SVSU facing ‘unprecedented challenges’ amid COVID-19

SVSU announced Wednesday, March 11 that in-person classes will morph into online courses from Monday, March 16 to at least Friday, April 17.

The decision came after Gov. Whitmer declared a state of emergency over COVID-19, or the coronavirus, on Tuesday, March 10, when Michigan saw its first two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Metro Detroit. A day later, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic, or a global outbreak of a disease.

What is COVID-19?

The coronavirus is a respiratory infection that can cause serious illness or even death. Symptoms include coughing, fever and shortness of breath. The CDC recommends suspending unnecessary social interactions to avoid further spreading the virus. This recommendation has led to several universities suspending in-person classes.

According to the CDC, the current strain of coronavirus is a previously unknown one that can cause serious illness or even death. It is a respiratory infection that is most dangerous to certain demographics, especially those with pre-existing
medical conditions or older adults.

Deciding to go online

Each of Michigan’s 15 public universities and many of its private universities have opted to switch to online-only classes. J.J. Boehm, interim executive director of University Communications, said SVSU opted to cancel until April 17 so students could potentially come back for at least a week before finals.

“If health protocols dictate it is safe to resume in-person instruction at that time, that may allow for a more orderly conclusion to the semester,” he said. “By the same token, if the guidance is that we need to continue to take measures to minimize large gatherings, we may extend it beyond that.”

Professors are expected to contact students by Wednesday, March 18, to explain to students how to expect their remote classwork to be delivered. A March 11 email from University Communications stated that the university is “continuing to work with faculty and staff on laboratory and performance classes.”

“We are working diligently to work through those specialized academic concerns for classes with labs, senior design or things of that nature that have very specific requirements,” Boehm said. “We will be working with faculty and the deans to come up with guidance for students and professors in those unique situations.”

Dining and residential halls

Boehm said SVSU will keep residential halls and most dining options open.

“Our plan at this time is that residence halls and campus dining will remain open,” he said. “We are going to make some adjustments with campus dining to make some more ‘grab and go’ options and take other steps to reduce communal dining, but our residence halls and campus dining will remain open at this time.”

On March 13, SVSU announced that the Doan would be renovated by March 16 to abide by the CDC’s goal of having one person per table or having each person six feet apart. All Doan stations will be converted to full service, and take out containers will be available for those who do not want to stay at the Doan.

On weekdays, the Doan will be open 8 a.m. 10 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and 5 pm. to 8 p.m. for dinner. On Saturday and Sunday, the Doan will be open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Panda Express, Subway, Starbucks and the C-Store will also have shortened hours. All other dining locations will be closed.

Sports and recreation

All university-sponsored international travel will be canceled effectively immediately until at least June 30. SVSU-sponsored domestic travel by faculty, staff and students is strongly discouraged.

Athletic Director John Decker said sports that were traveling for the season have returned home. The NCAA and GLIAC have both canceled all athletic related activity until May 31. He said this includes games and practices.

Aaron Mowen, director of Campus Recreation Programs, said club and intramural sports have also been canceled. As of March 13, volleyball and cheer still had out of state tournaments that had not been canceled. Mowen said it is expected that they soon will be, and, if they are not, SVSU will most likely not permit them to attend.

A March 13 email from the Ryder Center stated that fitness and pool hours have also changed. Ryder will be open 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Some equipment has been moved, and other equipment has been closed off to allow social distancing.

Academic and student support, business operations, residential halls and dining services will remain open.

RSOs and SVSU-sponsored events

As of this publication, current CDC guidelines suggest that any public gatherings with crowds of 50 or more people should be canceled or postponed. As such, SVSU announced March 12 that all SVSU- sponsored events with an anticipated crowd of 50 or more have been canceled until April 17.

As of this publication, SVSU has not canceled or postponed May commencement.

“The guidance we are receiving from local, state and federal agencies is changing almost daily,” Boehm said. “So, we want to be mindful of that, particularly with something as important to students and families as commencement. We would want to hold that ceremony if at all possible in whatever way possible. We have some time before we make our final decisions.”

Boehm said RSOs that have fewer than 50 members are also able to still meet at the discretion of the RSO.

“Based on my understanding, (RSOs) would be a small gathering,” he said. “Make sure you’re practicing good hygiene and following those proper precautions that we all should be doing. At this time, those would not be canceled. This is a rapidly changing environment, so we may issue new guidelines with relatively little notice. But right now, RSO meetings and things of that nature can continue.”

Student workers

Boehm said student workers can choose whether or not they feel comfortable coming to work at this point.

“For the remainder of this (semester), if you are a student employee, you are certainly welcome to come in,” he said. “… If they feel uncomfortable coming in for an advising appointment or a student job, they should notify their supervisor. We want students to feel empowered to make their own decisions regarding their health and welfare.”

Refunds and updates

On March 13, Provost Deborah Huntley said SVSU is currently not offering refunds for housing, declining balance or meal plans.

Updates will be forthcoming on the issue as necessary. Huntley also said the last day to withdraw from a course with a “W” will be extended until the week before finals.

“We understand that the necessary transition to online or remote instruction may prove challenging for some students,” she said. “We have extended the date to withdraw with a ‘W’ grade through the final day of classes, Friday, April 24.”

On-campus services

Huntley’s March 13 email states, “Students planning to register for upcoming terms should know that Academic Advising has made arrangements to be able to hold advising appointments via Microsoft Teams or by phone, as well as in person for the time being.”

The email goes on to note that on-campus computer labs will remain open. SVSU suggests students practice social distancing while in the labs, and signs reminding students of social distancing will be posted in the labs.

Future updates

Updates can be found via University Communications emails sent to students’ SVSU email. Students can also call a campus hotline at 989-964-2110. Someone will be available to talk from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Huntley stated in the email that SVSU still expects classes to resume in-person April 20.

She said SVSU is facing “unprecedented challenges,” and she hopes students and faculty come together and help each other during this transition. Boehm said he encourages students to reach out to SVSU administration or other appropriate channels as the switch to online courses begins.

“I hope students know that we really do have their best interests in mind here,” he said. “We’re trying to balance their legitimate desire to meet their academic requirements, which I have seen in some of the questions online, while also being sure we are mindful of their health and welfare. So, we are trying to balance those two things, among other factors. We really do want to work with students and, if students have specific questions, contact their instructor if they have specific concerns. Share that with the appropriate SVSU staff member or work with (Student Association), who can certainly route those to the appropriate administrators. We want student voices to be heard as part of this process.”

Kaitlyn Farley

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