Board tracks COVID

Board tracks COVID

Among the major presentations heard by the State Board of Higher Education at its recent meeting were updates on how campuses were dealing with the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as well as updates on the strategic plan, and behavioral health at the campus level.

A COVID-19 update was provided by Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. NDUS Chief Compliance Officer Karol Riedman also spoke about COVID-19 testing strategies throughout the university system.

Wynne’s remarks included details on cases statewide and systemwide, vaccinations, and how to best move forward. He started his presentation by highlighting the N.D. Department of Health’s dashboard on the topic, which reflected a gradual increase in cases last year that began to spike in the late fall. That was followed by a dramatic drop-off at the beginning of this year.

Wynne then used the dashboard to highlight the vaccine coverage rates throughout the state. He noted that North Dakota was doing extremely well compared to other states regarding the number of people who had received at least one dose. He added that going forward, some issues to track would be transmissibility of the virus after natural infection or vaccination; impact of the COVID-19 variants; vaccine hesitancy; and when to relax public health procedures.

Vice Chancellor of Strategy and Strategic Engagement Jerry Rostad brought forward information requested by Board members from an earlier meeting, which included updates on emotional and physical wellbeing, community involvement, and flexibility. Rostad also provided updates on spring plans throughout the system regarding commencement, sporting and other events, audience sizes, and the Spring 2021 Census Headcounts. Rostad noted that plans varied from campus to campus, whether it was with athletic events or theater, and included external uses that were scheduled such as high school basketball tournaments.

Riedman detailed the NDUS testing strategy, noting that so far it had been overwhelmingly positive. All 11 institutions were using the BinaxNOW rapid tests, with 500 tests having been completed in early January increasing to 1,850 in the week of February 20. More than 10,000 tests had been conducted so far, with several institutions providing incentives. Weekly testing was required for specific groups, such as student athletes and nursing students.

Rostad provided the Board with an update to the strategic planning process. He began by speaking about how EduCause produced an annual document that looked at IT issues, with the latest looking at challenges related to the pandemic. Rostad said the EduCause report included three scenarios: Restore, Evolve and Transform. Those scenarios could be an entry point for Board members to review the strategic plan. He then proceeded to list which scenarios might work best for new or ongoing challenges and when it might be more appropriate to apply them.

Rostad noted that there was a fair amount of information available for the Board on the subject, including the 2015-2020 strategic plan and the 2020-2025 strategic review and its COVID-19 addendum. A previous survey done systemwide would be reissued to track if any attitudes had changed on the topics presented. To restart the discussion, the Board would need to review the Mission & Vision, Beliefs and Core Values, and more. The infographic tracking ongoing metrics could be a good start for Board members to decide if it wanted to change goals, objectives or metrics going forward.

Director of Student Affairs Katie Fitzsimmons provided the Board with details on the most recently completed NDSWAPS Summary and NDUS Supports for Behavioral Health. For decades, the system had been initiating the survey, which has evolved over time. The last two iterations looked at usage and consequences to substance abuse, but also other issues such as behavioral health and COVID-19.

Fitzsimmons noted there had been an overall decrease in e-cigarette usage, and a general decline in alcohol usage although those who were drinking had been drinking more. She stated that there had been positive data concerning how more faculty were talking to students about mental health programs and services. She added that there had been increased concerns related to COVID-19 such as with increased stress and anxiety. Fitzsimmons concluded that each campus would receive a more focused report for their college or university, which could allow them to prioritize locally.

Father Cheney with the Newman Center spoke to the Board about faith-based support for students. His presentation included addressing challenges like addiction, loneliness, suicidal ideation, ability to form meaningful relationships and forming the whole person. He noted that there were mediators between improved health, well-being, and spirituality such as healthy habits and social connections.

Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs and Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan gave an update on the legislature, including bills that would impact higher education, and the budget. She said while there were about 200 bills that impacted higher education, that number was down to roughly 140. More work would be done toward those bills once crossover happened on March 3. Dolan then presented a summary of the status of the budget, which she noted was currently in a good place. She noted that the 7.5 percent recommended base reduction was not approved by the Senate, which had approved a two percent per year salary increase. Funding formula credit production changes had been approved. Additional funding for scholarships and grants, bond payments, nursing education and system governance market adjustments had been approved.


Committee recommendations, policies

Board member Tim Mihalick brought forward the Budget and Finance committee business, which included recommendations to ratify the chancellor’s approval of a $2,750,000 transfer of the NDUS System Office Tier IIII capital building fund appropriation line to the NDSU and NDSCS capital building fund appropriation lines. Another recommendation involved a resolution approving the issuance of WSC Housing and Auxiliary facilities revenue refunding bond, Series 2021 and authorizing the execution of an indenture of trust, Bond purchase agreement and related documents. Both were approved.

Board member Jill Louters, Ed.D., brought forward the Academic and Student Affairs committee recommendations, which included an extension of waivers for Policies 402.1, 402.1.1, and 402.2 through Summer 2023. The recommendation was approved.

Board Vice Chair Dr. Casey Ryan brought forward the Research and Governance committee business, which included details on the Board self-assessment priorities. He noted that due to COVID, self-assessment had been postponed. However, three items would need Board approval going forward: mission, vision, core values; cybersecurity; continued focus on online learning.

Student Board member Erica Solberg provided an update on the North Dakota Student Association, noting that they held their monthly meeting last week. They reviewed legislative topics and election campaigning would begin soon.

Faculty Adviser to the Board Elizabeth Legerski, Ph.D., provided an update from the Council of College Faculty, noting they met earlier in the month to speak about the 600-level policy changes. Since that time there had been further discussion on Senate Bill 2030 and its potential impact on academic freedom.

Staff Adviser to the Board Retha Mattern provided an update on Staff Senate, noting they met earlier in the month. Discussion surrounded proposed legislation that could impact staff on campuses and access to the vaccine.

The Board held first readings of Policies 1901.3 (Information Technology Project Management) and 403.1 (Academic Program Requests); as well as the second readings 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, second 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), 806.2 (Staff and Faculty Recruitment Expenses), and to delete Policy 706.3 (Authorization for Travel and HR 31, Travel Expenses). All were approved.

In other business, the Board approved renaming the UND Higher Performance Center as the Fritz Pollard Jr. Athletic Center. Pollard was an Olympian and one of the first Black students at UND, and among the first admitted to the UND student athlete hall of fame.

The Board also heard the Core Technology Services Large Project quarterly report, an update on the Tuition Waiver report, an update on Math Pathways and an update on the Williston State College presidential search. The next meeting is scheduled for March 25 via Teams Live.