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NMU president presents update on recent events

Fritz Erickson, president, Northern Michigan University

MARQUETTE — It’s definitely been a challenging year for Northern Michigan University.

President Fritz Erickson shared his thoughts on the past 2020-21 academic year during Wednesday’s “Northern Now: Fireside with Fritz: A Conversation with President Erickson,” an online event sponsored by NMU Alumni Relations.

In the “fireside chat,” Erickson updated alumni on what’s been happening on campus in recent months.

Understandably, he started the talk with a COVID-19 update.

“As we all know, college is a learning experience, and COVID has sure provided the learning experience for everyone at Northern, and probably most of all, me,” Erickson said.

He credited the NMU leadership team, faculty and staff for adapting to the pandemic.

Other than a brief period when state government officials mandated class closure, Erickson noted that NMU stayed open, with the “vast majority” of classes offered in a face-to-face format.

“One of the others I would say that we learned — and this is particularly important — we learned that our students want to be face to face, and that’s really the central piece that’s guiding us.”

He also pointed out that COVID-19 numbers were low for the year following protocols that include mask wearing and other measures.

“We were vigilant,” Erickson said.

The most recent update at the university’s reporting dashboard at https://nmu.edu/safe-on-campus/dashboard, showing numbers from July 27 through May 2, indicated 441 positive cases on campus for a 3.13% positivity rate. These numbers included 222 off-campus students, 175 on-campus students and 44 employees.

Erickson also expressed hope that faculty, staff and students will get vaccinated.

“We’re asking folks to submit their vaccination cards so that we can have a count on what percentage we have and we can get to that number that the state has come out with, of 70%,” he said. “That will help us immensely.”

Under the state’s Vacc to Normal plan, the goal is the vaccination of at least 70% of Michiganders, which would lift the Gatherings and Face Masks Order so the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will no longer employ broad mitigation measures unless unanticipated circumstances arise, such as the spread of vaccine-resistant variants.

Campus activities

addressed

Erickson discussed a number of other issues as well.

“I’m really happy to report that the increase for housing for next year will be zero,” Erickson said.

The NMU Board of Trustees in April approved a recommendation that there be no increase in the standard room and board rate for a traditional residence hall for the 2021-22 academic year.

The combined cost of a double-occupancy room and base meal plan will remain at $5,396 per semester in the traditional halls. The rate for the same package in the newer housing complex called The Woods will be $5,825 per semester, an increase of 0.2% or $12.

During Wednesday’s talk, Erickson said NMU received $20 million in capital outlay to renovate the Jacobetti Complex, with renovations going on this year and in 2022 to serve the university’s career and technical programs.

“It’s not enough to take a building and make it pretty again or fix the AC or all of those kinds of things,” Erickson said. “The reality is: What will we do to rethink how we teach career and technical education? There’s some pretty cool and exciting things on the forefront.”

Erickson pointed out that COVID-19 restrictions required a virtual spring graduation ceremony earlier this month, although a stage was set up in the Superior Dome a few days ahead of the ceremony to allow graduates and their families to sit on the stage and take photos.

Any graduate unable to go through a face-to-face commencement, he said, is welcome to attend any commencement.

“You want to come back? I’m pretty sure the odds are in our favor that come December, we’re going to be back in there doing a face-to-face one, and certainly in May of 2022, we’ll be doing it,” Erickson said. “Please come back. We would be delighted to not only have you but to truly recognize you.”

Erickson also talked about the possibility of a future ice skating/river pond on campus.

Is that still in the plans?

“Sometimes reality strikes,” Erickson said. “I thought we were going to do this. I’m not giving up yet. I thought we had the right spot for it, but then, topographical maps didn’t quite work as we had hoped that they would but I’m not giving up quite yet. I think there are ways that we can do some things like that.”

However, he said NMU needs to create “unique things” like a skating pond.

One amenity that’s already happened, Erickson noted, is the addition of a liquor license that allows beer being offered in the Wildcat Den.

“We did that because we have students that are also a little bit older, and they wanted a social place on campus,” said Erickson, who noted that faculty also believed the Wildcat Den was a suitable spot for alcohol.

Erickson said he wants to add on-campus apartments, acknowledging the possibility of tearing down apartments along Center Street and Lincoln Avenue and building new ones.

He also expressed interest in developing “a different kind of” housing for new faculty and staff, for example.

“We’re really having a lot of discussions about, gee, what could we do? Ask me next year and maybe I’ll have a little more substance to the answer.

“But it’s something I think we should do,” Erickson said.

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

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