My, what a year it has been.
No one could have warned 17 year old me when I committed to Michigan that my experience would be so unorthodox, so unlike the golden years about which my alumni parents reminisce. After two and a half semesters of online classes, I was overjoyed that, when President Schlissel released the plans for Fall 2021, they included the promise that at least 80% of classes would be in person. The thought of an almost-normal college semester, when incoming freshmen “can be confident they will be able to live on campus this fall” and when dining halls will allow both in-person and takeout options, is tantalizing.
It feels a bit too good to be true. In some respects, it is: a decision made earlier this month mandates that face masks must still be worn during in-person classes in the fall. While the CDC recently clarified that groups of individuals who are all entirely inoculated can gather without masks, I suppose that the university is going to ignore these guidelines (just as they ignore the CDC and common sense when dealing with COVID-positive students). If the vaccine works, why are we continuing to mask up? If the vaccine doesn’t work, why are we returning to normalcy with in-person education? This seems contradictory.
The university also made some flashy, empty promises about giving current freshmen a “special” semester with “traditional rites of arrival” that they did not get to experience last September. Other than some activities for the LSA Honors Program, I don’t remember anything exciting that the University offered freshmen. I will be excited to see what gimmicks the administration uses to show freshmen that Michigan really is the best. Perhaps the freshmen will simply forget Michigan’s tuition hikes during the pandemic!
Now, some aspects of the previous two semesters actually have merit in life after COVID. Having takeout options from the dining hall, especially when you are on an unlimited meal plan, is something that should remain MDining policy well into the future. I remember countless football Saturdays when I would return absolutely famished after a noon game, only for the dining hall to be closed until five. Takeout options would allow students to eat around their schedule rather than making their schedules conform to traditional meal times because they could bring home extra meals for non-dining hours.
Furthermore, virtual office hours with professors and graduate student instructors (GSIs) have been overwhelmingly helpful. No longer do I need to traverse the musty corridors of West Hall in search of my Astronomy professor’s office or run up and down the stairs in Haven Hall from one political science GSI to another. Nor do those instructors need to leave their homes for two hours twice a week to sit in an office and wait, twiddling their thumbs, for students who may never come. I hope that the university recognizes the benefits of this aspect of virtual learning.
Overall, I am skeptical that the university’s administration will really do as much as they can to promote a “normal” semester. Last fall we were promised some in person classes, including a small Astronomy seminar I enjoyed on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, just to have those classes forced to be virtual as cases increased. Never mind the six foot separation between peers, mask usage, and ample physical distance between students and professors; if the case count rises above some arbitrary number, admin has the right to impose a return to virtual learning. They gave us hope by selling football tickets, only to cancel the season shortly after the purchasing window closed. They raised tuition for most socioeconomic groups during a period of mass layoffs, furloughs, and economic pain.
So, pardon me for having trust issues regarding the upcoming semester. It’s been a helluva ride this far.