On Tuesday, March 24, UND senior leaders held a UND Forum/Town Hall via Zoom, during which they answered questions from faculty and staff about the impact of the coronavirus on UND operations.
Faculty and Staff Forum Questions
Are we asking faculty and staff who traveled over Spring Break to self-quarantine?
Interim President Wynne: Thanks, Tom. So, unfortunately, the answer is, “It depends.” It depends on where the travel was; it depends on whether the Individual is actually involved in health care, whether the individual has been in contact with anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms, and whether the individual has any symptoms themselves.
The way of getting guidance on this is to go to the North Dakota Department of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites, where you’ll find an effective questionnaire that would guide you as to whether you should speak with your supervisor about self-quarantine.
Of course, if there is any question, you should self-quarantine until the time you get more direction from your supervisor.
Will parking be refunded?
Jed Shivers, vice president of finance and operations: We’re working through that issue. In our case, we have to coordinate the question of refunds with the North Dakota University System, and that makes sense because I think the system wants to try and come out with a reasonably consistent message to the entire university community and all of its students.
My sense is that we’ll know more as the board meets. We were just on a meeting with all the vice presidents and Vice Chancellor Tammy Dolan and Vice Chancellor Phil Wisecup, and we discussed this issue. I think the board is moving toward a reasonably rapid resolution of this question.
So my anticipation is that it’s likely, and stay tuned. I think we’ll know more fairly soon.
Will teaching evaluations be collected this spring? How, if at all, will they take into account these disruptions?
Senior Vice Provost Debbie Storrs: Yes, we plan to continue to solicit student course feedback, because I think it’s going to provide a lot of information from a student perspective about this transition. We want to be really thoughtful, however, and we recognise that this is a very unusual semester, and faculty have had to make quick adjustments in terms of teaching remotely.
That means we need to have conversations with faculty and chairs and deans about if and when we would use those evaluations in any way relative to annual evaluations. So that remains to be seen.
I want to convey that our primary focus is, we don’t want to harm faculty in any way. You are not responsible for the situation; you’ve stepped up and agreed to teach remotely. We’re so grateful for your creativity in the ways that you’re managing the various courses that you’re teaching.
So we have every intention of protecting you from some of the negative evaluations that may occur as a result of his transition. But we will continue to solicit student course feedback. It’s an important learning opportunity for us.
How long will “work remotely” be in place?
Interim President Wynne: I think this is an important thing for us to make clear: anyone who is now working remotely should continue to do so until directed otherwise. Obviously for people who are required to be on campus — the police, facilities people and so forth — they are already on campus. But for others, if you are working remotely, you will continue to do so and should expect to continue to do so for the remainder of this semester unless directed otherwise.
Three related questions: The mandate of not returning through spring semester, does that apply across the board for 12-month research faculty and staff as well?
Does that mean that staff and faculty within centers or programs will also not be allowed to return to workspaces until after May 15?
Also, it seems that UND staff are being required to follow very strict procedures for working remotely, like clocking every minute and being available. Could UND administrators be more relaxed in how employees report their time?
Vice President Shivers: The most important thing from my perspective is for people to recognize that the university is open. In other words, when I say it’s open, I mean that we are in business. We are teaching students, we are conducting research. We are doing everything that we normally do in a very unusual situation.
However, the difference is that the vast majority of our staff are doing this remotely. And my view is, no matter what your status on the UND workforce is, it’s safe to assume that, as President Wynne said, people should continue to do what they’re doing until directed otherwise. I think that’s really the right way to think about this.
In other words, if you’re currently working remotely, you should continue to do so. If you need to come to work to pick something up, to get a piece of equipment and so on, I would treat that as a visit to the grocery store: don’t linger. Come into the building, get your stuff, get what you need, return home and continue to work.
There are a fair number of people who are continuing to actually come to the campus physically. So for example, people in facilities who are doing landscaping work or preventive maintenance in buildings where it’s quite safe, because the buildings are very lightly populated at this time — those people are coming to work, and we would expect them to do so.
So I think those are the basic outlines of how people should think about this extremely unusual time.
