Office of the Provost


Instructional Planning for Fall Term

[Email to U-M instructional faculty and graduate student instructors]
July 7, 2020

Dear Instructional Faculty and GSIs,

There have been a number of campus communications about how the university is planning for the coming academic year. Today, I am writing to share the reasoning that contributed to our decision to bring students back to campus, provide information about our approach to instructional offerings, and recommend campus resources that can help with course preparation.

I want to begin by recognizing the truly impressive work you have done in the past several months to provide high quality courses to our students in the challenging circumstances created by the pandemic. In your classes, as mentors, and as part of your departments and schools/colleges you have ensured that our educational programs continue and that our students make progress toward and complete their degrees. I am proud of and grateful for your commitment to teaching. Thank you.

On June 22, President Schlissel announced that U-M will deliver a mixture of in-person, remote and hybrid courses for the 2020-21 academic year. The Campus Maize and BluePrint website is a central resource about many facets of campus operations for the fall semester and beyond, which will be updated as new information becomes available. As previously announced, while classes will resume on August 31 as scheduled, adjustments were made to the academic calendar. You can find more information here.

A number of important updates to the university’s public health measures are available on the Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) website, and on the Campus Maize and BluePrint under the "Faculty and Staff" tab. The EHS pages provide information about a number of important protocols, which include requiring face coverings in all enclosed spaces, timely testing for symptomatic students, faculty, and staff, engaging in contact tracing while working closely with local public health officials, and modifying facilities.

The status of the COVID-19 pandemic is changing daily across the US and around the world. While most states are operating under some set of executive orders that limit business and personal activity, this situation remains fluid and hard to predict. As noted throughout this message, we need to balance our educational priorities with the need to protect the health and safety of our faculty, students, and staff, and thus our plans may change with evolving circumstances.

Our Educational Mission

The decisions we’ve made related to teaching are informed by the work of several committees. You can read the overview report of the Coordinating Committee here, and the full set of reports of all the provost’s office fall planning committees here.

The faculty members, students, and staff who worked on our plan for the coming year recognized that residential instruction can provide rich and varied ways for students and faculty to interact, thereby significantly enhancing student learning. Offering these opportunities to our students, where possible, is very valuable for their learning and growth. In addition, we know that some learning – what happens in a lab experiment for example – cannot be done online. These considerations are part of what motivated our decision to provide students with in-person experiences next year, including with their instructors.

Part of our commitment, as educators, is to help students learn from and interact with people not like themselves. College is often the first time students have the opportunity to engage with people with different backgrounds and from different communities. This is key to their preparation for citizenship in a diverse society. For many, it is also a chance to explore aspects of identity and independence. Our campus offers people and resources to help them with this critical part of their development.

We also recognize that it is important to invest in this generation of students and those who will follow as fully as we’ve done with past generations. COVID-19 may be with us for some time to come. As we educate students who will work and lead in an uncertain time, it is critical to offer them a full range of educational opportunities, enabling them to develop skills in many ways of learning.

Many of our students are planning to be in Ann Arbor for the coming year regardless of how their learning will take place. Given this, it is important to have clear health and safety guidelines. We are working now to inform students about the new practices that will be in place. We understand that for some of our students being here, where there will be clear policies and practices as well as access to a major medical center if needed, is part of their own health planning.

Reflecting on the recent winter and spring terms, it is clear to me that our ability to provide robust courses when we pivoted to remote instruction last March was rooted in collaboration within and across our schools and colleges. We came together to share ideas and advice as we developed skills for teaching remotely. We need to rely, again, on this spirit of collaboration and strong support for each other as we get ready for fall term.

I want to make special mention of the multiple roles our graduate students play on campus. You are learners, instructors, researchers, scholars, and often role models for our undergraduates as well. We will continue to support you in all of these roles, providing safe ways for you to make progress toward your degrees as you carry out your multi-faceted responsibilities.

Instruction in Fall and Winter Terms

Our courses next year will employ a mix of instruction modes (in-person, fully remote, and hybrid), depending on safety considerations, instructional goals, and instructor availability (see below).

You have probably heard that ‘large’ classes will be offered remotely, while small classes can continue to meet in person. This summary statement encompasses a range of possibilities – and each academic unit will determine what is most appropriate for its programs. For instance, what constitutes a large course will be defined differently across units, based on space and other constraints. Large courses may include a lecture taught online as well as small sections offered either in-person or remotely. Mid-sized classes may be offered with ‘alternating attendance,’ so that only some students are in-person on a given day. There are also some courses (performance, studio, lab) that require in-person instruction. However, all instructors should be prepared to shift to remote modes of engagement if public health conditions change.

