U-M feels strains of navigating between campus safety and Covid's hard place

September 12, 2020, 5:51 PM by  Alan Stamm

Unusual is a word too mild for the first two weeks of fall semester in Ann Arbor, so we go with unnerving.

Here's why:

  •  At least 55 people at the University of Michigan have tested positive for Covid.

  • 70 students are in isolation housing or quarantine.

  • Graduate teaching assistants went on strike.

  • So did dormitory resident advisers.

"Our university community ... feels fractured, with some expressing frustration, anger and distrust," President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins acknowledge in a campus-wide email Friday.

Many of you are following the strikes on campus — by our graduate students and resident advisors — and are concerned about the issues they are raising. ...

We recognize that we must do more to engage with and include members of our community as we grapple with the complex decisions to be made going forward. ... It is clear this is just the beginning of the work yet to be done to rebuild trust and confidence.

"Working, studying and living through a global pandemic requires all of us to manage a host of challenges," the president and provost tell students Friday. (Instagram: U-M)

The pair add that "only 22 percent of our undergraduate credit hours are being delivered with some in-person component. . . . [That] reduced desnity in our residence halls by a third."

Still, the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO), a union with more than 1,000 members, began a four-day strike Tuesday to protest the university's reopening approach. Issues include the right for any graduate student instructor and assistant to work remotely, as well as greater transparency about medical models for reopening plans.

Strike-extension vote 

U-M filed a state unfair labor practice complaint, saying the union breaks a contract clause barring "any concerted interference with the operation of the university." GEO members vote remotely this weekend on whether to renew the strike, with results coming  Sunday.

"The university is ready to continue discussions with GEO so that all students are able to continue their studies without further interruption," the president and provost say in Friday's open letter. "It is certainly our preference to resolve concerns with productive discussions rather than outside appeals." 

"This is not what a public health-informed semester looks like," union member Yael Kenan said Friday during a virtual speakout, MLive reports. "This is what a financial-needs and financial austerity-informed semester looks like."

At that same online forum, The Michigan Daily posts Saturday, senior Soneida Rodriguez said that after starting as a resident adviser this fall "it became immediately clear that the university’s policies and resources did not match my same level of dedication to public health."

At a rally later Friday in front of the Michigan Union, senior Bridgette Pollaski spoke about being a part-time Michigan Dining worker, according to The Daily:

"Permanent staff at Michigan are working a six-day mandatory workweek and also are very, very low on student staff. And without a significant student staff, the permanent staff is left to fill in the blanks

"We can't enforce crowd control, we can't enforce temperature-taking, there's no mandatory testing for student workers."

Lastly, grumbles and stark descriptions of life in isolation emerge from students testing positive. As of Saturday, the university's Covid dashboard shows 20 people isolated at a residence hall used just for them, plus 50 quarantined at camous lodging, Ann Arbor hotels or their homes.

Some of those restricted on campus groused on social media that dropped-off meals come cold, but microwaves aren’t available in the temporary housing units and U- M doesn't provide oven-safe dishes. "It's very, very bare bones when it comes to what was provided," senior Matt Lujan tells Michigan Advance.

"It just feels like a major research institution that's had over five months to prepare for reopening and taking all these precautions to make sure the student body is safe, really has not, you know, done that."

Two other accounts are in TikTok clips below.

The administration reacts in Friday's email:

From now on, in response to feedback, we will be providing microwaves, and all Michigan Dining meals will come in microwavable packaging.


TikTok testimony:

Sam Burnstein of Skokie, Ill., is majoring in history and says he made this made this video "to show you what it's like up here" after testing positive:


##umich ##uofmichigan ##universityofmichigan ##covid ##university

♬ original sound - samburnstein

This student identifies herself only as Ruby:


like literally I should have stayed HOME ahhhhh ##umich ##michigan ##strike ##quarantine ##dorm ##fyp ##universityofmichigan ##unsafe ##covid

♬ original sound - zoinksroobs

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