COVID-19 Update to Campus: August 28, 2020

To the Eastern Michigan University community:

Three days and counting to the start of the fall semester! To say that this semester is unusual is a most serious understatement. Thanks to the hard work, planning and commitment from everyone on our team, we are prepared to move forward in providing the excellent education and student support that are hallmarks of the Eastern Michigan University experience.

Our faculty is ready. Our advisors are ready. Our support staff is ready. As an institution, each of us is fully committed to the success of every student.

I understand the near fully online course experience that will be in place for the start of the semester, through September 20 as noted in Monday’s announcement, may not have been the desired option for some students. Our faculty is 100 percent prepared to support students through the transition to online coursework. Several faculty members led a lively and informative session yesterday “Let’s Talk About Online Learning” for students about how to have the best online learning experience. I encourage all students to click on the link to view the session. I was pleased to learn the virtual seminar was attended by more than 200 students. It was received positively and I have asked our team to post and share the recording of it with all students so that everyone has an opportunity to learn the valuable insights that were presented.

I want to express my gratitude to everyone who made adjustments in their lives and their schedules to accommodate our revised plan for the beginning of the semester that was announced on Monday. Delaying residence hall move-in and transitioning to a mostly online course format for the start of the semester was done out of the utmost concern for the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff. While it was an extremely difficult decision, it is a decision that was based on the fast-changing circumstances and information available to us at the time, which, as has been the case throughout this pandemic, changes by the day.

The continuing outbreaks of COVID-19 over the past week at universities around the region and country reinforce that the decision to delay move-in until September 17 and transition to online classes through September 20 was, for us, absolutely the right thing to do.

I thank our faculty colleagues on the Faculty Senate Executive Council for their advocacy late last week for such action. It opened the door to the further analysis of our plans, which led a comprehensive review of what was happening at other universities where students were returning, discussions with the University’s health experts, and a further examination of how to increase COVID-19 testing among our campus community. 

I have heard from a great many of our students, their families, and our faculty and staff, who appreciate and are supportive of the action. The largest area of concern expressed by some was about the timing of the decision and the absence of advance notice. I appreciate those concerns and will offer three points to address them: 1) The increase in the outbreaks of COVID-19 that we are witnessing on campuses across the region and nation only happened in the past two weeks when students began returning to universities. To ignore what was happening would have been highly irresponsible. 2) We have stated from the beginning our intent to closely monitor the fast-changing impact of this disease and the need to adjust our plans on short notice to new information and government/public health guidance. This decision reflects that continued careful attention. 3) Our overarching guiding principle in all decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic has been, and continues to be, the health and safety of our community.

Updates to processes and procedures as we begin the semester

Over the past several days, you have received several University messages regarding updates on processes and protocols related to the start of the fall semester. Given the fluid situation in which we find ourselves, we will continue to provide our community with updates on critical matters related to our operations this fall. 

It is vitally important that you continue to monitor your University email for these messages. Please read these carefully, save them and refer back to them as needed. 

To recap our important messages of the week (links included for each):

For students and employees

Protocols for individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or have exposure to an individual with COVID-19

Daily health screening, building entrances/exits, and check-in desks

Halle Library hours 

EMU Dining hours and locations

For employees

Compliance with COVID-19 campus protocols

Revised return to work for employees

Ordering PPE supplies

As I indicated, we will continue to share important information in the days ahead. Next week, look for an update on a new training platform: COVID-19 mitigation and response training for all employees.

New Chief Human Resources Officer (pending Board of Regents approval)

I am pleased to inform you that Brett Last has accepted an offer from Chief Financial Officer Mike Valdes to become the University’s Associate Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). 

He previously served as CHRO at Skidmore College. Prior to that he was CHRO at a community college. He also worked in the private sector.

Last’s permanent appointment is subject to approval by the Board of Regents. He will begin work on Monday, September 14, 2020. Associate General Counsel Jeff Ammons, who has been serving as interim CHRO and will return to his position in Legal Affairs, will help transition Last into his new role. Last will serve on the Executive Council. 

Last will report to CFO Valdes. This change aligns EMU with all of our peers, and we believe it will create excellent synergies with the Budget and Controller’s Offices, both of which work closely with UHR. 

Swoop’s Food Pantry update

Next week, the John and Angie Sabo Swoop’s Food Pantry Room will be open on Thursday (9/3/2020) from 12 - 5 p.m.

Shoppers are requested to complete an Online Shopping Request Form before arriving. Items will be bagged by staff and brought out to clients when they arrive. Visitors to Swoop’s can enter through the main entrance on the north side of Pierce Hall near the elevator. Swoop’s should complete the new 2020-21 Swoop's Food Pantry Intake Form.

If you wish to donate items – those most needed are dish soap, hand soap, barbecue sauce, salad dressing and cereal. Please email in advance to make sure someone is present to handle your delivery.

Please maintain physical distancing guidance when picking up or delivering items to the Pantry.

Highlighting Eastern Michigan University excellence

I am pleased to again share with you an example of University excellence, this time from our College of Arts and Sciences.

A chamber music trio including Eastern Michigan University Assistant Professor of Cello, Deborah Pae, received major international recognition this summer. 

The trio’s debut album “Masterpieces Among Peers,” was awarded the German Record Critics’ Award / Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik in the category of chamber music. The awards are among the most notable music honors in Europe, ranking with the GRAMMY Awards in prestige.

Professor Pae, who joined Eastern in 2016, has appeared as a soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, and Asia, at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Auditorium du Louvre in Paris, Wigmore Hall in London, the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Hyogo Performing Arts Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Berlin Philharmonie, and the 45th GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden.

I highly encourage you to listen to an excerpt of their beautiful work here: Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8 (1889 Version) : I. Allegro con brio

Congratulations Professor Pae! 

Health and safety reminder

As I do each week, I will conclude with an important health and safety reminder as we head into the weekend. Please continue to:

  • Practice effective hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers;
  • Wear face coverings; and,
  • Observe physical distancing.

These three actions, when taken together, dramatically reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Please continue to follow the University’s COVID-19 website and the EMU Safe website for ongoing updates.

Have a safe weekend.

James Smith, Ph.D.