Board meeting talks COVID

Board meeting talks COVID

The State Board of Higher Education met this week to discuss the ongoing novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, policy changes and strategy.


NDUS Smart Restart

Board Chair Nick Hacker opened up the business of the day by asking for an update on the NDUS Smart Restart Task Force.

Dr. Joshua Wynne and Vern Dosch gave the Board an update on the NDUS Smart Restart Task Force. Wynne began with an overview of the current state of the system regarding COVID-19 response, noting that faculty and staff maintained that face-to-face classroom instruction was still vital. Wynne provided a case count by campus, included active cases and monitored students and faculty who’d come into close contact with a positive case. He noted that trends remained “pretty good” for all campuses.

Wynne added that careful surveillance of COVID-19 trends on campus was the best way to be proactive until the pandemic was over. That could include such differentiated methods as wastewater testing to find signs of the virus.

Board Vice Chair Dr. Casey Ryan noted that with flu season looming, it would be important for anyone who felt sick to assume it was COVID-19 until proven otherwise, which would help prevent spreading any virus to others.

Dosch presented on testing, contact tracing and reporting, noting that there were in excess of 100 opportunities for students to be tested as they came back for the fall semester. Weekly data was being updated as to level of testing and positive cases at the campuses. Dosch said that overall compliance had been good, but isolation and quarantine had decreased that trend. Questions followed on the number and distinction of asymptomatic versus symptomatic, when testing was absolutely required and when it was encouraged.


NDUS reports

Hacker then opened up the topics of the chancellor’s goals for 2020-21, and the 2021 meeting schedule. He noted that feedback had been given to the chancellor, including placing higher focus on mental and behavioral health, looking further into dual mission models, expanding opportunities for Open Educational Resources, and finding more opportunities for Career and Technical Education. The goals were all approved.

Chancellor Hagerott then brought up evaluations and goals for presidents of four-year universities, reminding the Board that the pandemic had caused increased challenges at all campuses. Due to COVID-19, the evaluations had done a two-step process, including formal evaluations and tracking progress through strategic planning online software.

Director of Institutional Research Jen Weber, Ph.D., provided an update on fall enrollment numbers. The data was presented from the census data, which was finalized earlier in the week. She noted that enrollment was 98 percent of 2019-2020 numbers, which was not unexpected and within projected ranges of a four percent decrease. Weber also offered further breakdowns of numbers by demographics (first year, transfer, high school, graduate), attendance (full time or part time), and course delivery (face-to-face, hybrid or distance).


Committee work and other business

Board member Tim Mihalick brought forward the Budget and Finance committee recommendations, including an increase in spending authorization for University of North Dakota’s renovation of O’Kelly Hall; ratification of a transfer of $500,000 from system office building fund to Williston State College’s capital building fund appropriation line; and authorization for UND to enter into an agreement by and between UND Alumni Association & Foundation and the Grand Forks Growth Fund for a grant in the amount of $1,333,333 to be used in the construction of Nistler Hall, and to approve the cost-free, 50-year lease to the City of Grand Forks for the creation of a City Workforce Center in Nistler Hall.

Board member Kathleen Neset brought forward the Audit committee business, which included an Audit Plan draft. She brought up two other items, that internal audit personnel had crafted an internal survey and sent it out to roughly 80 individuals. She said that purchase cards were also being reviewed on an ongoing basis.

Board member Jill Louters, Ph.D., brought forward the Academic and Student Affairs committee business, including how faculty and staff was working in multiple learning modalities to ensure students would have access to their educational programming. She said that physical and mental health had been made priorities for the committee as well.

Board vice chair Dr. Casey Ryan brought forward the Research and Governance committee business, including reviewing some research that had been ongoing throughout the system, and set goals for the campuses and private sector partners. Next month the committee would hear from vice presidents of research at the research universities. Casey added that there remained great opportunity to solidify research as the “third leg of the state’s economic stool.”

Review of Board policy found the first readings for Policies 403.7 (Common General Education Requirement and Transfer of General Education Credits); 402.2 (First Year Applicants – Baccalaureate Programs); 505 (International Student Health Insurance); 611.1 (Employee Responsibility and Activities: Medical Service Plan-UND Medical School); and discussed a waiver for Policy 1203.1 (Digital Accessibility).

Student member of the Board Erica Solberg provided an update on the North Dakota Student Association. She spoke about feedback she’d received on the HyFlex model of education, students being excited to be back on campus, and moving through technology issues.

Faculty Adviser to the Board Elizabeth Legerski, Ph.D., provided an update on the Council of College Faculty. She said one important theme was regular and frequent testing, and another important thing to think about was the ongoing impact to the health and well-being of staff and faculty.

Staff Adviser to the Board Retha Mattern provided an update on N.D. Staff Senate, which included increasing accessibility for Board members to staff senate, as well as recognizing all the cleaning that was being done by staff members to increase sanitation on campuses.

Interim Vice Chancellor of Strategy and Strategic Engagement Jerry Rostad provided an update on the strategic plan. He noted that in the past few weeks, meetings had been held with the individual board members. Among the priorities that resulted from those meetings were pandemic related, such as supporting telework and single parent working families within NDUS, as well as expanding access to mental and behavioral health. Other areas included expanding research, dual credit access, economic diversification and a strategic retreat.

In other business, the Board heard a presentation on TIAA benefits, an update on the recent meeting of the joint boards of education in the state, and the possibility of a winter intersession. Chancellor Mark Hagerott brought up appointments for the NDUS Foundation. The nominations were for Minot State University President Steve Shirley and new Board member Danita Bye.

The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 29 at 9 a.m. via Teams Live.