August 19, 2020

Fall Semester Update

Dear MSU Law Students,

I write with a very heavy heart to tell you that we have decided to move to an almost entirely online format for the fall of 2020. I can assure you that I have not made this decision lightly, as I strongly value the MSU Law community and all that we share with each other when we are together.

We started our planning for the fall with the goal of providing some amount of in-person instruction for you while keeping the community safe. This involved putting protocols in place, such as mandatory face coverings, social distancing in classrooms, cleaning stations, rotating student attendance, and a limitation on in-person activities. As you know from reviewing the course schedule and registering for classes, nearly all of our upper-level curriculum was already scheduled to be taught fully or mostly by remote instruction.

As President Stanley wrote to the campus community on August 18, given what we are seeing around the country and particularly at other colleges and universities as they re-open, it is unlikely that the widespread transmission of COVID-19 could be contained with most students returning to campus. I know how hard the campus and law college leadership have been working to make it possible for students to return to campus; but the situation has been getting worse, not better. As you are aware, President Stanley is an infectious disease expert and the safety of the campus community is his guiding principle.

While President Stanley’s message was primarily directed at undergraduates, the exceptions for graduate and professional programs were designed to be limited to research activities and experiences necessary to meet graduation and accreditation standards. Just as safety of the campus community is his guiding principle, ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of the MSU Law community guides my decision-making. After lengthy consultation with our College of Law senior leadership team, we agreed that consonant with our values and principles, we must deliver our courses remotely, with the exception of first year orientation, live-client clinics, and externship placements.

I will go into more detail about this decision at a Town Hall Friday night (August 21st) at 5:30 p.m. We will record the session and make the link available on our website thereafter.

I recognize that this is very especially frustrating for those of you who just moved to East Lansing and especially challenging for the incoming class. We will still conduct our live orientation to conclude Foundations of Law and will explore possibilities for some additional opportunities to bring 1L students into the law college, with appropriate safety protocols, so you can get to know each other and form connections. Of course, we will continue to offer remote options for students who cannot or choose not to participate in person.

Since stepping in as interim dean on January 1st, I have held fast to principles of transparency, integrity, and inclusion. This is by far the most difficult decision I have had to make: I know not everyone will like or agree with the decision, but I truly believe it is in the best interest of our MSU Law community.

I know this situation is heart breaking and frustrating for all of us. We were optimistic that COVID-19 data would improve as we neared the start of the semester but what we are seeing around the country suggests otherwise. The health and safety of our entire MSU Law community must guide our decisions and actions.

Though I am disappointed we will have limited in-person interactions this fall, I am confident that we will adapt and discover new ways to create a vibrant intellectual and social community in this new virtual world. The faculty has been putting in tremendous effort this summer to learn best practices for online instruction and ensure that you will receive an excellent legal education, regardless of format.

While MSU Law will operate differently this fall, our core values remain as strong as ever. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this ever-changing landscape together.

Best wishes,

Melanie B. Jacobs
Interim Dean and Professor of Law