Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Students unlikely to see a return to normal school until fall 2021

September 25, 2020
Campus on Aug. 26, 2020.
Campus on Aug. 26, 2020. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Three university presidents, Samuel L. Stanley Jr. of Michigan State University, Mark Schlissel of the University of Michigan and M. Roy Wilson of Wayne State University, all agreed — things won’t be back to normal for students until next fall. 

Thursday, presidents of the member universities of Michigan’s University Research Corridor, or the URC, met to discuss COVID-19 in terms of university research, but also talked about a return to normalcy, or the lack thereof. Wilson said that he expects next semester to follow a similar format to this semester, but unlike Michigan State, Wayne State’s campus housing is currently operational. Schlissel said the same thing about the University of Michigan, which is in a similar situation to Wayne State.

As far as Michigan State goes, Stanley said that they will also likely follow their current format for the spring semester and that they are looking at other universities that are currently in person.

 “We’re watching what’s happening there,” said Stanley. “If there’s not places of transmission in the classroom, wearing masks, socially distanced, that gives me much more confidence that we can teach safely in that environment and I think you’ll see more campuses coming back, at least to the teaching component.” 

Stanley said housing, on the other hand, is a more complex issue and is unsure when to expect a return.

The three university presidents, who all have a background in medical sciences, estimated when a vaccine will be ready for widespread distribution and use. Wilson said it could be as early as January, while Schlissel and Stanley agreed that it will likely be in the middle of next year. Schlissel expressed concern about the vaccine’s distribution.

 “What I'm most nervous about is that we'll have one or several vaccines, but we'll botch the delivery," Schlissel said. "Our country has not demonstrated great capacity for organized, nationwide action, and that's what it's going to take to deliver a vaccine to 300 million people.”

Wilson, who also serves on the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, was happy to report that the racial disparity in testing in Michigan has been evened out. He talked about Wayne State’s role in creating accessible testing locations.

“We realized many vulnerable populations don’t have access to cars and other transportation to get to these testing sites so we shifted and with a partnership with the mobility arm of Ford, we started setting up these mobile units and actually started going to these vulnerable populations,” Wilson said. 

In coordination with this event, URC also released a brief on the work that faculty researchers, medical staff, university staff and students have done.

The event was hosted by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Patti Poppe, President & CEO of CMS Energy & Consumers Energy. URC annually conducts $2.56 billion in research and development.

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