Dean's Update

May 13, 2022 - Aron Sousa, MD


Summer feels like it has come to Michigan, but no one seems to have told our main respiratory virus that this is not its season. For those of you keeping track, COVID-19 is on the rise in our communities. Some of our communities are now into the CDC’s moderate or even high levels of COVID-19 and throughout Michigan, levels of COVID-19 transmission are high. As of yesterday, Kent and Ingham counties are both “medium level of COVID-19” with high levels of transmission, so we can expect the COVID-19 in our communities to continue to increase. There is a lot of COVID-19 around. We even had a whole team in the dean’s office sick and out at the same time this week.

As health professionals, students, and just reasonable people, we should both protect each other and model good behavior. We are among the immunocompromised and those who care for the immunocompromised. Beyond that, many of us actively work in clinical settings, or will soon, and sitting in close proximity for hours is a recipe for transmission. Overall, getting vaccinated is the most important step we can take to be safe. In Michigan, vaccinated people are 1.8 times less likely to test positive for COVID-19 compared to unvaccinated people (slide 24). That said, people are still getting sick regardless of vaccination or prior infection status.

MSU’s mandate for masking in classrooms ends on May 16. While the college cannot mandate masking except in clinical settings like clinics and simulation, given the rate of cases, our desire to limit spread, and our interest in keeping people in clinic and making academic progress, we expect faculty and students to continue to wear masks in our classrooms and at crowded events. I know this will not prevent all transmission and will not change community spread, but we will protect those with whom we work and study.

For graduation, we ask the people on the stage and on the floor to wear their mask – we will be sitting together for hours. We are not without humanity – we will take off masks for hooding and pictures, which are supposed to be brief.

To be clear, this is not a mandate – we are not going to punish people for not wearing a mask, but we believe masking makes good sense given the high rate of community transmission and increasing community COVID-19 load.

Back in November, when I gave my “job talk” for the dean’s position, I spent some quality time speaking about supporting the “public intellectual” work of our students, faculty, and staff. Academic papers are very important, because that is how our disciplines move forward, but it is just as important for the public to learn from our work. And, frankly, our academic peers often learn about our academic work from non-academic media.

There are some ground rules for this kind of advocacy and public intellectual work:

  1. Let us know what you are doing by emailing Geri Kelley. We cannot support you or help if we do not know who you are talking to and why.
  2. Your academic freedom and first amendment rights cover what you say as an individual. You can use your degree and affiliation with the college as a part of your qualifications, but none of us speak for the university or our units. Colleges and departments do not have advocacy positions, so we cannot be speaking for the college, our departments, or our campuses.
  3. The college will be a place where people across the political spectrum can work and talk to each other – I expect nothing less than respectful discourse.
  4. We all will continue to study, discover, work, and care for patients here, and we will do this work together. Be good to each other. Listen and understand that we are modeling what we want intellectual discourse to be and not reflecting the poor behavior of the larger society. We can disagree with each other, and through it all we will take care of patients, teach each other, and work to make the world a better place, together. Whatever our advocacy, we should recognize that our colleagues, who might agree or disagree with us, also want to make the world a better place.

The MD graduation is tomorrow at 3pm (Livestream), and graduations are the happiest time of the academic year. The world is a mess right now, but the MPH and PhD students, who graduated last weekend, and the MD students, who graduate this weekend, will make the world a better place. That’s a good step.

Serving the people with you,


Dean Aron Sousa, MD


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