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Open letter asks U of M to delay return to campus after holiday break

Some University of Michigan faculty and students are petitioning the school to delay returning to in-person classes immediately after the holiday break.

An open letter to U of M President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins encourages them to “reconsider our plans for the winter semester,” citing the threat of the Omicron variant.

“It seems clear that bringing students, faculty, and staff back to campus directly after a week of holiday activities that typically include numerous gatherings of friends and relatives and often take place in crowded venues is a recipe for a major COVID outbreak in the first week or two of classes,” the letter reads.

“The Omicron variant is already sweeping the nation, and doubtless will pick up speed post-holidays. We would like to see UM respond proactively by making some adjustments to the Winter term in advance rather than after a major outbreak has occurred.”

The letter goes on to say that the university could handle the situation in several ways: either by shifting the winter semester forward or consolidating the schedule within the remaining time frame, or by holding classes online temporarily. It also encourages the university to allow instructors to decide whether they want to teach virtually or in-person, and to provide additional break time to support mental health.

As of Thursday, more than 1,000 students and faculty had signed the letter. But at least so far, university officials do not appear inclined to make such changes.

U of M officials point to improved COVID protocols that will be in place once students return from the holiday break. They include “increased testing expectations,” including a requirement for all students living in residence halls to test upon returning from break, requiring face coverings in residence hall common areas, regardless of vaccination status, and requiring all faculty, staff and students to get vaccine booster shots by Feb. 4.

Some Michigan universities, including Oakland University and Wayne State University, have announced that they will begin most classes online in January due to the COVID situation.

Editor's note: U of M holds Michigan Radio's license.

Copyright 2021 Michigan Radio

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October, 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit. Before her arrival at Michigan Radio, Sarah worked at WDET-FM as a reporter and producer.