Over 300 professors and students across Michigan have signed an open letter asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to use her authority and move classes fully online.
“We have come together in this letter to you because while we appreciate the work our universities have done to facilitate a ‘return to the classroom,’ the current situation around us, both in Michigan and in the rest of the country, demonstrates that classroom learning remains fraught with risk for students as well as university staff and faculty,” the letter reads.
While most of the signatures seem to be from Grand Valley State University, some Western Michigan University students and faculty members have signed the letter.
The letter mentioned that schools across the country are bringing large groups of people to live, socialize and study together. It remains something that cannot be done safely, the letter said.
The letter mentioned that most classes can be taught online. Therefore, if a class can be taught well online, that should be the mode of instruction, regardless of student preference.
It also acknowledged the financial impact universities will have by moving their courses online and limiting the number of students, staff and faculty.
“You, as Governor, could step in to help by offering financial incentives for those universities who choose to put safety first or by publicizing the kinds of low-interest loans that are available to help our institutions of higher learning stay solvent during these extremely challenging times,” the letter reads.
WMU first-year students are moved-in Thursday, Aug. 27, and returning students move in Aug. 30, with classes starting Sept. 2.
Extra precautions such as mandatory masks, social distancing and increasing the frequency and intensity of cleaning in public spaces are all being implemented at WMU to help stop the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
Larkin Babbitt, a fourth-year arts management student at WMU, signed the letter because she thinks it’s important to try a variety of angles for achieving an online semester.
“While it would be ideal for the WMU administration to listen to its community members, there's no real obligation for them to do that because we are not viewed as critical stakeholders,” Babbitt said. “On the other hand, the state can absolutely intervene in a decisive way. The challenge of organizing a response to this situation is that it's new and we aren't sure what will be effective, so we are trying just about everything: there's this petition, there's another petition addressing the administration, we did an email campaign this week, and we have a socially distanced sit-in protest scheduled for Monday. So far, Western has only responded by doubling down.”
Babbitt also said she did not have confidence that COVID will be managed at WMU’s reopening plan. She said that there has been an uptick in reported cases as students return to campus, which will continue to rise.
“How many students are asymptomatic spreaders? How many students are anti-maskers? How many students might not go to massive parties, but will see a few friends now and then, who will also see a few friends?” Babbitt said. “With this kind of virus, EVERY point of contact matters. Interaction with one person is enough to perpetuate the exponential spread.”
Babbitt also addressed a concern she had for the Bronco Pledge that students have to sign to be able to log into their GoWMU account. Under the pledge, students are agreeing to follow health and safety protocols in the Safe Return Plan and adhering to behavior expectations designed to foster the well-being of all members of the WMU community.
“It seems like a covert way to reduce any legal liability that the University could be facing,” Babbitt said.
Babbitt also expressed concern that compliance to the Safe Return Plan will only reduce the speak and not eliminate it.
“The only zero-spread situation is if everyone stays in their home communities and continues to distance,” Babbitt said. “In any other scenario, WMU is telling us that there are acceptable losses. This is not okay. Only zero deaths are acceptable. I want to remind everyone that true exceptionalism isn't believing that we are the only campus that can pull off a safe reopening, it's understanding that Broncos can care exceptionally for our community and can learn online exceptionally.”