Board hears end-of-year COVID update

Board hears end-of-year COVID update

At the last meeting of the calendar year the State Board of Higher Education took time to review ever-changing details surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of that review the Board heard from the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) and from its own legal counsel on vaccine mandates.

Kirby Kruger, director of disease control for the NDDoH, updated the Board on emerging details on the Omicron variant, among other things. He noted that COVID variant surveillance in the state was not diagnostic, and that whole genome sequencing priority was given to hospitalized cases, breakthrough cases, unusual clusters, and positive PCR samples with deviations. Roughly three dozen random samples are sent to the Centers for Disease Control weekly.

Kruger added that currently in the United States there were only two variants of concern: Delta and Omicron, out of thousands of variants that had been identified. He said that Omicron first emerged in South Africa, who reported it to the World Health Organization on Nov. 25 and as of last reporting was on six continents and in 26 states. He said that Omicron had mutations to the spike protein that may increase transmissibility. Kruger added that two doses and boosters both showed increased neutralization of the Omicron variant.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Olson then provided legal advice on federal and state vaccine mandates. He noted that the federal government had issued several vaccine requirements around September of this year. Since then, numerous lawsuits had been made against the mandates, which was enjoined in the federal courts and not currently in effect.

Board Vice Chair Jill Louters, Ed.D., provided an update on the North Dakota State University Presidential search. She noted that interviews would begin early next month in Minneapolis. Following those interviews, the search committee would deliberate and select top candidates, who would then be invited to visit the campus for further interviews later.

Board member Jeffry Volk provided an update on the North Dakota State College of Science Presidential search. He said the search committee was still seeking candidates and would be until January. At that time the candidates would be reviewed at a high level, and interviews would begin roughly three weeks later. Campus visits were tentatively scheduled for a late February-early March timeframe.

Chancellor Mark Hagerott provided an update on the presidential evaluations of two-year college presidents. He reiterated that on any given day the presidents had incredibly hard jobs and offered them all a thanks for navigating the complexities of the past year. He noted that reviews were held annually, and contracts were signed in June. To make reviews easier for the Board, two-year campuses reviews were held in the fall. Hagerott then provided an individual review of the two-year presidents, except for NDSCS President John Richman, who had recently retired, and Williston State College President Bernell Hirning, who had been on the job for roughly five months.

Student Advisor to the Board Gracie Lian provided an update from the North Dakota Student Association, stating that they had a recent online meeting and were thankful for special session support for North Dakota University System.

Faculty Advisor to the Board Elizabeth Legerski, Ph.D., provided an update from the Council of College Faculty, stating that recent discussion surrounded mandates were helpful for the campuses.

Staff Advisor to the Board Retha Mattern provided an update from N.D. Staff Senate, stating that many conversations had been ongoing regarding mandates


Board business and policies

Board member Tim Mihalick provided an update from the Budget and Finance committee, which included the proposed 2022-23 Room, Board and Fee Guidelines; the Capital Building Fund; a revised resolution authorizing Dakota College at Bottineau to issue not more than

$2,500,000 in housing bonds to finance construction and equipping of a dining facility.

Louters brought forward the Academic and Student Affairs committee agenda recommendations, which included state authorizations for Columbia College and Rasmussen University. She said the committee also heard an update on social and emotional learning, and mental health issues including available resources.

Board member Nick Hacker brought forward a brief update from the Audit committee. He said continued reviews of the Fraud Hotline complaint process was moving forward as it appeared that the hotline was not being used for the purpose it was designed for.

Board Chair Dr. Casey Ryan and Board member Danita Bye respectively brought forward agendas from the Research and Governance committee. Bye noted that in Governance, the committee would be looking at governance structure and public records. Ryan said that in Research, they heard a report on potentially moving both EPSCoR and INBRE under new departmental review.

The Board heard the first reading of Policy HR7, and the second readings of Policies 412 (Transfer of Credits) 411 (Admission), 503.1 (Student Free Speech & Expression) and 520 (Title IX Sexual Harassment). All were approved. After having been consolidated to other areas, the Board then deleted Policies 402 (Delegation of Admission Authority), 402.1 (First Year Applicants-Certificate, Diploma, and Associate Degree Programs), 402.1.1 (Standardized Test Scores), 402.2 (First Year Applicants – Baccalaureate Programs), 402.3 (Home Educated and Other Special Categories of Applicants), 402.4 (Admission Policies – Transfer Applicants), 402.5 (Admission Policies – Former Students), 402.6 (Admission Policies – Graduate and First-Professional Degree Programs), 402.7 (Admission Policies – Selected Undergraduate/Graduate Programs), 402.8 (Admission Policies – Non-resident Students), 402.9 (Admission Policies – New International Students), 402.10 (Admission Policies – Students Enrolling Under Reciprocal Agreements), and 402.11 (Tests of High School Equivalency).

In other business, the Board set the 2022 meeting calendar, heard the annual report and quarterly large project oversight report from Core Technology Services, and heard the 2021 Academic-CTE scholarship report. The next meeting will take place January 27, 2022.