The University of Michigan will offer a mix of in-person and digital learning when the 2020-21 academic year starts in the fall, in what President Mark Schlissel calls a “public health informed” return to life on campus.
UM’s announcement, which came Monday, is the university’s first glimpse into its plans to return to campus. Schlissel has said previously that if students did not return to campus, there would be no sports, including football, which is financial tentpole for the athletic department.
“Generally, large classes will be held remotely, small classes will be held in person, and medium-size classes will be a hybrid of the two,” Schlissel wrote. “This and other means can be used to diminish classroom density.”
The nature of the return process at the two schools — “public health-informed” at UM, “values-driven” at MSU — indicates fall semester will not be exactly like those of the past, before there was a global pandemic to contend with.
“Because of the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, the semester ahead will look and feel different than anything we have seen before,” Schlissel wrote. “But the pandemic won’t change our commitment to the members of our community.”
Separately, UM Dearborn announced Monday that it will take a hybrid approach with many classes held remotely and in person. There will also be a shift in the academic calendar to reduce travel to and from campus.
The Dearborn campus’ semester will begin Sept. 1 and will continue through Nov. 21. Students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving. Additionally, there will be no sports at that campus during the fall semester.
“Throughout the duration of the global pandemic, UM-Dearborn faculty and staff have maintained a commitment to the university’s mission while keeping our community safe and healthy,” said Domenico Grasso, chancellor of the Dearborn campus. “Our plans to reopen some campus operations have been developed in conjunction with public health and many other professionals.”
UM’s rival, Michigan State, announced its plans to return a month ago. President Samuel Stanley wrote, in a letter to the MSU community, that “at this point, we believe that a values-driven return is possible and can be done in a way that mitigates the risks to our community.”
MSU had been the first university in Michigan to suspend classes after the virus hit. In just three months, more than 5,800 people in Michigan are confirmed to have had coronavirus when they died.
Schlissel wrote that “although not all courses will be available in every format, most students will be able to choose whether to return to Ann Arbor for a hybrid learning experience or study from home in a fully remote mode.”
Residence halls and dining halls will be open on the Ann Arbor campus, while the Dearborn and Flint campuses “have campus-specific plans for hybrid instruction” to be shared later by their chancellors, Schlissel wrote.
What will become of football season is an open question. Athletes have returned to campus, but team activities have not yet resumed.
“Michigan athletics is working with our public health experts and consulting with the Big Ten and NCAA on determining whether our student-athletes can safely return to competition this fall,” Schlissel wrote, adding that “an announcement will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead.”
Michigan Stadium draws in 100,000-plus people per football game, and has since 1975. But even if football does return, the crowds won’t, not like before. UM athletic director Warde Manuel has warned that attendance “won’t be normal.”
“We won’t have 110,000 people in Michigan Stadium this year,” Manuel told reporters recently. “There are a lot of unknowns right now.”
Classes will begin Aug. 31. There will be no fall break.
Second semester will start the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and there will be no spring break.
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