Western Michigan University announced that it will be returning to in-person instruction for the fall semester on Sept. 2.

The announcement came via an email from President Edward Montgomery that was sent to WMU community members on the evening of June 22. The decision was made by the Faculty Senate on June 17, the email explains.

The formalized decision comes after months of speculation about what the fall would bring and the announcement that Bronco Bash, the annual festival celebrating the new semester, is canceled due to COVID-19.

The normal Fall Break in October has been removed from the schedule due to concerns about students spreading COVID-19 as they travel, the email explains. Most in-person classes will end the Friday ahead of Thanksgiving and the last weeks of classes, as well as final exams, will be conducted remotely. The semester will end on Dec. 19.

Not all classes will be able to be held in person due to health concerns, especially those with more than 70 students. The email explains that learning will be done through a variety of modalities, including hybrid and online courses where social distancing would be infeasible for an in-person class.

Students, faculty and staff will be expected to wear a mask and social distance when indoors with others.

The email concludes saying that more information is to come on July 1 in a town hall.

The full text of the email reads:

Dear WMU students and families,

After a great deal of planning, we are very pleased to let you know that on Sept. 2 we will return to in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year.

Following the start of classes, students will work through the fall without the usual October break, and in-person instruction for most classes will end on Nov. 20, about a week ahead of Thanksgiving. The last weeks of classes and final exams will be conducted remotely and the semester will end on Dec. 19. WMU's faculty voted on and approved this fall schedule on Wednesday, June 17. Forgoing fall break and ending in-person instruction early eliminates the public health risk associated with employees and students potentially bringing the novel coronavirus to campus after traveling to disparate communities.

Our community will be back together on campus, but not all classes can feasibly be delivered in person. For instance, this will be true of classes that enroll more than 70 people. WMU is therefore prepared to provide instruction through a number of learning modalities, including in-person, hybrid, asynchronous online, fully synchronous online and partially synchronous online. More information about these modalities will be available closer to the start of fall semester.

A safe campus for all

Our first thought in every decision is for our students’ health and safety. While we’ve made a lot of progress, I know that there remain questions to be answered, especially around how best to promote health and safety. Increasing our precision on these guidelines is among our top priorities in preparation for fall. We are addressing them using the best public health and medical information available.

A safe campus for all will require an all-in commitment. We are taking an approach with two pillars: culture and communication, combined with guidelines and enforcement. They will be designed to create a campus where we all exhibit these four behaviors at all times:

• Masks: Students, faculty and staff wear them indoors if you are not alone.

• Testing and monitoring: Monitor your health, and get tested immediately at the earliest symptoms. Stay home if you are sick. Sindecuse Health Center has rapid-result COVID-19 testing, which offers results on the same day or next day.

• Hygiene: Wash hands frequently and correctly; clean workspaces and high-touch surfaces thoroughly and frequently.

• Social distancing: Try to maintain 6 feet of distance all the time.

Our goal is to build a community culture that supports shared reliance on the practices that will enable us to limit the spread of COVID-19 and remain open for in-person classes. We’re putting policies in place that will make it easy to support this culture and protect students, faculty and staff. We are keeping an eye toward making sure there is equitable enforcement and that we offer appropriate accommodations.

While WMU already has a low ratio of students per faculty (16:1), when you return to campus, you will do so to smaller in-person class sizes while practicing 6 feet of physical distancing, using face coverings and studying in indoor spaces that are maintained using heightened sanitation procedures. Student housing and dining have been planned to promote safety and restrict the size of gatherings. We will provide additional information as we move closer to the fall. In the meantime, you can find updates on our COVID-19 website.

I know that you’ll have more questions about how we are protecting your health and safety, and we are still finalizing policies and procedures. These are our priorities and we are addressing them using the best public health and medical information available. I know that you’ve heard it before, but it is very true that wearing face coverings, social distancing and frequently washing your hands are effective measures for limiting the spread. These are the foundational tools that we are employing to keep everyone safe; but it’s not enough for us to set up these guidelines—it’s incumbent on everyone to use them so that we can protect one another and keep our campus healthy.

Thank you for your patience as we have painstakingly developed our plans and made these decisions. Individuals across our campus have been working diligently to ensure that every effort is focused on protecting your well-being while providing you with an outstanding educational experience.

There's more information to come. At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1, you are invited to take part in a virtual town hall. During this session, we will be sharing additional details about the fall semester. At the appointed day and time, you will be able to access the town hall at wmich.edu/president.

Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you on campus in September.


Edward Montgomery


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