On Wednesday, members of the Wayne State Academic Restart Committee held a virtual town hall to share the committee's ideas on how the WSU community can return to campus in the fall.
The town hall was moderated by Annmarie Caño, associate provost for faculty development and faculty success. Provost Keith Whitfield and College of Nursing Dean Laurie Lauzon Clabo presented for the ARC.
The question, on the minds of many, is if WSU will resume in-person classes in the fall.
President M. Roy Wilson said on April 23 WSU was most likely not going to return to campus and remain online throughout the fall.
Whitfield — who chairs the academics/teaching and learning subcommittee of the ARC — addressed the report saying the decision has not been made when it comes to how classes will be taught.
The goal is for the campus to be open with face-to-face classes in the fall, Whitfield said. However, this is not certain. Other education delivery methods ARC is considering involve remote, online and hybrid learning.
“If you think about time, we’ve got three months relatively speaking until the beginning of class in the fall as it’s scheduled. And if you think about it let’s go back three months, back three months we weren’t even on lockdown yet. We’re in an interesting time and there still is time to be able to make some adjustments,” Whitfield said.
The ARC consists of nine subcommittees, including academics/teaching and learning, that address areas needed in order to reopen campus: research; finance and budget; public health; facilities; housing, dining and campus retail; athletics; computing and information technology; and human resources.
WSU students have also offered insight as part of the ARC, Whitfield said.
“We haven’t gotten to making any sorts of policies. We just wanted to think about all the things that we need to consider and they have really helped us think through that,” he said.
Clabo chairs the public health subcommittee which consists of WSU infectious disease experts and representatives from the Campus Health Center. The committee looks at the “emerging” science around COVID-19, Clabo said.
“I think it's important for us to make sure that the campus community is aware that President Wilson has charged us to be certain that the decisions we make about how broadly the campus is open, and when are fully based in the best science,” she said.
Whitfield presented learning outcomes ARC is considering if traditional face-to-face classes aren’t possible. Remote learning will be achieved online during a scheduled class time while online learning will happen at an unset time. A hybrid approach will include in person meetings in small groups along with provided online materials.
There are other issues that play into WSU’s education decisions, Whitfield said.
“Some of our health care professional schools are actually facing a great deal of difficulty because they can’t have the kinds of clinical placement hours that they need for their accreditation,” he said. “It’s my hope that all of our accrediting bodies will start to become as flexible as possible about those face-to-face, high-touch hours.”
While there is not a set timeline when it comes to making the decision for the fall, Whitfield thinks there are a few “guidepost” dates. He hopes there can be significant updates on the first of June and July.
“We want to make sure our professors have as much time as possible to be able to prepare for whatever eventuality we may get to,” he said.
Another question addressed regarding classes in the fall is whether tuition will be reduced if classes were to be fully online.
“Tuition gets paid because of the instruction that we provide and so we're still providing that instruction,” Whitfield said.
On a call with 20 provosts from across the country, several mentioned to Whitfield their universities charge more for online courses, he said. One provost said they charge roughly an additional $100 per a credit hour for online learning. As explained, this extra cost is because online classes require additional support.
“So, in some ways, we actually benefit from the fact that we're not charging extra because of online courses,” Whitfield said. “And with the remote, you can talk to your faculty. That wasn't an easy lift for them (faculty) to be able to do that.”
“For the tuition that you pay, faculty and staff are committed to making sure that you get the really good quality education and instruction. And I think that it's worth every penny. So, to that point, I would just say that our plans right now are to stay at the rate that's what we're at.”
Restrictions to campus activities are anticipated to be in place for 12 to 18 months, if not longer with the length of the pandemic unclear, Whitfield said. Returning to more normal campus activities will be gradual, occurring in phases.
Essential safety measures must be put in place to allow people to return to campus no matter what the scale is, Clabo said. WSU is planning for widespread testing, daily symptom monitoring and a contact tracing system.
“No one is suggesting that there will be a day where they flip the switch and everybody 30,000 wide returns to campus in mass. This is a much more reasoned, science informed decision that will happen over time,” Clabo said.
WSU plans to train three times the recommended number of contact tracers to ensure a close surveillance of the campus community regarding COVID-19, Clabo said. Testing will also be done to determine how much exposure to the disease may exist on campus.
“All of that information will allow us as a campus to make the best decisions about becoming less restrictive or more restrictive but not based in any of our individual opinions but in the science,” she said.
There is also the likelihood of a spike in infections occurring as the campus opens, requiring more restrictive measures and increased physical distancing, Whitfield said.
WSU has not picked a specific date when they will make a decision regarding fall classes, Whitfield said.
“I think that's what we want to try and do is provide as much flexibility,” he said. “There is going to become a point in time where we have to make a decision one way or the other.”
Crain’s Detroit Business reported Saginaw Valley State University and Central Michigan University are planning a return to campus in the fall. Other colleges preparing for some level of in-person classes include Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University, Northern Michigan University, Michigan Technological Institute, and Oakland University.
Yet to announce fall plans along with WSU are the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
A questionnaire that will give the ARC more feedback from students can be found at www.menti.com and accessed using the code 59 88 72. This survey will be available until Friday, May 15.
Screenshot by Jack Filbrandt.