MSU moves undergrad classes online, tells dorm residents to stay home

An empty classroom in March at Michigan State. MSU became the first public university in the state to take all of its classes online for the fall and tell dorm residents to stay home.(Bridge file photo by Dale Young)

Michigan State University has told undergrad students preparing to live on campus to stay home this fall, as fear grows that stringent health protocols won’t be enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus among students and staff.

The announcement, sent to students and parents after 5 p.m. Tuesday, said all undergraduate classes were being moved online, and that students who’d signed leases to live in dorms should instead take their classes remotely from home if possible. MSU becomes the first public university in the state to take such aggressive measures to limit the number of students on campus this fall.

“Effective immediately, we are asking undergraduate students who planned to live in our residence halls this fall to stay home and continue their education with MSU remotely,” MSU President Samuel Stanley wrote to students. “While a vast majority of our classes already were offered in remote formats, we will work the next two weeks to transition those that were in-person or hybrid to remote formats.”

The move affects more than 10,000 students who still planned to live on campus this fall despite dire warnings about the pandemic and previous requests that they consider staying home this fall.

MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant said the school decided to make the move now, before students began moving into dorms in the last week of August, after several prominent universities that had already opened for classes shut down because of the spread of coronavirus among students.

On Monday, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced it was moving all classes online, one week after classes began. In just a week, the 130 students tested positive for COViD-19, 177 were in isolation and 349 were in quarantine.

Tuesday, the University of Notre Dame moved its classes online, reporting 147 cases since classes began Aug. 3 (80 cases on Monday alone). The percentage of coronavirus tests among students that came back positive had reached 19 percent, almost four times the positivity rate the World Health Organization recommends for allowing schools to open.

Notre Dame officials blamed off-campus parties where students didn’t wear face masks or social-distance for the outbreak.

Guerrant told Bridge that MSU officials made numerous calls to UNC officials Tuesday.

“All the higher ed institutions are talking to each other and learning from each other. At the end of the day, even with strong protocols, they struggled with spread among students,” Guerrant said.

MSU already had reason to worry: This summer, more than 100 cases of the coronavirus were traced to partiers at a bar near campus, Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub.

Two weeks ago, MSU sent letters to students encouraging them to stay home, and offering them a chance to get out of their housing contracts. But that letter only decreased the number of students planning to live in dorms from the typical 14,000 to about 10,000.

“It became evident we couldn’t keep the health and safety of our students and staff at our forefront” if students were allowed into dorms and classes were held on MSU’s campus,” Guerrant said.

Dan Hurley

“I think you’ll see a mix” of online and in-person classes at the state’s 15 public universities, said Dan Hurley, president of the Michigan Association of State Universities.

Dan Hurley, president of the Michigan Association of State Universities, told Bridge he didn’t expect MSU’s move to “begin a domino effect” of other public universities moving classes online and closing dorms. “I think you’ll see a mix” of online and in-person classes at the state’s 15 public universities, Hurley said.

In his letter, Stanley said, “We have seen that it is difficult for colleges and universities, and other areas of education such as K-12, to be open successfully right now given the prevalence of the virus. While I have faith in our students and all of the members of the campus community, we know that this virus is relentless and is easily spread. We’re seeing on our campus and in other areas of the country that a few mistakes by some are having large impacts on many.”

 Here’s what MSU has confirmed:

  • Fall classes will continue, but will be online as they were in the spring after in-person instruction was stopped in mid-March to try to stem the spread of coronavirus. The only exceptions are some classes in the colleges of Law, Human Medicine, Nursing, Osteopathic Medicine and Veterinary Medicine as well as all graduate programs.
  • Students who were going to live in dorms will receive refunds or credits for payments they’d made for housing.
  • The order has no effect on students who plan to live off-campus.
  • Students and staff can still walk on campus, with face masks.
  • A small number of students will still live in residence halls. Guerrant said about 1,000 international students live in dorms now and will continue to stay there. Also, students with unsafe home environments or with no access to the Internet can stay in dorms.

Janine Fogg, of Brighton, whose daughter Mary Fogg-Liedel is an incoming freshman at MSU, said that while she “saw it coming,” the mother was “devastated” by the news. “She had arranged to have things shipped to her room and that arrived [in East Lansing] today,” Fogg said. “We had everything purchased for her dorm room and consultations with all her professors.”

Fogg said her daughter may look into renting an apartment in East Lansing, or taking a gap year.

“She was admitted to several schools in Quebec,” Fogg said. “She thought Canada would be a safer place to be, with everything going on here. But with the borders closed, she knew that would not be practical for her.”

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Tue, 08/18/2020 - 11:22pm

Dan Hurley, president of the Michigan Association of State Universities, told Bridge he didn’t expect MSU’s move to “begin a domino effect” of other public universities moving classes online and closing dorms. “I think you’ll see a mix” of online and in-person classes at the state’s 15 public universities, Hurley said.

-- With all due respect Mr. Hurley, you are delusional.

Just Facts
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 8:42am

AAaaaaaand 25% of the students' parents just decided to withdraw them from classes this calendar year.

We have needed a major overhaul of the college education system for some time now - More than 50% of degree programs are a total waste, existing only to generate money for the universities to pay their most useless faculty's salaries.

Hopefully this results in an end to most liberal arts programs, as well as all the other garbage degrees that kids get before moving back into their parent's basements.

Mon, 08/24/2020 - 10:59am

Which college degrees have value in your opinion?

