KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As students begin to arrive at campus at Western Michigan University, an editorial by the school newspaper is calling on WMU to change course and shift to virtual instruction.
Editor-in-chief William Walton says the university still has time to make a change and prevent a COVID-19 outbreak.
“This isn’t something we want,” Walton said. “We don’t want the university to go online. We feel it needs to go online.”
Walton says WMU should move mostly online, with exceptions for some programs, before students finish moving in and give a full refund on room and board.
“With all the problems going on at other universities across the country, Western can foresee that this fall could be disastrous and if they choose to open despite foreseeing that it is going to look a bit questionable if they issue partial refunds,” Walton said.
In an online briefing Wednesday morning, WMU President Edward Montgomery defended the university’s decision to return to in-person instruction.
“We have a plan. We can do this. If we work the plan and we all do what needs to be done, if we hold each other accountable, we can have a productive year,” Montgomery said.
The university also points to rapid testing capabilities, new decontamination procedures and mask policies to prevent the virus from spreading.
“The health department has expressed confidence in our plan. Many of the university that have had to change their plans found themselves in conflict with local health officials. Instead, we have been working collaboratively with them,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery also says the pandemic risk is different for each university in the state.
“The state plan takes a very regional view of the pandemic. What’s happening here or in Detroit or in Lansing or up in the U.P. is highly variable. The state has also left it to universities to make local decisions based on local circumstances, so we’re following that guidance,” Montgomery said.
University leaders are calling on students to do their part and follow procedures.
Diane Anderson, vice president of student affairs, said WMU is updating the student code of conduct to reflect the need to follow health and safety guidelines like not attending parties.
“If we find the students have violated our safe return plan or disregarded executive orders, we will hold them accountable with consequences that could include suspension from WMU,” Anderson said.
Walton says not every student will follow the rules and that will pose a health risk to the campus community.
“It’s not an issue of we think the plan isn’t strong enough. It’s a case of we don’t think there is a safe way to open up residence halls at a university,” Walton said.