Working together for a successful Fall semester

Dear Colleagues:

I write to you today to both express my gratitude for your dedication over the past two months, and to set the stage for a successful AY20-21.

Your accomplishments since our shift to fully remote operations have been nothing short of extraordinary. Many of you tackled an online delivery of your curriculum for the first time, and with no preparation. Meanwhile, your lives were upturned, with family care and concerns, the strains of social distancing and uncertainties of our global world bearing on your shoulders. 

For all of this, and your dedication and compassion for our students, I cannot thank you enough. You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished – I know I am.

Now that the semester has come to a close, you are all in need of a well-deserved break. But I must ask you to push a little harder before you rest.

As you are aware, the financial outlook of the University is poor. The University is projecting major financial shortfalls for the remainder of the year that would reduce the central contribution to our College’s budget and restrict cash flow. Additionally, there are bound to be extra costs associated with delivering our world-class education next year due to the need to have lower densities, measures to keep our community safe, financial aid needs, and the necessary delivery modalities this crisis calls for. 

Short-term sacrifices will be essential. Rapid adjustments and great patience will be required from everyone. With that context in mind, I offer the following prioritized list of objectives that will inform our decision-making framework:

  1. Keep our community safe as we pursue our mission;
  2. Deliver a world-class residential/hybrid educational experience in AY2020-2021;
  3. Revive and expand our leading-edge research portfolio and capabilities;
  4. Maintain high expectations and preserve as much as possible opportunities for current and prospective members of our community; and
  5. Emerge with new capacities that improve the manner in which the College conducts all facets of its operations.

This framework will help guide us through all manner of decisions, including how we allocate resources, when and how we return to campus, and how we prepare for a successful Fall semester.

I am pleased to share that enrollment numbers in Engineering are up, with the largest committed first-year class in history, and matriculations into our graduate programs on track. However, there is much uncertainty around whether those students will come. Across the country, learners are exploring their options, and weighing the pros and cons of beginning or continuing their college education. We need to do everything in our power to make sure they do.

Our students and their parents and guardians need to have full confidence they will receive the education Michigan is known for. Regardless of how our education is delivered, it must be world-class. We must provide our preeminent academics, coupled with experiential and hands-on learning – all while maintaining a safe environment.

To achieve this, we must begin the work now! Plans are still being developed for if or how we can provide a residential experience in the Fall, but one thing is certain – we must be prepared to deliver both in-person and online education. This will provide the security and confidence students need, and the flexibility they will require, to be successful.

In the coming days, you will hear from your department chairs, as well as our associate deans, about approaches that combine both online and face-to-face components. Our guiding principle for Fall 2020 will be to offer courses that are high quality, in a manner that is robust to changing circumstances. It places the focus on the quality, as opposed to the breadth, of our offerings. 

After your experiences this semester, it will come as no surprise that high-quality online content and curricula will take time to develop. Therefore, there is no time to waste. I ask that you use the remainder of this academic year – the month of May – to engage in this work. 

I realize many of you need a breather, and there are multiple reasons beginning this work will be trying. But there are decisions and preparations that must happen now to set us up for success later in the summer and throughout this coming academic year. 

Later this week, you will hear from Associate Deans Mary-Ann Mycek and Joanna Millunchick about details for engaging in the development of this high-quality, flexible curriculum. They have been working hard for weeks to develop this plan and I am very pleased with what they have come up with.  Their plan includes IT support and recommendations on which tools to use for a given task/function, ample “hands-on” training opportunities – enlisting the help of more experienced online instructors – and a triage center for help. Each department will be unique in how this plan is implemented. But your department chairs and I are all in agreement –  this must be done now.

If – or should I say when – this work is done correctly, your contribution will be long-lasting and appreciated by the Michigan Engineering community for years to come. It will ensure our reputation and prestige remains intact. It will minimize the long-term financial impacts, and may very well help save this institution. You will be creating a preeminent education that will be unique to Michigan Engineering, with a flexible, forward-looking curriculum that you can use to carry us into the future, and help us emerge even stronger than before – perhaps even advantaged over our peer institutions. 

Above all, you will educate the engineers of tomorrow, who will carry the Michigan name forward, and serve the common good.