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MSU’s likely fall plan: face masks, takeout food and Saturday classes

Michigan State Beaumont tower

Michigan State University’s 50,000 students may be returning to campus in the fall, but college life will be far from normal.

Everyone likely will be required to wear face coverings, MSU Interim Provost Teresa Sullivan told a Michigan House appropriations subcommittee Wednesday. Classrooms, libraries, dining halls and dorms are being retrofitted to allow social distancing. And a lot of university staff will continue to work from home rather than their offices.

MSU President Samuel Stanley told students, staff and faculty in a letter last week that the school planned to have students return to East Lansing in September. That letter was short on details about what the fall would look like.

While the university has numerous committees working out details for the fall, Sullivan unveiled the school’s likely plans to legislators Wednesday, painting a portrait of campus that will be less Animal House than General Hospital.

  • Everyone will be required to wear a cloth facial covering while on campus.
  • Residence halls, libraries and classrooms are being rearranged to allow social distancing of at least six feet. Sullivan didn’t say if that meant students living in residence halls would not have roommates, or if beds are being rearranged to be farther apart.
  • Labs will likely operate at half-capacity.
  • Large gatherings will be discouraged.
  • Hand sanitizer will be available around campus
  • Frequent sanitizing of “touch points” in campus buildings.
  • Some seating will be removed from dining halls, and there will be more “grab-and-go” options for students who wish to avoid cafeterias.
  • Enrollment caps in some courses will be lower to make it easier for students to spread out in classrooms.
  • Some large lecture classes may be split between in-person and online. Sullivan gave legislators an example of a class that would meet on Tuesday and Thursday. Under the revamped rules, half the class attends in person and half watches the class online on Tuesday, and the two halves switch for Thursday.
  • To accommodate smaller class sizes, course offerings will likely be spread out more, with some held on evenings and some on Saturdays, Sullivan said.
  • Some classes may be held outdoors in good weather.
  • “Staffers who can work from home will be encouraged to continue to work from home,” Sullivan said. “We are not planning for a mass return to work.” Sullivan didn’t say what proportion of MSU’s 7,300 staff members may continue to work from home.
  • Students and any of the school’s 5,700 faculty who are not comfortable returning to in-person instruction until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed will have the option of teaching or learning fully online, Sullivan said.
  • Anyone feeling sick will be encouraged to stay away from campus.
  • Sullivan said the school anticipates far fewer international students in East Lansing because “they won’t be able to get visas.” She told legislators those students will be able to continue to take classes online to work toward an MSU degree. The university had about 5,600 international students enrolled in the 2019-20 school year.

MSU’s plans could change, depending on the status of the pandemic and state executive orders.

Last week, MSU President Stanley said students will return to campus Sept. 2, with in-person classes wrapping up the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The last two weeks of classes for the fall semester and final exams will be fully online, to try to get students off campus before December, which Stanley, a medical doctor, said he expects to be the likeliest time for a second wave of COVID-19 to strike. 

Tuesday, Stanley suggested that football could be played safely, but that Spartan Stadium likely would only have about 20 percent of its normal fans (15,000, instead of 75,000), and that fans would need to wear masks.

The University of Michigan and Wayne State University haven’t announced their fall plans, though the majority of the state’s 15 public universities say they plan to return to in-person classes in September.

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