As decisions continue to surface regarding campus reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan State faculty and staff have concerns regarding illness transmission, reopening of individual facilities as well as discrepancies in wage and benefit reductions.
MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Norman J. Beauchamp Jr. spoke to faculty and staff concerns during a webcast Tuesday. Shawn Turner, a MSU Professor of Strategic Communication, moderated the webcast.
"Everyone knows the challenges we're facing at Michigan State University are challenges that every other college and university in the country is facing, and that is trying to plan for a return that is safe as possible," Stanley said.
Discrepancies in wage and benefit reductions among faculty and staff
"At this moment in time, based on contracts and others, there are some discrepancies in how people view it," Stanley said in response to differences in benefit and wage cuts among faculty and staff.
Stanley said some staff members have contracts that have to be honored. Some of these staff members came together with MSU officials to decide on furloughs.
"There's been a number of individuals from those groups furloughed, probably more than 800 at this point in time, and that's because there really wasn't work available in the things they do when there weren't students on campus," Stanley said.
Stanley said those furloughs could continue depending on reopening plans.
For MSU academic faculty and staff, salary reductions have ranged from 0.5% to 7%, according to Stanley. This was in an effort to avoid reducing the overall number of academic faculty and staff.
"It is difficult to ask for pay reductions from that group, as well as benefit reductions, but it's important that we do it now," Stanley said. "Over the course of time ... I hope that the shared sacrifices will be spread among all of us, that people will be roughly equivalent."
Concerns of staff members who feel unsafe returning to campus
"First of all, that's understandable," Stanley said.
Stanley said that among precautions for returning staff members, MSU officials have made masks mandatory indoors and outdoors on campus, plan to promote personal hygiene, heightened cleaning measures and created plans for social distancing in facilities and classrooms that will be in use.
"One of the things I want to emphasize is if people have been successful doing their jobs, and it's a job that doesn't necessarily require them being on campus, we're going to encourage them to continue working remotely during this time," Stanley said.
Additionally, Stanley encouraged faculty and staff, those required to return to campus or not, to talk to their supervisor or human resources if they are in need of accommodations.
In terms of differences in routine for faculty and staff returning to campus, health screenings will be required, Stanley said. Pathways for testing for those who show symptoms of COVID-19 will also be provided.
Individual campus facilities will complete a checklist before reopening
In terms of reopening individual units on campus, Beauchamp said a checklist has been put in place to determine an individual facility's reopening.
According to Beauchamp, the checklist includes criteria such as:
- Decontaminating the area where community members would return
- Looks at the ability to social distance within the facility
- Ensures signage is posted so individuals within the facility can find instructions to report any COVID-19 concerns related to the facility
- Looks at the mission of the facility, such as whether or not the goal of the facility can be reached remotely or not
Once the checklist is completed, Beauchamp's team will review it to ensure the facility meets necessary standards for a safe reopening.
Additionally, the MSU COVID-19 task force will continue to monitor the COVID-19 crisis and make flexible decisions.
"Our goal is to minimize the risk of transmission as much as reasonably possible while allowing some activities to be conducted," Beauchamp said.
As decisions are made, Beauchamp said the task force will continue monitoring COVID-19 case trends locally and statewide, the availability of personal protection equipment, the ability to test and protect individuals, as well as communication with local health care systems to ensure the ability to take care of faculty, staff and students, among other factors.
Additionally, MSU officials are monitoring other local businesses' return to work status. This is because "what happens in K-12, what happens with healthcare workers, we need to understand that because many of those individuals are affected by those decisions as they seek to come back to work here at MSU," Beauchamp said.
In terms of reopening, Beauchamp said the decision to reopen campus in the fall was value based.
"The values are our bedrock, they're why we exist," Beauchamp said. "And in times of great change and challenge, sticking to purpose is so essential."
By determining the university's values, Beauchamp said this led to more concise decision making during reopening measures.
These values included, according to Beauchamp:
- To create a culture that is transparent, open, trusting and safe
- To cultivate an accountable leadership
- To empower everyone to be engaged in an inclusive and equitable community, where actions are responsive to all community members