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Coming back to campus: NMU board learns about plans, protocols in place

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees on Thursday focused on students’ return to campus for the upcoming academic year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

NMU President Fritz Erickson spoke prior to the board meeting, where the main topic of discussion was Northern’s Passport to Campus.

Classes will start early this year, on Aug. 17, so students don’t have to risk their safety by traveling home for Thanksgiving break and then having to travel back to campus to finish the semester, officials said. The semester will conclude shortly before Thanksgiving.

Erickson said students are set to move in the week of Aug. 10 and undergo COVID-19 testing as well as other precautionary protocols.

That’s where the Passport program comes in.

“The Passport to Campus is how students come back,” Erickson said.

The process begins with students coming to the Northern Center, where their temperatures will be taken and COVID-19 tests will be administered, Erickson said.

Following that procedure, students will receive their room keys, laptop and parking pass.

“Everything’s all consolidated to be able to really get them all set up to start with classes,” Erickson said.

He noted some students are coming back for face-to-face instruction while others will use online instruction.

Erickson estimated that about 85% of NMU classes will be some form of face-to-face instruction.

“We’ve got this amazingly creative faculty,” Erickson said. “Some faculty are using their face-to-face class time as they normally would, but also Zoom it for anybody that needs to stay away from class.”

Other faculty members, he said, record their lectures and use classroom time for small-group discussion.

“A lot depends on the kind of class that they’re doing and how the faculty feel that they can meet the needs of the students in the best possible way,” Erickson said.

NMU said social distancing and Plexiglas are to be used in each classroom.

“Our larger classrooms are actually holding our smaller classes because that allows them to operate that way, so we’re very confident that our students in classes will be able to social distance,” Erickson said.

He also expressed confidence that students would be able to move safely through buildings.

He was particularly confident about one aspect of the Passport process.

“We think the one thing that’s really going to give us a great foundation is the testing to begin with,” Erickson said.

If anybody has tested positive, has been exposed or needs to be isolated, that individual will be set up at Spalding Hall, he added.

Erickson stressed the COVID-19 situation will require constant vigilance.

“We think we have most things covered, but you know, we’re going to monitor this on a daily and hourly basis,” Erickson said.

Only one student has tested positive so far for the virus during the pandemic.

“That’s being handled appropriately,” he said. “We’re very pleased that all of the process and protocols in place were able to go into effect.”

Erickson, though, acknowledged parents still might have some concerns about the upcoming school year.

However, he said the number of COVID-19 cases in the Upper Peninsula is “relatively” low, pointing out that the total number of cases since the outbreak is less than one day’s worth of cases in many counties in southeast Michigan.

“Even if a student comes down with COVID, our medical staff is ready,” Erickson said. “We’re prepared, and we think the safest thing for our students to do is come and stay. We’ve got all the protocols in place for that.”

Trustees heard a presentation from Col. Dave Adams, a consultant with extensive experience in national preparedness and resilience planning, global health security and biodefense policy.

Adams helped the university develop an NMU Action Plan for the fall semester.

He presented that plan and discussed finalizing the trigger measurements that will be regularly monitored to assist in decision-making as trends change regarding COVID-19 infection rates in the Marquette area and on campus.

Trustees also received an update from the NMU COVID-19 Task Force on preparations for the return to campus. They provided the opportunity for public feedback afterward.

Topics included testing, sanitizing, social distancing and mask requirements, personal protection equipment, classroom reconfiguration/barriers and information technology logistical support.

Co-chairing the task force are Cindy Paavola, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives, and Mike Bath, chief of police/director-safety services with the NMU Police Department.

“President Erickson and his team have done an outstanding job preparing for fall classes,” board Chairman Steve Mitchell said in a news release. “Testing of all staff, faculty and students, coupled with tracing and provisions for quarantining, will allow us to open as safely as possible with face-to-face, in-person instruction. Everyone really stepped up to the plate and worked hard to make this happen.”

The board also approved a one-year contract for the NMU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which was previously ratified by the union.

The contract freezes faculty salaries for one year and gives the university administration the ability to impose one furlough day each month, if necessary, according to an earlier press release by AAUP President Dwight Brady.

The contract also calls for reductions to overload pay and compensation for teaching summer courses.

In the release, Brady said that the contract “meets our primary objective of shared sacrifice in short-term concessions, while minimizing long-term harm to our members.”

In other action at Thursday’s meeting, the board:

≤ Approved an ad hoc committee recommendation to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day and promote relevant programming on the second Monday of October each year.

≤ Approved revisions to the interim relationship violence, sexual misconduct and stalking policy, formerly called the sexual misconduct policy, in advance of the U.S. Department of Education regulations that go into effect Aug. 14. An ad hoc committee chaired by Trustee Alexis Hart will continue to review and clarify the recently released USDE regulations pertaining to these topics; and

≤ Approved revisions to the NMU Student Handbook, which is routinely reviewed every two years.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the NMU Board of Trustees will be Sept. 24-25.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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