Dean Michael Barr on the Ford School's approach to the next academic year

June 23, 2020

Dean Michael Barr sent the following letter to the Ford School community yesterday morning, Monday, June 22:

Dear community,

Today, President Schlissel announced the University of Michigan’s plans for the coming Academic Year. Please take the time to read his message, below, and browse the website that will be used to share University-wide information, as it becomes available.

As the president noted, each school or college is working to develop specific plans for courses and teaching.

I want to share with you an overview of the Ford School’s plans. While many details are not yet finalized, we know our basic approach, and it will be true to our values and mission.

We’re a small, tight-knit community, dedicated to the public good, and we will manage the academic year in a way that is aligned with our values: community, integrity, respect, service, inclusion, diversity, and equity. 

The year to come will not and cannot look like a typical year at the school. Even so, we remain fully committed to our mission: excellent teaching, research, service, and policy engagement. Our world is in desperate need of smart, ethical, service-driven leaders, and that makes our work at the Ford School as essential as ever before.

Our goals for the next academic year are:

1.  Health and Safety: The safety and wellbeing of our people are paramount. No one will be asked to take risks they don’t feel are appropriate for their particular circumstances; we know that the pandemic has differential effects on members of our community. Each of us will be asked to do our best to ensure the health and safety of others.

2. Courses: The Ford School will deliver a first-rate policy education to our undergraduate and graduate students, in a safe, high-quality, flexible manner that is attuned to issues of equity. A team of faculty experts is working hard to inform our teaching plans for the fall, including online, in-person, and hybrid formats, with significant input from students and staff. 

We anticipate a combination of approaches to Ford School teaching in the Fall, depending upon the type and size of each course, and pedagogical choices. Many courses will provide safe in-person opportunities for small-group discussions, team projects, presentations, etc. 

Every course at the Ford School, even those that can involve some safe in-person interactions, will be designed to ensure full access for all students, which means all courses will also be offered in a remote fashion. You will hear more from our team soon, including how to ensure that all students and faculty have the technical equipment, access, and support needed for excellence in teaching and learning.

3. Community: The supportive, dynamic work that typically happens outside of the classroom at the Ford School will continue in an online format, and where safe and practicable, in person at Weill Hall as well. Our supportive environment includes our best-in-class Writing Center, for example, along with academic advising, Graduate Career Services, peer advising, internships, our leadership initiative, alumni engagement, and more. We have a terrific lineup of speakers for our Policy Talks @ the Ford School series, as well; the talks will be delivered online for maximum access, but each speaker engagement will include opportunities for behind-the-scenes student and faculty participation in addition to the public talks.

We’re working now on ways to bring the whole school together online in creative ways to build and strengthen our community, and in-person in smaller groups. Our vibrant student organizations will be engaged and leading in a wide range of activities as well, including work on voting rights and other forms of activism, as well as opportunities for socializing online and in small groups. All of this will require social distancing and appropriate public health protocols. I’ve heard that returning students have connected often with new students, to offer support, advice, and answer questions. That’s a beautiful demonstration of the Ford School way.

4. Research and Engagement: Our research and policy engagement work will also continue apace, including opportunities for students to conduct research, develop mentoring connections with faculty and policy leaders, engage in vital work in our communities, and more. Even this spring, our students and faculty leapt into action to serve our communities, through such initiatives as the COVID-19 Corps, and the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project. We anticipate even more active research projects and engagement this fall.

5. Our Building: Weill Hall will be open, with a stackable set of public health protocols designed to reduce risks of virus transmission. This includes use of self-screening, face coverings, social distancing, hand sanitizer, and hand washing, as well as one-way stairwell usage, density controls in the building and in each room, HVAC settings, and other measures. The computer lab will be open under social distancing protocols, and we will be sure to set up procedures for printing and other essential services.  

Next steps

Our overall plan for the upcoming year is to make sure all of our activities--including all courses--are available and done well in a remote fashion, yet also creating robust and safe in-person experiences and interactions as the public health situation allows. We will continually seek input from everyone in our community, and will communicate clearly and often with you as plans develop. Public health factors may require shifts in our plans along the way; we’re building our plans to allow for maximum flexibility in carrying out our mission. We’ll be transparent about our decision-making, and focused on our community. 

Later this week we’ll send a link to FAQs and answers about the fall; please send questions you have to [email protected]. And look for more soon about a series of online meetings we’ll host for new and returning students in July and August, where you can speak with school leaders and learn more about our plans for teaching, research, engagement, and more.

Our community

Whether you’re a student, a professor, or a member of our staff team, you’ve chosen the Ford School in part because of our small, warm community. We can’t gather in person this coming year for holiday skits, donuts with the deans in the Great Hall, or faculty lunches. But we’ll continue to find many ways to bring people together: we’ll have a communal, connected year.

The coming year is a vitally important one for our democracy, institutions, and justice here in the U.S. and for communities near and far. These times call for leaders grounded in service, for public policy grounded in evidence. I am so proud of how our community rallied to support each other these past months--with innovation, teamwork, compassion, and excellence. Ford School students, faculty, and staff will continue to shine through this crisis, and we’ll do it together.