Mon, 08/24/2020 - 4:50pm

You're spot on with that, been saying that for years. It's no wonder tuition costs have skyrocketed. Every social issue causes more classes being forced on students which just adds to the indoctrination.

What a Joke!
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 8:43am

Anyone looking at this objectively can see that sending students on campus for in-person classes is ludicrous. See the parties off campus in Georgia, Michigan, Indiana, and as far as Wuhan, China. Why not just plan for on-line and doing THAT correctly???? So much unnecessary last minute uncertainty and stress.

Wed, 08/19/2020 - 9:43am

This is the right thing to do. We are close to having a vaccine; close to having an effective treatment protocol. Until we do, it is senseless to let this nasty virus overwhelm us. We need to be patient and willing to care about each other... following safe practices. That is how America became a great nation. That is how we will get through this.

A Yoopr
Wed, 08/19/2020 - 11:34am

Great call Spartans!!!

Wed, 08/19/2020 - 12:15pm

I guess better late than never. 11th hour decisions have everyone on pins and needles, unnecessarily.

Lame parents
Thu, 08/20/2020 - 12:28pm

"Fogg said her daughter may look into renting an apartment in East Lansing."

That's what my neighbor's daughter is doing with all her freshman friends at MSU. They found an apartment in a building with a bunch of friends. What can go wrong with that? LOL
Parents pay the bills, but can't say no to their children.

Just wait to see how fun it will be for the students to self-isolate or return home after they start to test positive one by one. Landlords will still want the rent whether they live in the apartment or not. First year away from home and there is no resident assistant to guide them, offer needed emotional support, provide safe organized social activities, etc. In addition to school, they will have to navigate shopping for groceries and cooking meals, while discovering for the first time that you can't stand your "friends" or their new "boyfriends".

There's a good reason why the universities are banning students from living on campus. It's UNSAFE. These universities are losing tons of needed money. They wouldn't do what they are doing if they didn't feel they had to.

Come on parents, learn to say "no" to your entitled brats who do not have their frontal cortex fully developed. YOURS should be developed. They are free to do what they want, but you don't have to PAY for it. Sure they have to make their own mistakes to learn, but a year long lease is a steep price to pay, if not worse, like serious illness or death. How close will those "friendships" be when they test positive? Sadly that's when mommy and daddy will come to the rescue again.

MSU or the East Lansing mayor should ban freshmen from renting local apartments as an alternative to dorms. It is MORE reckless than housing the freshmen on campus.

Sneaky Students
Thu, 08/20/2020 - 1:00pm

I don't understand how, in COVID-19 times, freshmen can live off campus, given these MSU rules from their housing website:

Housing Exception
First-year and transfer students must live in on-campus housing for two semesters, summer semester excluded, unless they meet any of the following criteria:

Students who:
Will be living with a parent or legal guardian.

Will be 20 years of age by the first day of classes of fall semester of the current academic year (the current academic year is fall semester and spring semester).

Are married.

Are a military veteran with one or more year of active service.

Will be taking six or less credits during the semester in question.

Will be a transfer student who has lived in a residence hall for two semesters at a previous institution.

If any the above criteria apply to you, you are automatically approved to live off campus. To register as an automatic qualifier, please complete Step 1 of the Housing Exception Application.

NOTE: Failure to adhere to the on-campus housing requirement may result in termination of enrollment.

If the above criteria do not apply to you, the application for an exception begins with Step 1 of the Housing Exception Application. Once Step 1 is completed, those who do not meet the automatic exception criteria will be sent a link to complete Step 2 of the Housing Exception Application.

Please note that exceptions are only granted in rare circumstances (e.g., document extreme financial or medical need), or when a transfer student has already lived on campus for two semesters at their previous institution.

To apply for an exception, please click on the following link: Housing Exception Application.
If you are a registered MSU student who is living in on-campus housing and would like to apply to be released from your housing contract for the current semester, you will need to fill out the Apartment and Residence Hall Contract Release Application with MSU Residence and Housing Education Services (REHS). To find this form go to and click on “Residence Hall/Apartment Contract/Lease Release Application”. Any questions regarding this procedure can be directed to or by calling 517-884-5483 or toll free 1-877-954-8366.

NOTE: Religious reasons alone are insufficient to grant an exception.

Fri, 08/21/2020 - 5:20am

Is MSU allowing freshmen to rent in local apartments rather than the dorm and take online classes??? Freshmen are currently signing leases off-campus. So East Lansing will still be packed with young dumb unsupervised unsupported students drinking obsessively and hooking-up during a pandemic? Have we learned nothing from Harper's in East Lansing during the summer when school was closed? Kids from all over will be driving to those apartments for parties spreading Covid-19, including high school students visiting friends. Where is the logic, just trying to shield MSU from liability? Those students and all of us would be safer if the freshmen lived in the dorms or better yet, at home as MSU instructed.

Mon, 08/24/2020 - 11:01am

You are right. It's the off-campus activity that is closing colleges and universities as soon as they open.

Mon, 08/24/2020 - 3:00pm

"Some Albion College students are upset they cannot leave campus the entire fall semester or have outside visitors, including family, without prior approval. The private school is tracking students' health through a mobile phone app, like many schools are doing. But the app is also tracking whether or not they stay on campus, which has some students leaving their phones behind when they go off-campus, said Mitchell Seavolt, a rising junior at Albion."