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  • June 22, 2020, Update: President's message to students and families regarding the fall 2020 semester

    Dear WMU students and families,

    After a great deal of planning, we are very pleased to let you know that on Sept. 2 we will return to in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year.

    Following the start of classes, students will work through the fall without the usual October break, and in-person instruction for most classes will end on Nov. 20, about a week ahead of Thanksgiving. The last weeks of classes and final exams will be conducted remotely and the semester will end on Dec. 19. WMU's faculty voted on and approved this fall schedule on Wednesday, June 17. Forgoing fall break and ending in-person instruction early eliminates the public health risk associated with employees and students potentially bringing the novel coronavirus to campus after traveling to disparate communities.

    Our community will be back together on campus, but not all classes can feasibly be delivered in person. For instance, this will be true of classes that enroll more than 70 people. WMU is therefore prepared to provide instruction through a number of learning modalities, including in-person, hybrid, asynchronous online, fully synchronous online and partially synchronous online. More information about these modalities will be available closer to the start of fall semester.

    A safe campus for all
    Our first thought in every decision is for our students’ health and safety. While we’ve made a lot of progress, I know that there remain questions to be answered, especially around how best to promote health and safety. Increasing our precision on these guidelines is among our top priorities in preparation for fall. We are addressing them using the best public health and medical information available.

    A safe campus for all will require an all-in commitment. We are taking an approach with two pillars: culture and communication, combined with guidelines and enforcement. They will be designed to create a campus where we all exhibit these four behaviors at all times:

    • Masks: Students, faculty and staff wear them indoors if you are not alone.

    • Testing and monitoring: Monitor your health, and get tested immediately at the earliest symptoms. Stay home if you are sick. Sindecuse Health Center has rapid-result COVID-19 testing, which offers results on the same day or next day.

    • Hygiene: Wash hands frequently and correctly; clean workspaces and high-touch surfaces thoroughly and frequently.

    • Social distancing: Try to maintain 6 feet of distance all the time.


    Our goal is to build a community culture that supports shared reliance on the practices that will enable us to limit the spread of COVID-19 and remain open for in-person classes. We’re putting policies in place that will make it easy to support this culture and protect students, faculty and staff. We are keeping an eye toward making sure there is equitable enforcement and that we offer appropriate accommodations.

    While WMU already has a low ratio of students per faculty (16:1), when you return to campus, you will do so to smaller in-person class sizes while practicing 6 feet of physical distancing, using face coverings and studying in indoor spaces that are maintained using heightened sanitation procedures. Student housing and dining have been planned to promote safety and restrict the size of gatherings. We will provide additional information as we move closer to the fall. In the meantime, you can find updates on our COVID-19 website.

    I know that you’ll have more questions about how we are protecting your health and safety, and we are still finalizing policies and procedures. These are our priorities and we are addressing them using the best public health and medical information available. I know that you’ve heard it before, but it is very true that wearing face coverings, social distancing and frequently washing your hands are effective measures for limiting the spread. These are the foundational tools that we are employing to keep everyone safe; but it’s not enough for us to set up these guidelines—it’s incumbent on everyone to use them so that we can protect one another and keep our campus healthy.

    Thank you for your patience as we have painstakingly developed our plans and made these decisions. Individuals across our campus have been working diligently to ensure that every effort is focused on protecting your well-being while providing you with an outstanding educational experience.

    There's more information to come. At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1, you are invited to take part in a virtual town hall. During this session, we will be sharing additional details about the fall semester. At the appointed day and time, you will be able to access the town hall at wmich.edu/president.

    Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you on campus in September.

    Sincerely,

    Edward Montgomery
    President




  • June 22, 2020, Update: President's message to employees regarding the fall 2020 semester

    Dear colleagues,

    During the town hall session on Monday, June 15, we announced that we will be resuming in-person classes on Sept. 2. Today, I have further details on the timing and process behind our preparations for our upcoming transition to the fall semester and additional aspects of our University operations. Please also see the FAQs generated by last Monday's town hall, covering topics or issues you raised ranging from mask-wearing requirements for campus community members to personnel updates.

    Fall academic calendar
    Students will work through the fall without the usual October break, and in-person instruction for most classes will end on Nov. 20, about a week ahead of Thanksgiving. The last weeks of classes and final exams will be conducted remotely and the semester will conclude Dec. 19. Forgoing fall break and ending in-person instruction early eliminates the public health risk associated with employees and students potentially bringing the novel coronavirus to campus after traveling to disparate communities.

