Updates from campus community on online start to winter semester

The+winter+semester+is+set+to+begin+with+all+online+instruction+for+the+majority+of+OU+students.

Noora Neiroukh

The winter semester is set to begin with all online instruction for the majority of OU students.

Jeff Thomas, Editor-in-Chief

In response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz announced on Dec. 21 that the first two weeks (Jan. 5 to Jan. 18) of the winter semester will be taught remotely with the exception of some “labs, lab-based research and field experiences.”

The press release at the time elaborated on the decision saying, “With the risks posed by the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, and with so many of the campus community members traveling over the holidays, this is a prudent approach to begin the winter semester in a remote learning environment. This two week period also allows for quarantine time for any students who might have been exposed to COVID-19 over the break.”

With classes slated to begin this Wednesday, here’s the updates we’ve received about the online start of the semester since Pescovitz’s plan was first laid out.

The university followed up on this initial announcement Dec. 22 with a campus communication email from Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Britt Rios-Ellis and Senior Vice President for Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Glenn McIntosh

This email reiterated much of the initial announcement, however did add the following: “All campus community members are strongly encouraged to get fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus if not already, as well as to receive booster shots as advised by the CDC. All other infection prevention expectations in place for students, faculty and staff will be maintained.”

Oakland University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (OU AAUP) leadership has sent communications to all of their members encouraging correspondence with students about the shift to online prior to the beginning of the winter semester. 

While the union supports the move to online, there are concerns due to when the university’s announcement was made and the start of the semester being so close to the holidays, that some of this correspondence about the shift to online may have fallen through.

“I am concerned that there are some students [and faculty] who are not aware that we’ve gone to online,” OU AAUP President and Associate Professor of History Karen Miller said. “We have contacted all of our bargaining unit faculty members … We’ve put it out on social media. We are encouraging our faculty to contact their students. I know department chairs have been encouraged to contact their students … I don’t know what’s gonna happen on Wednesday … I’m a little nervous that there are going to be upset students who come to campus thinking they’re going to have face to face instruction, and don’t get it.”

Students who haven’t heard from their professors are encouraged to reach out to them via email for clarification on plans for the start of the semester.

For student workers on campus, remote work is not required at this time.

“There is no mandate for student employees to work remotely during this time period,” Associate Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Jessie Hurse said. “This matter is a departmental decision that would be made by supervisors of each student employee. Please consult with your supervisor for more clarity regarding the expectations of remote work for student employees.”

During this two week time period, The Office for Student Involvement (OSI) will be open with limited staffing to provide resources for students. 

“OSI will be open in person starting Tuesday, Jan. 4, from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., with very limited staffing,” OSI Director Jean Ann Miller said. “The Golden Grizzlies Food Pantry will be open as well for walk-ins and by appointment. Starting Jan. 4, the best ways to contact the OSI are by emailing [email protected] or calling 248-370-2400, if you are not going to be on campus.”

In accordance with the shift to online instruction, OSI also adjusted their planned Welcome Week.

“We have rescheduled several major events that will be offered in person starting Jan. 18,” Miller said. “Winter Grizz Fest that was scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 11, and Wednesday, Jan. 12, has been rescheduled to Thursday, Jan. 20, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Founders Ballrooms of the Oakland Center. In place of Winter Grizz Fest on Jan. 11 and 12, we are scheduling ‘Ask the OSI’ virtual sessions from noon until 1:00 p.m. to ask questions about student involvement. America’s Got Talent Comedian, Preacher Lawson, has been canceled for Tuesday, Jan. 11, and we are negotiating for a new performance date in April. We will be offering a virtual OU Theme Week (with prizes) during Welcome Week. We will be promoting the OU Men’s Basketball games on Friday, Jan. 7, and Sunday, Jan. 9, which are still allowing spectators. SPB will be offering Hump Days with activities to be announced.”

Student Body President Andrew Romano shared his perspective on behalf of Oakland University’s Student Congress about the university’s decision to shift to online with the following statement: 

“In light of OU’s recent communication regarding the increase in COVID-19 cases around Michigan as well as the prevalence of new variants such as Omicron, we are pleased with the University’s decision to temporarily shift to online learning at the start of the Winter 2022 semester. Although the circumstances are less than ideal, we understand this is the most effective way to allow everyone to enjoy the holidays while prioritizing the physical and mental wellbeing of the campus community. Open communication between major stakeholders is crucial to ensuring the safety of the OU community and we look forward to continued conversations regarding campus precautions between students, faculty, staff, and university administration.

As we return to campus in a few weeks, we understand students would like to have as normal of a semester as possible, and in order to do that, there are some steps we can take collectively. Please continue to follow OU and CDC guidance around social distancing, masking, and other precautions. Additionally, please seek guidance from medical professionals about vaccination (including boosters) against COVID-19 if immunization is an option for you. We hope everyone enjoys the rest of the break and we look forward to a productive Winter Semester.”