Wow. No one would have predicted this academic year would have ended this way. Even as late as spring break, I think very few of us could have imagined MSU going fully remote. And now, eight weeks into this strange experience, we still have at least a couple of weeks before we can even begin the process of returning to campus. It will happen very slowly, and it will be a long time before we are back to anything like what we used to know as normal.
As the semester (finally!) comes to a close, we naturally begin to think about the fall. Our fears are animated by uncertainty about the spread of the virus and about the economic consequences of the pandemic. It is painful to imagine an empty campus in the fall.
For the last 165 years, Michigan State University has provided high-quality, life-changing educational experiences for hundreds of thousands of students. We have done this through world wars and a civil war, through epidemics and pandemics, and through recessions and depressions. And we will continue to do it. MSU is committed to fulfilling its missions of education, research, and outreach. We are also committed to the safety and wellbeing of our students, faculty, staff, and their families. This pandemic has not changed any of these commitments; in fact, it has strengthened them.
We all desire certainty about the future. The pandemic has forced every college and university to alter how it educates its students. We would like to say with confidence that we know what the situation with the pandemic will be at the start of the fall semester and exactly how it will impact our students’ experiences. However, we will not have enough clarity to make solid decisions about the fall until sometime around the middle of the summer. Rushing these decisions is not in anyone’s best interest.
Michigan State will be prepared to serve our students’ needs regardless of the limitations that the pandemic imposes on us in the fall. These plans include offering options where we can hold in-person classes, they include plans for a hybrid model with many courses online and others in-person, and they include plans in case we are forced to be fully online again. The plans also include provisions for ensuring the health and safety of all our community members with tools like social distancing, testing, contact tracing, and capacity for self-isolation.
As difficult as all of this is to manage, it is important to remember that this is precisely what Land Grant Universities do. They respond to real-world problems with practical solutions, and they are engines of social and economic progress. In times of crisis we are offered the opportunity to redouble our efforts and to remind ourselves of our commitment to access, equity, and opportunity.