After a ‘Covid Semester,’ the University of Michigan Gets Tougher on the Virus

Dr. Schlissel still talks about testing as just one key tool in a combination of actions necessary to control the virus, but he has come around, he said, to seeing its importance in “reassuring” the community. When classes resume in 2021, the university will de-densify the dorms and ramp up testing. Only about 3,000 students will be allowed back into university housing, and anyone who comes onto campus, symptomatic or not, will have to be cleared via a saliva-based test processed by a faculty-founded start-up in Ann Arbor.

“If they don’t,” Dr. Schlissel said, “we’ll inactivate their ID cards.”

The retrenchment has pleased faculty but upset undergraduates and their parents. More than 1,500 angry parents have signed a petition protesting the short notice with which the university canceled spring housing contracts. If the university doesn’t “reverse its drastic decision to close the dorms,” it says, the parents want a discount.

“He should say, ‘Listen, we screwed up,’ and apologize to all of us,” said Amy Tara Koch, a Chicago writer and Michigan alumna whose daughter, a freshman, scrambled last week to find an apartment for the spring in Ann Arbor. “And then give a tuition abatement. Out-of-state tuition there is, like, $50,000.”

The disappointment has been particularly keen, other parents said, because Michigan’s reputation for academic excellence had led them to expect a state-of-the-art response to the crisis.

“It’s all too little, too late,” said Sherry Levine, a teacher from Rye Brook, N.Y., whose son, a junior, lives in a fraternity house in Ann Arbor, and who feels the university’s pandemic response all year has been merely “reactive.”

Dr. Schlissel said the university had refunded housing deposits for the spring, offered lower double-room rates to students who’ll spend the spring in a single and already “apologized profusely.” And, he noted, not all of the fall semester lessons were negative.

“Students continued in their studies, they’ll get credit for the semester, they’re going to head toward being Michigan graduates and they’re doing so in an environment that is really challenging,” he said. “Everyone is doing their best.”

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