On the Path to Normalcy: Making the Right Call to Begin Term in Person

Like Santa Claus, President Schlissel delivered for students at the University of Michigan after a series of dueling petitions surfaced debating whether or not to move class online for the first two weeks due to “coronavirus concerns.”  Schlissel declared that the University will stick with its plans for in-person learning, siding with over 700 students and faculty members signed an open letter about the start to the Winter 2022 semester. This petition was crafted in response to an earlier  letter, signed by about 800 people, to Schlissel asking to make all classes virtual for the first two weeks of the term, compounding the current restrictions on campus life due to the coronavirus pandemic.  The counterpetition addresses an important issue in both university and government handling of the pandemic: at what point does listening to science become subservient to virtue-signalling and fear mongering?

The letter promotes “the student body’s support for the university’s current plans for the winter term, which includes in-person learning and no amendments to the academic calendar.” Rather than predicting an apocalyptic future with the spread of the Omicron variant, as is done in the initial letter, this response acknowledges that the mask and booster vaccination mandates do the most that is possible to curb the spread without impeding on educational quality and lesson planning. 98% of students and 98% of faculty are vaccinated against COVID-19; in addition, booster shots are required of all members of the Michigan community by Feb 4, 2021. This protection against COVID proves scientifically and medically sufficient behavior by the University to control viral spread. 

“The last year of my online education felt like banging my head against the wall to just figure out how to represent my needs as a student.”

The counterpetition avoids arguments surrounding the infringement to personal medical liberty with vaccine requirements, something that the libertarian (and, to some extent, GOP) communities drowned themselves in for over two years. Instead, the letter’s authors and signatories simply ask for University administration to stick with their initial plans that were crafted after studying the science and transmissibility of COVID. “The student body is willing to endure mask mandates and booster requirements if the university is willing to continue delivering high-quality, in-person education,” the open response claims. Because of the scientifically sound nature of this reasonable request, the University quickly shut down the initial petition.   

Michigan’s administration finally made a reasonable call regarding the coronavirus, a disease whose strains are decaying in severity as time goes on. If the school were to transition to online learning for the first two weeks and see no improvement in case numbers, it might fall back into the deleterious policy of mandatory online learning for the entire term. A snap decision to move classes back online would affect different groups of students differently: WiFi accessibility, laboratory courses, and special needs are all factors to consider before online learning can be ruled as the “better” option for the semester. 

One anonymous signatory voiced concerns about a last-minute call to move classes online, either for two weeks or for the entire semester, for students who have special mental, physical, or educational needs. “Online learning was harmful to my mental health and learning as professors don’t know how to provide attention to those with special needs,” the student articulated. “Whereas I was a straight A student with in-person learning, the last year of my online education felt like banging my head against the wall to just figure out how to represent my needs as a student and find any motivation to continue learning. There were so many barriers online and no one who knew how to help.” Schlissel and the rest of the administration are prioritizing education. 

Michigan’s administration finally made a reasonable call regarding the coronavirus, a disease whose strains are decaying in severity as time goes on.”

Online learning would not stop the transmission of Omicron when masking is required on top of booster shots. Social engagements and average life activities will result in community spread, something that transitioning online would not control. The university has listened to the science, deftly ignoring the fear mongering of certain students and professors about the spread of Omicron. The school’s justification for maintaining in-person learning stems from the knowledge thatin recent semesters we’ve learned that students return to Ann Arbor in conjunction with the start of any new term whether classes are primarily online or in person,” as Schlissel writes in his announcement. Students may or may not contract the virus, but they chose Michigan for its educational capacity as the best public school in the nation; not for its ability to act as a public sanitation department.  

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About Lindsay Keiser

Lindsay Keiser is a junior studying political science and astronomy. She also serves as the editor in chief of the Michigan Journal of Political Science and writes for Young Voices. In her free time, she enjoys lifting weights and participating in her sorority.