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NMU President Erickson holds virtual forum

The Northern Michigan University leader says the university is “still on track” for a return to normal operations in the fall.
NMU President Fritz Erickson during an April 14, 2021 community forum.
NMU President Fritz Erickson during an April 14, 2021 community forum.(NMU/Youtube)
Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 5:40 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (NMU/WLUC) - Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson held a virtual forum this afternoon to provide a COVID-19 update and confirm that NMU is “still on track” for a return to normal operations in the fall. He also addressed a request for an official commitment to carbon neutrality and proposed modifications to the university’s strategic plan.

Erickson praised the campus community for effectively adapting to the pandemic by continuing to deliver instruction and services at the highest level possible. He also thanked faculty, staff and students for following safety protocols that have kept active cases relatively low. Even with the recent statewide spike, NMU’s real-time dashboard showed that there were 25 active cases as of April 14, accounting for 0.38% of the total NMU community.

“It’s been a long haul and the end of the semester is a stressful time,” Erickson said. “But I’m hoping everyone can just hang in there a little longer until the end so we can celebrate the fact we’ve done Covid right here at Northern.”

A voluntary campus survey to gauge vaccinations generated about 2,000 responses. Of those, 80 percent were either fully vaccinated, partway through the process, or had scheduled their first appointments. Erickson said he is concerned about the 20 percent who responded no and hoped that would decrease in advance of the fall semester.

“As of right now, we don’t have a plan to require vaccines,” he said in response to a question. “Frankly, that’s subject to change. If a mandate comes down from the state, we’ll obviously follow that. But there are all kinds of ramifications in requiring vaccines. We haven’t gotten to that point yet, but we’re looking at it carefully. I really appreciate that we generally don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach for the state’s 15 public universities. Each is different.”

Erickson said NMU will also closely monitor the potential impacts of the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s recent decision to extend COVID restrictions on offices for another six months. He expressed optimism that, with more people being vaccinated, MiOSHA might lift that restriction.

NMU will begin a phased-in reopening June 15 and be fully open by Aug. 1. Erickson described those as “target dates” and said the university will remain flexible, as it has been the past 14 months of the pandemic.

“I’m asking every academic and service department head to develop a safety plan for the summer,” Erickson said. “Those plans should keep offices open and fully serve students, while at the same time following recommendations that come out of MiOSHA and other places. There’s not one way to approach this. It’s going to be different in terms of what works best for each area.”

Erickson made a final call for feedback on proposed updates to NMU’s strategic plan. Comments are requested by April 19 at nmupres@nmu.edu. The plan outlines several priority initiatives. Suggested revisions reflect new, post-pandemic focus areas of equity in systems and processes and mind/body wellness, along with strategic outcomes of advancing the rural agenda and moving NMU toward carbon neutrality.

“I’ve received a request from students, and supported by faculty members and groups on campus, that the university make a statement that we will be carbon neutral by at least 2050. Personally I’m very supportive of that, but I don’t want to make that statement unless we have a plan with a framework for achieving it.

“I’ve seen too many people make a big pledge for years down the line, knowing they won’t be around to see it through. We need to put in the hard work of creating a framework with true action plans that will get us there.”

Proposed room and board rates for the next academic year will be presented to the NMU Board of Trustees during its April 29-30 meeting. Erickson said tuition will not be determined until later, after House and Senate budget proposals are released and there is a reconciliation process.

View the entire forum here.

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