    As Provost Bott shared in last week’s Academic Forum and today in her town hall, our community will be back together on campus for in-person classes. But not all classes can feasibly be delivered in person. For instance, this will be true of classes that enroll more than 70 people. Working with their department chairs/directors and deans, faculty members may determine it is appropriate to provide instruction through a number of learning modalities including in-person, hybrid, asynchronous online, fully synchronous online and partially synchronous online.

    My thanks to the numerous faculty and staff who have worked to make this updated schedule happen, including the members of our Fall Contingency Task Force and the COVID-19 Response Coordination Team, along with great collaboration from WMU-AAUP and the Faculty Senate.

    A safe campus for all
    While we’ve made a lot of progress, I know that there remain questions to be answered, especially around how to best promote health and safety. Increasing our precision on these guidelines is among our top priorities in preparation for fall. We are addressing them using the best public health and medical information available.

    A safe campus for all will require an all-in commitment. We are taking an approach with two pillars: culture and communication, combined with guidelines and enforcement. They will be designed to create a campus where we all exhibit these four behaviors at all times:

    •    Masks: Students, faculty and staff wear them indoors if you are not alone.

    •    Testing and monitoring: Fill out the online health screening questionnaire found in GoWMU before coming to campus each day, and get tested immediately at the earliest symptoms. Stay home if you are sick. Sindecuse Health Center has rapid-result COVID-19 testing, which offers results on the same day or next day.

    •    Hygiene: Wash hands frequently and correctly; clean workspaces and high-touch surfaces thoroughly and frequently.

    •    Social distancing: Try to maintain six feet of distance all the time.


    Our goal is to build a community culture that supports shared reliance on the practices that will enable us to limit the spread of COVID-19 and remain open for in-person classes. We’re putting policies in place that will make it easy to support this culture and protect students, faculty and staff. We are keeping an eye toward making sure there is equitable enforcement and that we offer appropriate accommodations.

    While WMU already has a low ratio of students per faculty (16:1), when students return to campus, they will do so to smaller in-person class sizes while practicing 6 feet of physical distancing, using face coverings and studying in spaces that are maintained using heightened sanitation procedures. Student housing and dining have been planned to promote safety and restrict the size of gatherings. We will provide additional information as we move closer to the fall. In the meantime, you can find updates on our newly revamped COVID-19 information site.

    Return to campus
    When it comes to returning to work on campus, each unit is putting together return-to-work plans and University leaders are assessing which buildings will and will not be open this fall. Keeping buildings hibernated is essential to addressing our financial challenges.

    Although we will work remotely whenever possible, the needed preparations for fall return and the adaptations departments have made to accommodate remote work have supplanted the need for limited work schedules. Therefore, essential/conditional essential employment status for SCS staff will end on July 1. But employees should consult with their supervisors on how and where they will continue their work through the summer and into the fall. I want to emphasize that working remotely is still encouraged whenever it is feasible. We remain in Limited Operation Status and are continuing to consult with state and federal leaders and follow public health and safety guidelines.

    Reduction in Force notices nearly complete
    As we announced in May, the budgetary challenges brought on by the global pandemic have forced us to make some difficult decisions with regard to operations and staffing. Every part of the University was impacted and the choices before us were gut-wrenching. We have tried to approach each of these decisions with the utmost care and compassion.

    As part of addressing the anticipated budgetary shortfall, staff who will be affected should receive their layoff notices by July 1, as we move forward with planning to address the anticipated shortfall. The Reduction in Force process will now move into the bumping process, as required in the RIF Policy. However, we are likely to remain in a period of fluidity as units move through their reduction plans and more in-person operations resume on campus. For example, the bumping process still must be completed and some previously laid-off employees, such as maintenance workers, are being recalled. Moreover, final fall enrollment numbers are still unknown, state funding is in flux and the results of the faculty early retirement program are yet unknown. We should also keep in mind that the disease has not run its course, so there may yet be more government restrictions or actions.

