Behavioral health tops Board agenda

Behavioral health tops Board agenda

The State Board of Higher Education this week conducted a wealth of year-end housekeeping and policy review, including taking time to hear from directors of two counseling centers at North Dakota State University and Valley City State University.

Before getting into the bulk of the meeting’s agenda, Chair Nick Hacker offered a statement on the recent protests about racial injustice.

“The North Dakota University System and our Board continuously endeavors to balance quality education, public opinion, constitutional rights, and the recent legislative directive to implement policy that supports student’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” he said. “Along with supporting our students, we support our military – including the many veteran students as well as employees throughout our system. As public servants, we support our Constitution to promote the general welfare of the people – we do this through delivery of an educational environment that supports inclusivity, diversity and respect. We respect the flag, the national anthem and law enforcement, and we respect free speech amongst our students. As we value an inclusive environment where every person is valued on our campuses, hate speech or racism of any kind will not be accepted. We thank those that have served our country and we pledge our allegiances to one American flag, and we give respect to our neighbors and communities in which we live.”

Dr. Bill Burns, NDSU, Director, Counseling Center and Dr. Erin Klingenberg, VCSU, Director of Counseling Services and Psychology Professor provided a joint presentation on behavioral health throughout North Dakota University System’s 11 public colleges and universities, touching on how things had been before the pandemic, as well as how things were impacted by it.

Burns’ presentation included the rate of service utilization within the university system, including number of sessions and unique individuals. Burns said that this year they saw fewer students but had more sessions per student. Additionally, the no-show rate had gone done significantly. He then offered details that looked into the types of delivery of services at the different campuses.

Director of Student Affairs Katie Fitzsimmons noted that the 2020 N.D. Student Wellness and Perceptions Survey had closed right before the Thanksgiving break. The survey included 11 questions focused on COVID-19, in addition to the usual questions about substance abuse and depression. She said that a majority of students surveyed had responded that they’d suffered from one of four main stressor: physical health concerns; increased anxiety or depression; loss of social connection; increased anxiety stemming directly from COVID. She added that the number of students who reported feeling negatively impacted had increased across the board.

Klingenberg noted that the cases being seen involved increased substance abuse, more intensity of symptoms, quarantine/isolation experiences, misperceptions about telehealth services, and COVID fatigue. Klingenberg said there was also an uptick in drop-ins from faculty and staff. She noted that while the counseling centers didn’t directly work with faculty and staff but did provide referral services to the Employee Assistance Program.

Fitzsimmons then spoke about how many personnel on NDUS campuses were within the realm of counseling. She said that although campuses wanted to have as many qualified providers as they needed, finding such qualified personnel was difficult given budgetary and other challenges. Klingenberg offered insights to licensure in the state, and what it would take to get more licensed professionals on the campuses.

Burns noted that mental health concerns were among the top student concerns relating to retention. He said the first was typically financial concerns, although stresses that existed from college education and life, especially from COVID, had increased mental and behavioral health problems. He noted that the number one thing the university system and Board could do was provide funding to find and retain great candidates.

Dr. Joshua Wynne provided another monthly update on the Smart Restart Taskforce. He provided a briefing on institutions relative to community in overall cases, active cases by institution, examples of outbreak management, plans for enhanced testing, and plans for vaccinations.

Vice Chancellor for Strategy and Strategic Engagement Jerry Rostad presented on the NDUS Mission and Vision and Beliefs and Core Value statements. Rostad noted that the language had not been updated in many years, with some of it stretching back roughly two decades. He offered the Board some options for updating some phrasings in the guiding language. Rostad said the beliefs and values referenced the Education Roundtable from more than twenty years ago, and some of the language could be updated by the NDUS Governance committee.


Board business

Board member Tim Mihalick provided an update from the Budget and Finance committee, which included the proposed 2021-22 Room, Board and Fee guidelines and requests from the campuses. Among the requests were a resolution authorizing University of North Dakota Alumni Association & Foundation (UNDAAF) to issue bonds to finance the construction of Nistler Hall; a request for UND to purchase property from the UND Alumni Association and Foundation; for NDSU to rename the ND Agricultural Experiment Station (NDAES) Research Greenhouse to the John Stewart Dalrymple III Agricultural Research Greenhouse; for UND to sell property to UND Alumni Association & Foundation; for UND to proceed with construction and remodeling of UND affiliated student housing; for UND to accept a gift of real property from the alumni association; and to ratify Chancellor Hagerott’s approval of a $225,000 transfer of the NDUS System Office Tier IIII capital building fund appropriation line to the Lake Region State College capital building fund appropriation line.

Board vice chair Dr. Casey Ryan brought forward the Research and Governance committee business, which included the Core Technology Services strategic plan on information technology. He noted that research would remain the likeliest third stool of the state’s economy, joining agriculture and energy.

Board member Kathleen Neset brought forward the Audit committee business, including the Internal Audit. She said the committee was looking forward with how to maintain the strong internal audit function, with a clear recommendation expected in coming months.

The Board held the first readings and waived the second of Policy 520 (Title IX, Sexual Harassment), and held the second reading of Policy 403.5 (Secondary-Postsecondary Articulation Agreements, Dual Credit Postsecondary Enrollment Options) which was renumbered and retitled to Policy 469 (College Credit in High School). A temporary waiver to Policy HR6 (5) for calendar year 2020 was also discussed and accepted.

Neset also provided a brief update on the Williston State College presidential search. She noted that listening sessions had involved faculty, staff, students and members of the community. The search was being run by AGB and had kicked off this past Monday with a closure date in February.

During the Chancellor’s Report portion of the meeting, Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs/Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan provided a detailed update on the governor’s proposed budget. She also offered some insights to proposed legislation.

Dolan noted that the Board approved a needs-based budget, which was submitted to the Office of Management and Budget. As part of that, a compensation increase of three-percent was called for. While that wasn’t met exactly in the governor’s budget, that budget did include a net-positive compensation increase. Dolan added that two scholarship and grant programs had been funded up in the governor’s proposal.

She noted that a seven-and-a-half-percent cut had been made to the funding formula, and the system office budget, which would result in a decrease of more than $40 million. Dolan noted that roughly 70-percent of budgets revolved around personnel and salaries, which would mean that a large cut would be painful and could impact as many as 200 critical positions. She said that nearly half of all the statewide cuts that were recommended were focused at higher education, even though higher education only makes up roughly 13 percent of the state budget.

Student Board member Erica Solberg provided an update on the North Dakota Student Association, which included student perspectives and a recent newsletter that had been sent to keep students updated.

Faculty Advisor to the Board Liz Legerski, Ph.D., provided an update on the Council of College Faculty, which had recently met regarding student and faculty health. She said the CCF was happy and supportive of the needs-based budget.

Staff Advisor to the Board Retha Mattern provided an update on State Staff Senate, which had focused on workload concerns and legislative session.

Additionally, the Board discussed permanent action regarding the Nickel Trophy transfer agreement, the TrainND business plan for 2021-22, a new program authorization for a graduate certificate in AI and Machine Learning from UND, and state authorizations for Columbia College at the Minot Air Force Base; and for Rasmussen College in Fargo. VCSU President Al LaFave gave an update on ECOR, and Hagerott provided the Board with an update on the presidential evaluations of two-year presidents. The next regular meeting is scheduled for Jan. 28.