SAGNIAW, MI — Saginaw Valley State University administrators outlined what campus will look like for the fall during its first virtual town hall meeting this week.
During the town hall, President Don Bachand discussed the affects of COVID-19, Midland flooding and the death of George Floyd on the community. Various administrators also explained the affects on COVID-19 on SVSU’s budget, services and plans for the upcoming fall semester.
An “unbelievably different” situation
Bachand kicked off the meeting by acknowledging how “unbelievably different” SVSU has been in the last 90 days since the coronavirus pandemic was first announced. Not only did SVSU have to deal with a pandemic, but the recent 500-year flood in Midland and death of George Floyd both had a “tremendous” impact on the SVSU community.
“We started with a pandemic, followed by a 500-year flood here in Midland,” Bachand said. “We have hundreds of students, friends and employees from SVSU who suffered because of that flood. Then we have the horrific killing of George Floyd three weeks ago, and today we’re entering our 16th day of marches and acknowledgements of that event.”
Earlier in June, Bachand announced that SVSU will launch a diversity and inclusivity task force. Since sending out a letter outlining SVSU’s commitment to its black faculty and students, Bachand said he has received several emails from students and alumni detailing discrimination that had witnessed or experienced at SVSU.
“SVSU can do better. SVSU will do better,” Bachand said. “SVSU’s commitment to equity, inclusion and justice have never been stronger. We are listening, and discrimination of any type will not be tolerated.”
Budget deficits, furloughs and funding sources
Starting March 16, SVSU moved around 900 in-person courses to an online format, Bachand said. The majority of SVSU’s employees began to transition to remote work, and around 150 of SVSU’s roughly 800 employees were furloughed. Around 2,000 students living in dorms moved out early, while approximately 500 chose to stay on campus for the remainder of the winter semester. Students who chose to leave were refunded a total of around $3 million in rebates for housing and meal plans.
Bachand said the state of Michigan saw a nearly $3 billion deficit because of COVID-19 expenses. In a meeting between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office and Michigan’s 15 public universities, state officials said the Michigan is expecting a roughly $6 to $7 billion budget deficit for the next few years.
Since SVSU’s revenue relies 80 percent on student tuition fees with the remaining 20 percent coming from the state, Bachand said SVSU will pursue bridge and transitionary funding to cover COVID-19 related deficits from the federal government and other sources. Federal funding outside of the CARES Act has not been secured yet, but Bachand said SVSU is “still pursuing that avenue.”
Modifications for the fall semester
While working remotely, SVSU formed a COVID-19 Task Force, which consists of Bachand, Provost Deborah Huntley, Vice President of Business Affairs Jim Muladore, General Council President Ellen Crane, H.R. Director Corrie Piotrowski, Interim Executive Director of University Communications J.J. Boehm and Executive in Residence Rob Valentine.
The committee met daily to ensure all employees working from home had the tools they needed to succeed and to help “wind down” operations at SVSU, Bachand said. The committee was split into six teams focusing on different tasks: re-entry, health and safety, facilities and planning, technology, instruction and technology and guidelines, which involved keeping up with the latest executive orders related to COVID-19 and CDC guidelines.
Bachand said he believes it will be easier for SVSU to adapt to social distancing measures in the fall than other public universities since SVSU has smaller class sizes, dorms have private opposed to communal bathrooms and SVSU is more isolated than some larger universities.
A major reason reason SVSU pushed for in-person fall classes was student feedback, according to Bachand. Student evaluations of online leaning indicated a strong preference for in-person opposed to online learning, Bachand said.
“Students said they preferred being in class,” he said. “They wanted access to study groups, mentorship and the more social aspects of college.”
Provost Huntley added that classes will be offered online, as online and in-person hybrids and as face-to-face courses with “significant” modifications. Students and staff will need to wear masks and modify their behaviors and routines to decrease the potential spread of disease.
“Our classrooms will look different. There will be fewer students, spread further apart,” she said. “Technology will be an integral part of all of our courses. PPE use and sanitation will become routine habits for all of us. We need to be ready for whatever disruptions the COVID-19 virus may throw our way.”
Students and staff will also be asked to take a daily self-assessment of COVID-19 symptoms before coming to campus. Capacity modifications will be implemented for classrooms, labs, dining operations, student housing, gathering and study spaces, as well as conference rooms.
Ron Portwine, Associate Vice President for Administration and Business Affairs, said classroom modifications will vary depending on room size and location. Generally, though, most classrooms will hold half or a third of their original capacities. Self-serve food stations will be closed, and more grab and go options are being explored. Student housing modifications are still being evaluated, but SVSU is planning on setting aside some units for COVID-19 isolation centers.
Phase-in return to work plan
H.R. Director Piotrowski said SVSU’s phased approach to returning to physical offices spaces has already begun. Deans and directors returned June 8 to begin workplace planning and prep work for the fall.
Approved workplace plans will be reviewed with staff by June 19, with the first phase of workplace re-entry slated for July 6-20. During these three weeks, certain departments will return to the offices, Zahnow Library will reopen and Starbucks will be available for to-go orders only.
Phase 2 begins July 27, which will see the return of most other offices and services to campus. The Ryder Center and Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum are also expected to reopen during this time. SVSU is expecting to implement staggered shifts for the fall semester to limit the amount of people on campus at any given time, Piotrowski said.
Social distancing and safety campaigns
Throughout campus, SVSU will have signs reminding people to social distance, wash hands frequently and wear masks and other PPE as appropriate. Portwine said social distancing markers will be placed on floors to ensure people stand 6 feet apart in queue lines.
Elevators and stairways will be open for one-way traffic only. Signs will indicate which stairwells and elevators are for going up or down, as well as how many people may occupy the space at a time, Portwine said.
Plexiglass barriers have already been installed in some areas around campus, such as the on-campus convenient store. More will be added to offices, classrooms and checkout or transaction counters as appropriate. Additional hand sanitizing stations will be placed around campus, according to Portwine. SVSU will more closely monitor air quality through an increased focus on ventilation and filtration, Portwine added. Staff will also more frequently sanitize high-touch areas and items, such as doorknobs.
The full town hall meeting is available on YouTube. Two more meetings are scheduled for Thursday, June 18, which will focus on enrollment and budget topics, and Thursday, June 25, which will focus on student experience and instruction. Both meetings are scheduled 1 p.m. and will be available on YouTube later that day. More information can be found on SVSU’s Virtual Town Hall webpage.
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