In terms of the second part of the question, there should be a note coming out to all faculty and staff fairly soon that addresses this directly. But to give you a summary of what we’re trying to say in that note that you’ll get: we recognize that it’s burdensome — that people have childcare issues, that there’s a lot coming at people — believe me, we get that. I mean, many of us are in those same situations.
So with that, what you’ll see when you read this note is this: Flexibility is key between supervisors and employees. We do not expect people nor is it necessarily the right thing for maximum productivity, for people to work from 8 to 4:30 or whatever their hours are. They may have to spread their day around to match what they have to do for their home life, and what they need to do for their work life.
So, flexibility is the primary message that I want people to understand.
The flip side, of course, is accountability. We’re state employees; we owe the taxpayers of the state of North Dakota, and all the parents and students who pay tuition, our duty to be accountable.
So, we don’t want people getting the idea that they’ve got to account for every minute of every day. We don’t want people to worry about, “oh my gosh, I didn’t work an hour, so I’m going to take an hour of leave” or stuff like that. We want to make sure that people are getting their work done.
And so, as you’ll see in the note that you’re going to get, that representation is being made, and we’ll be working with people in order to really streamline that kind of reporting.
And I think that’ll be less burdensome for supervisors as well as employees themselves.
But again, the key thing is, we are open. We are running. We are up, and thank goodness for all of the efforts of the faculty and staff who are dealing with this amazing situation.
What about work study student employees — can they work remotely?
Senior Vice Provost Storrs: I appreciate that staff and faculty are concerned about our work-study students. As you know, work-study is a part of their federal financial aid, so we’ve prioritized finding ways that they can complete their work-study by remote.
We have asked folks who can’t assign their work-study students remote work to send us those students’ names. My teammate Chelsea Johnson is creating a list of those students, plus a list of opportunities where they can remotely work, and we’ll reassign them to a different supervisor.
Our goal is to prioritize our work-study students so that they can work remotely. That is occurring this week, and we hope to have all those reassignments completed by the end of the week so that the students can finish their work-study throughout the end of the semester.
During this social distancing time, are there guidelines about self-quarantining for faculty and staff who have traveled to hospitals in counties within North Dakota?
UND Chief of Police Eric Plummer: Currently, there’s no guidelines for traveling to a specific hospital. What we look at is, if you’ve traveled anywhere where you may have come into contact with someone with COVID-19, they are recommending that you self-quarantine for 14 days.
What about the impact to my research?
Interim Vice President for Research John Mihelich: I think the impact depends a little bit on what you’re doing. But for the most part, our goal is to maintain the continuity of research as best as possible. It’s our hope to continue doing that. There are some impacts with some of the decisions we’ve made. There’s a travel restriction, which may have some impacts, but there’s an exception process for that. Undergraduate students who have been employed in research labs — there may be some impact there, since students aren’t coming back to campus and they may not be available to work. But at this point, if they are on campus, they can work.
So we’re going to minimize the impacts as much as possible. My office staff, the proposal staff, IRB staff, everybody’s working. Most of us are remote, but it’s the fastest that we can. It’s business as usual. The services are there; people can’t come in my office at the moment, but please feel free to email us or call us. So there may be some impact, but at the moment, the goal is to continue research as best as we can.
Is there a chance UND will have layoffs?
Interim President Wynne: We anticipate that people will continue as they are now; but the situation may change down the road, depending upon what evolves, quite frankly. I mean, this is an unprecedented event; you know, the last time there was a pandemic like this was more than 100 years ago. And we’re going to do everything possible to maintain our faculty and staff workforce.
Our commitment is to you, and we will do our utmost to ensure the health, safety and continued employment of our entire organization. But there are uncertainties out there that we will just have to see as they evolve. But at this point, let me just conclude by saying there is nothing that is actively being planned on an imminent basis.
How will the current situation change our messaging to the incoming cohort of students for the recruiting class of 2024?
Meloney Linder, vice president for marketing and communications: Our team is working extremely closely with our admissions staff to reach out to our incoming class and their parents to reassure them about the resources that UND has available to support them during this time.