    As we methodically work toward the "new normal" operation status on campus, I wish that I could tell you that our greatest challenges are behind us and that we are not facing further pandemic-induced stresses on our campus, but that would be disingenuous. Instead, I’ll tell you that I know that we can face whatever lies ahead because of the talent, the caring and the dedication of those in the WMU community. Thank you for everything that you are doing for our students and for each other in the face of ongoing uncertainty.

    Sincerely,

    Edward Montgomery
    President


  • June 1, 2020, Update: WMU remains on Limited Operations as governor lifts some stay-at-home restrictions

    Dear colleagues:

    Today, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer loosened some of Michigan's stay-at-home restrictions, but there are still significant limitations in place as part of the state's COVID-19 response. For example, while the governor's updated directives now permit outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people practicing social distancing, office work capable of being performed remotely must continue to be performed remotely to the maximum extent possible.

    WMU's campus remains on Limited Operations Status. President Montgomery communicated in a previous message that the University's restoration to normal operations would come in stages to ensure we have the appropriate and required public health protections in place, in compliance with government directives and campus safety. Thus, WMU employees will continue to work remotely until otherwise notified by their supervisors. Access to campus remains restricted to certain essential work only, and building access remains limited to those who have approval to return to authorized essential activities.  

    Several units have begun developing return-to-work plans that specify safety procedures and other processes that ensure appropriate and compliant measures are in place to protect public health. They are being reviewed for approval by the COVID-19 Response Coordination Team, in consultation with the Kalamazoo County Health Department and, ultimately, the President's Cabinet. While some requests have been submitted, reviewed and approved, most offices remain closed with work assignments being completed remotely. All University operations must be approved before restarting.

    In instances where a building remains closed or a supervisor directs employees to fulfill work assignments remotely, full-time, benefits-eligible SCS staff may continue to use available COVID-19 allowance balances in the absence of a work assignment.
     
    Later this week, we will be communicating more information to University leaders who oversee their operations and provide more guidance for developing and submitting plans.


    Thank you,

    Kara Wood
    Associate Vice President for Community Partnerships
    COVID-19 Response Coordination Team chair

    Gayle Ruggiero, M.D.
    Medical Director
    COVID-19 Response Coordination Team co-chair

    Lt. Andrew Bachmann
    WMU Department of Public Safety, Emergency Management
    COVID-19 Response Coordination Team co-chair

  • May 28, 2020, Update: Sindecuse now offers rapid-result COVID-19 testing

    Dear WMU community,

    Rapid-result COVID-19 testing is now available at Sindecuse Health Center, one of the few sites in Kalamazoo County with this capability. Results are typically available on the same day and will be posted in the center's patient portal. Patients may also call Sindecuse to learn test results by phone.

    Currently, testing is available to WMU students, faculty, staff and eligible retirees. At this time, we will prioritize symptomatic individuals, as well as faculty and staff working on campus in areas such as, for example, Dining Services, the Department of Public Safety, Facilities Management, Residence Life and Sindecuse.

    To schedule an appointment at the center, call (269) 387-3287.

    Testing procedures
    If you have active COVID-19 symptoms, have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, or if you previously tested positive and have become symptomatic again, call to schedule a telehealth appointment for further instructions for in-person testing. Telehealth visits are covered by many insurance providers.
     
    If you do not have symptoms, call to schedule a nursing appointment to discuss in-person testing. Insurance may not cover testing that is not determined to be medically necessary. If you have questions about coverage, consult your insurance provider.
     
    As a reminder, COVID-19 symptoms may include a dry cough, shortness of breath, fever, lessened sense of taste or smell, gastrointestinal issues, headache, chills, muscle pain or sore throat.

    After a positive result
    Testing that indicates a positive case of COVID-19 will be accompanied by contact tracing to determine and notify those who may have been exposed to the ill individual. If the patient lives in Kalamazoo County, Sindecuse staff will work with the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department to assess the patient's close contacts. If the individual lives in another county, that community's agencies will be notified to carry out the necessary contact tracing.

    For more information about rapid-result COVID-19 testing at Sindecuse, including cost and payment procedures, visit wmich.edu/healthcenter/clinic/covid-19/covid-testing.

    We are here for your health needs, and same-day or next-day appointments are typically available. We strive to serve all WMU students, regardless of whether or not they have insurance; anyone in need of care should call for help.

    Thank you,

    Gayle Ruggiero, M.D.
    Medical Director
    Sindecuse Health Center