COVID update among topics heard by Board

COVID update among topics heard by Board

The State Board of Higher Education again brought focus to the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic this week when it met for its regular meeting. Among the COVID-19 topics were an update from the North Dakota University System (NDUS) Smart Restart Taskforce, and an update on how vaccination schedules could impact the university system.

Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, detailed the taskforce update. He detailed a timeline of caseloads and degrees of positivity throughout the university system, which he noted began to see reduced cases in December. He said that compared to last fall, the current situation was markedly improved. He noted that documented cases in the state pointed to a statewide rate of infection so far of 13 percent.

Dr. Paul Carson, North Dakota State University professor of practice, provided the Board with details on when and how the vaccinations could be delivered. He said two vaccines were available from Pfizer and Moderna. He said North Dakota ranked among the top five states for administered vaccines per 100,000 population. He detailed the vaccine priority for the state, noting that the state had been receiving 10,000 doses per week and that could increase soon. He noted that the CDC’s official recommendation is for everyone who is offered the vaccine to take it.

Wynne said that mask mandates on the campuses would continue for the foreseeable future. He added that there was not yet any information available on if vaccinated individuals could still spread the infection to other people. Carson echoed the sentiment and said that mask wearing would continue to be the norm until COVID-19 spread had diminished significantly.

North Dakota Student Association President Gracie Lian provided a student perspective on the ongoing challenges from COVID-19, including that students were looking forward to resuming normal life whenever that would be possible. Faculty Advisor to the Board Elizabeth Legerski, Ph.D., provided an update and words of thanks to the faculty who for nearly a year had been going above and beyond to keep classes open. Staff Advisor to the Board Retha Mattern said staff members felt supported by their institutions, although the vaccination protocol had caused much concern throughout the system.

Strategic Analytics Coordinator Ryan Jockers provided a demonstration on Burning Glass, including an introduction to the software suite, and examples on both reporting and marketing. Burning Glass is a workforce and labor insights software suite currently contracted by NDUS.

Board member Tim Mihalick provided an update from the Budget and Finance committee, which included a request by UND for permission from the 2021 Legislative Assembly to pursue refinancing options for the Technology Accelerator Building bank loan, as well as for UND Law School non-resident tuition factor change from 3.0 to 2.0 beginning fall 2021.

Board member Kathleen Neset provided an update from the Audit committee, which included a recent external posting for the NDUS Internal Chief Audit position. She added that the committee had reviewed an audit of NDUS financial statements and ultimately reviewed the report, which had been 100 percent clean.

Board Vice Chair Dr. Casey Ryan provided an update from the Research and Governance committee, which included that it had reviewed more than 20 items for its self-assessment process. He noted that they wanted to get it down to roughly four or five items that could be presented to the Board at an upcoming meeting.

Board member Jill Louters, Ed.D., provided an update from the Academic and Student Affairs committee, which included updates to the Board including how academic programs would be adjusted in the future.

Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs/Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan gave Board members an update on the legislative session. She detailed some bills that referenced higher education or could potentially impact public higher education in the state. She noted that there were nearly 200 bills being tracked out of more than 800 bills and resolutions that impacted or could impact higher education. She added that it was now day 16 of the 80-day session, and halfway through the session system office would know more once cross-over happens.

Student Board member Erica Solberg provided an update on the NDSA, noting that Lian had given great testimony recently. The student organization would be meeting again soon to discuss future plans.

Legerski provided an update on the Council of College Faculty, noting that CCF had sent a letter to the governor and Department of Health to increase the prioritization of vaccines for faculty and staff. She said another issue that came up was hope that campuses would continue local mask mandates.

Mattern noted that Staff Senate had not met since the last Board meeting, although they would be meeting again soon. She said it was highly helpful to get updates on legislative session.

Other Board business included authorizing UND to rename the UND School of Entrepreneurship and Management, prioritizing its self-assessment process, and hearing details of the NDUS Core Technology Services 2019-2020 Annual Report.

The Board also held the first reading to amend HR Policies 20 (Other Paid Leave), 23 (Resignations), 25 (Job Discipline-Dismissed), 26 (Termination Procedures), 27 (Appeal Procedure), and 28 (Grievance Procedures). Additionally, first readings were held to amend Policies 806.1 (Payment or Reimbursement of Meals and other Travel or Institutional Expenses), 802.6 (Budget Management and Control), 805.6 (Room and Board Charges), and 806.2 (Staff and Faculty Recruitment Expenses). The first reading to delete Policies 706.3 (Authorization for Travel) and HR 31 (Travel Expenses), were also held.

The next Board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25, 2021.