When Will MSU Students Return? Who Knows.

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Raymond Holt for ELi

"The Bird," a statue by Will Ryman on MSU's campus near the Broad Museum.

When will East Lansing feel normal again – with Michigan State University’s campus buzzing with young people, instead of being sparsely populated only by individuals and young families out for exercise?

Recent communication from Teresa A. Sullivan, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, to the MSU deans hinted that remote learning may continue into the fall semester and that international students will have additional barriers to consider.

The letter conveyed concerns over MSU’s ability to offer a sufficient number of quality online courses and to keep tuition revenue steady.

All of this has obvious implications for East Lansing, a community that is economically and culturally tethered to Michigan State University.

MSU is battening down the hatches, unsure of when the storm will end.

In her letter, Sullivan announced that the Summer Session I, which runs from May 11 to June 25, will run online. Some exceptions to that may be offered for clinical courses in the health sciences, but that has yet to be determined.

The administration at MSU is waiting to make decisions about Summer Session II, which runs from June 29 through August 13.

Many traditional summer study options for students have been canceled, such as study abroad or internships. Faculty also face the reality of reduced or withheld funds for research trips that have been put on hold.

Students need the online courses, and faculty may be particularly eager to teach new courses in light of new summer plans. MSU is even offering faculty interested in developing a new online course a $2,000 grant in addition to usual compensation for teaching online courses.

Photo courtesy MSU

MSU Interim Provost Teresa Sullivan

Sullivan told the deans in her letter, “For Spring 2020, make-do was good enough; going forward we need to have a more professional quality experience for all of our online courses, especially because some of our competitors have already achieved this standard.” 

MSU is well-known and recognized for its study abroad programs, but it is online offerings are not considered as strong as some other universities. And, of course, MSU students could opt for more affordable options, such as community college courses.

A quiet summer lies ahead – and maybe a quiet fall, too?

Although summer break tends to thin out East Lansing’s population, the environment will be even quieter than normal this year. MSU will suspend academic camps for high school students and all programs for undergraduates. New student orientation will be held entirely online since it is anticipated that many incoming students will struggle to make travel arrangements.

Sullivan also intimated that MSU may begin its fall semester with online instruction and possibly transition to in-person meetings at the semester continues. No official decision has been made as of yet.

International students are facing exceptional challenges.

ELi previously reported that the Department of Homeland Security was inquiring as to how MSU was offering online instruction since many international students are only allowed to study in the United States under the condition that they take most credits through in-person classes.

It seems now that international students will face other barriers for entering the United States. Sullivan stated, “It seems very likely that many of our international students will be able to join us only online, especially the 700 international students we had expected to matriculate in August,” but did not elaborate on why this was the case.

MSU student Liao Zhang spoke to ELi last month about the challenges international students are facing. Read more.

In a follow up letter on April 2, Sullivan explained that U.S. embassies and consulates abroad are not making appointments for visa applications. When offices reopen, there will be a significant backlog of appointments. Moreover, restrictions on entry to the U.S. during the pandemic could continue into the fall, causing problems for international students.

Departments that instruct international students or offer large courses that are usually required for most students are being asked to consider how they might make courses available to these students remotely.  

Faculty and staff are feeling the changes, too.

In her communications, Sullivan also made several other important announcements. Tenure-track faculty will have one extra year added to their tenure clocks since the pandemic has disrupted both teaching and research. When being assessed by students, faculty and teaching assistants will receive feedback on how the transition to online learning went.

Sullivan also announced a hiring chill at MSU, which could further affect housing markets and the local economy in East Lansing. Recruiting that has begun may continue, but it is unlikely that newly posted positions will be filled anytime soon.

The chill also affects teaching and graduate assistants. Departments have been told they should not take on more assistants than they currently have in the spring 2020 semester. Departments can apply for exceptions and are allowed to replace graduating assistants with new ones.

One thing remains certain: as long as MSU remains online, the economy and culture of East Lansing remains significantly altered.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed.

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