:

  • The FY21 University budget includes $51.3 million in financial aid. More than 80 percent of EMU's students receive some form of financial aid including more than 95 percent of entering freshmen. Over the last 13 years, the University has increased financial aid by 140 percent, from the $21.4 million in aid provided in 2007-2008, reflecting Eastern’s mission to be an institution of opportunity, with the state’s most diverse student body.
  • The University is distributing nearly $6.9 million in federal student-relief CARES Act funds. The University provided direct assistance to students in need who were enrolled during the past winter semester when the COVID-19 crisis began, and plans to also distribute the CARES Act funds to students taking classes in the upcoming fall and winter semesters.

Support of international students

As many of you know, the University actively opposed the policy change announced on July 6 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which attempted to curtail 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, Eastern, along with 179 other universities, proudly signed on to 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.

Three days ago, the United States government rescinded the policy change. We are pleased to be on the right side of history in our support of international students at Eastern and at universities across the nation.

We are aware that there remains continued speculation that the government will attempt another similar action against international students. We are monitoring the situation and will continue to do everything we can to actively support our international community.  

Highlighting student, faculty and staff excellence

One of the true highlights of being President of this great University is the opportunity to share the outstanding accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff. Recently, our student chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) and its president, recent EMU graduate Brionna Bryant, were honored as one of four outstanding chapters in the country for 2020.

Eastern’s chapter was recognized for its outstanding campus engagement, student conference involvement, timely reporting and overall student leadership.

Bryant and Eastern’s chapter were recognized at the virtual 2020 National Convention and Expo, held earlier this month.

This EMU Today story has additional information including comments from Brionna Bryant, College of Business Dean Ken Lord and faculty advisory Anthony Kurek (a full-time lecturer in accounting).

Congratulations Brionna and NABA members!

This wonderful news wraps up this week’s message. I encourage you to continue practice good hand washing, wear face coverings as required, and maintain physical distance when encountering others. We all have an important role in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Continue to follow the University’s COVID-19 website for ongoing updates and #EMUSafe return to campus plans.

Have a safe and enjoyable weekend.

James Smith, Ph.D.