All in-person instruction will be carefully structured to maintain physical distancing, lower building density, and meet other safety guidelines. In many cases, spaces will be reconfigured. In addition to expertise in public and environmental health and systems modeling, we are leveraging the phased reopening of research on campus to test protocols and apply relevant insights to instructional planning. We’ve also learned from the experience of Michigan Medicine that following public health guidelines makes a significant contribution to minimizing transmission of the virus. There have been very few infections among our health care workers who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

How Will Decisions About In-Person and Remote Teaching Be Made

Ensuring an equitable approach to instructional decision-making within and across units will require collaboration and partnership between university leaders, school and college leaders, faculty/GSIs, and staff in academic programs.

Our approach is framed by a commitment to the health and safety of our faculty and GSIs, recognizing each as people with unique personal circumstances who are differentially impacted by the pandemic. As described below, requests for remote or in-person instruction will be based on self-identification within broad categories, and will not require medical information or documentation. This approach protects privacy and incorporates instructor preferences while maintaining our commitment to providing meaningful and varied learning experiences for our students.

Based on significant discussion and feedback, the university is implementing a consistent approach for faculty and GSIs (i.e., instructors) across the Ann Arbor campus, which will be implemented by schools/colleges/units. The detailed approach is outlined here and key elements are as follows. First, instructors who are age 65 or older, or who have a condition identified by the CDC as being at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 will not be expected to teach in person (but may choose to do so). Second, schools/colleges will endeavor to accommodate requests for remote teaching from instructors who have conditions the CDC identifies as potentially placing them at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (including pregnancy); or who reside with or are primary caregivers to someone with increased risk for severe illness; or who may be unable to secure childcare during scheduled teaching times due to COVID-19. Schools/colleges will also endeavor to accommodate requests for remote teaching for instructors who do not fall into the categories above. In addition, instructors with a preference or willingness to teach on campus will be encouraged to self-identify – enabling us to deliver the range of learning outcomes for our students as described above.

In keeping with our decentralized structure, many decisions will continue to be made by school or departmental leaders. This ensures that plans focus on the particular needs of each of our academic programs. I hope you will share ideas and concerns with your chair, associate dean, or director. They are committed to ensuring that individual’s safety concerns are part of our plan and the provost’s office is working closely with units as these plans are developed.

Resources for Teaching

I recognize that much is being asked of our instructors, and that preparing courses for the coming year will require substantial work. We also recognize that, depending on public health conditions, all courses, including those meeting in person, may have to move to fully remote instruction at some point in the fall or winter term. We know, too, that our students will be learning in many different circumstances whether they are on campus or joining us remotely.

With all of the complexity that lies ahead, it is critical that we work on designing our courses for the fall now. The university has many resources available to help, and we have been working together with the academic units to coordinate unit-based support with central resources. This support currently includes a mix of courses, resources, office hours, and technology support designed to help faculty and GSIs prepare for the fall. As you continue to work with your schools and colleges, I also invite you to connect with the following central resources:

In addition, later this summer we will be offering "Ready to Go Blue", a set of programs to support instructors as they re-envision fall classes. It will include sessions highlighting successful strategies for online and hybrid instruction, how-to workshops on specific tools, and opportunities for consultations.

These resources can help instructors develop course formats that address learning goals for students, the health and safety of the campus community, and the diverse preferences of students and instructors for the fall semester. In particular, we encourage each of you to consider ways to promote equitable access to full inclusion in courses for all students, and to leverage CAI and CRLT resources for inclusive teaching.

The planning committee on performance, studio, and laboratories created this reference database which lists teaching methods for hybrid and remote teaching rated by effort and including resources for development and implementation.

The resources will continue to evolve in response to the needs that emerge, and I encourage you to begin your course preparation now if you have not already done so.

As we look forward, I also know that circumstances continue to be challenging and uncertain, in ways that impact members of our community very differently – from health concerns to lack of childcare and more. We cannot predict how things will unfold, and understandably, there is considerable anxiety about the path ahead. In the coming weeks, there will be more information about instructional planning and personal and community safety, and this information will be shared with you promptly. We are continuing to monitor public health developments and will make any necessary adjustments to our plans in accord with public health guidance.

In closing, I want to return to the resilience and collaboration that were critical to our ability to carry our mission of education, research, and service forward despite the pandemic. You have been resourceful, creative, kind, and dedicated to educating students. I cannot thank you enough for all you have done. I hope you will join with me in that same generous spirit as the fall approaches. I am confident that, together, we can offer an outstanding Michigan education to our students while continuing to care for one another and our community.


Susan M. Collins
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs