And It’s Off: MSU Goes Remote for Fall Undergraduate Classes

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Michigan State University announced late Tuesday afternoon that it is suspending in-person learning for undergraduate courses for the fall semester. Classes will be offered online.

The move is likely have a major impact on the social life, public health, and economy of East Lansing.

MSU President Samuel Stanley said in a published statement issued moments ago that “it has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus.”

The statement goes on, “So, effective immediately, we are asking undergraduates who planned to live in our residence halls this fall to stay home and continue their education remotely.” 

Undergraduates who live in off-campus housing are being “encouraged” to stay “in your home communities if that is a safer place for you.”

Efforts are underway to accommodate international students and those who need housing on campus for safety reasons. 

Different arrangements are being made for the colleges of Law, Human Medicine, Nursing, Osteopathic Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, and graduate programs, all of which are still working out plans. 

The decision comes a day after the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill suspended in-person instruction effective Aug. 19 following an increase in test positivity rate in one week from 2.8 percent to 13.6 percent. 

At UNC-Chapel Hill, students had already moved back into dorms and university housing when the university suspended in-person classes. MSU made its decision prior to the majority of students moving to campus.

CNN has been tracking outbreaks of COVID-19 among undergraduates returning to school in Georgia, Kentucky, Colorado, and elsewhere.The experiences of these other universities are undoubtedly weighing on the decisions made at MSU and at other large and small public and private universities.

The experience this year has been topsy-turvy for MSU faculty, students, and staff and for East Lansing, the home of MSU’s flagship campus. The impact on local businesses has been particularly harsh.

After suddenly closing in-person classes in mid-March, in late May, MSU announced its intention to open for in-person instruction for the Fall 2020 term, beginning on Sept. 2. 

Since May, MSU administrators, physicians, and academic leaders, City officials, local business owners, and public health officials have been meeting intensively to develop scientifically-informed plans for reducing density, testing, quarantining, and the like.

But this is a virus that spreads easily, and it is challenging to get young people who are much less likely than older people to be seriously harmed by the disease to maintain hygienic practices.

After an outbreak of COVID-19 was linked to Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in late June, involving MSU students staying in East Lansing for the summer, Dr. David Weismantel, MSU’s chief physician, said masks would be required everywhere on campus. 

In early July, the university, City government and business owners sought “a unified front” regarding mask wearing and personal responsibility incumbent on individuals. 

Then, MSU President Dr. Samuel Stanley reversed course slightly in an Aug. 3 email to students and parents, saying students should consider staying home for the semester if their course load could be managed online. 

“If you can live safely and study successfully at home, we encourage you to consider that option for the fall semester,” the message read, in part.

Downtown East Lansing has a mask mandate now, similar to the one now in effect on campus, and Tuesday morning the Ingham County Health Department restricted outdoor parties to 25 people in the areas around campus. 

But now, with only 15 more days to go until the semester begins, the attempt for a generalized return to school has been called off. 

Says Stanley, “This was an extraordinarily difficult decision, but the safety of our campus community must be of paramount concern.”

What it all means for East Lansing, we will be finding out in the coming months. The City Manager is set tonight to give a presentation to City Council on the financial impacts to date of the coronavirus.

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