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

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

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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