We understand some of them that may be hitting some financial hardship; we want to make them aware of scholarship opportunities that UND has, and also we are set for online learning, and we want to remind them of that. So we are having regular communications with them now and will continue through the months ahead.
Is the university considering how the beginning of both summer and fall semesters will be impacted if the quarantines continue?
Incoming President Armacost. Yes, absolutely. We are actively looking at the summer and the fall, we’d be foolish not to plan that far ahead.
As President Wynne said, this is an unprecedented event for the nation. It’s an unprecedented event for UMD. And we have to be prepared, whatever the environment is that we’re trying to operate in.
So, we’re looking at options of continuing online education. I know both Provost DiLorenzo and Senior Vice Provost Storrs have been working with with deans to determine the viability of offering summer courses online. And then in addition, there’s a group meeting to discuss all the other activities that happened on campus over the summer. And they will have a recommendation to us within the week about how they think world and national events will impact those programs over the summer.
Editor’s note: It was announced on March 31 that Summer Session will be offered online. For more information, see the blog entry.
For those of us who have school-aged children at home, will we need to take sick or vacation leave in order to teach our children at home?
Vice President Shivers: That’s a great question. And I think when you all get the note that we sent out, it will provide additional clarity.
But again, I want to emphasize this need to be very flexible in terms of the relationship between supervisors and employees.
Basically, the idea here is that we understand. You’re getting hit with needs to take care of your kids, to do homeschooling, etc. And so, our goal is, we want to continue to pay people; we want people to continue to work. So, the way to do this is to figure out — this may sound silly — that issue of work-life balance in an extraordinary time.
And the way to do that, I think, is to divide up your day into meaningful chunks, and say, “This is the time I’m going to put aside for my kids. And this is the time I’m going to put aside for my work. And this is the time that I’m going to put aside for me.” Then try and work it out that way.
And we’re going to be supportive of that. So for example, I got a related question in an email asking, “Will salary be adjusted for staff who cannot work a full day?” And I think at this point, our answer is that because of the unprecedented time that we’re going through, we’re assuming that people are going to do their work — that we’re going to get 40 hours a week of work out of people, that people are doing their level best to do this.
And so, we’re not going to get into “take an hour off here, take an hour off there.” I don’t think that’s particularly productive in this particular time.
Basically, we just want people to do their best. We know that people have the desire and the goodwill to do a good job on behalf of the University and the state. And so that’s the tack that we’re taking on this.
When will we know if and when the University Children’s Learning Center will be reopening?
Vice President of Student Affairs and Diversity Cara Halgren: We recognize that the transition has been challenging for staff, faculty and students who use the UCLC. We’ve decided to keep the center closed so long as the Grand Forks public schools remain closed.
Again, we know that this local schools are using remote instruction at this point. Our biggest concern is keeping our youngest learners in our faculty and staff that use the center safe. And so again, we will continue to revisit when it is most opportune for us to be able to open it, knowing that people can access it safely.
Provost DiLorenzo: We are getting a couple of questions about the use of SU grading.
Senior Vice Provost Storrs: SU grading refers to Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory grading. There are a lot of conversations happening with faculty and students. We’ve met with college deans and the senate executive committee, and we’re looking at all of the options to make a decision. We want to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to help us make that decision. We’ll be meeting with the student senate soon to help understand some options. We want to make sure whatever decision we do make doesn’t have unintended consequences.
While we try to provide as much flexibility as possible for students, given that we aren’t sure what’s going to happen in terms of the state of affairs or difficulties they may have in their personal lives, juggling various things, including faculty. We want to provide as much flexibility as possible. We will have a decision very soon, but we want to make sure that we’re talking to all of these constituents before making that decision.
Will Wellness Center memberships be refunded or prorated during the closure?
Vice President Shivers: Dr. Halgren and I have had conversations about how the North Dakota University System is considering the issue of refunds and the basis for those refunds. And, I think, everyone wants to do what’s reasonable for students and their parents who are being exposed, etc. That’s the fundamental aspect of this. I suspect a decision will be made as we’re looking into the other refund questions like housing and dining, etc.
Stay tuned, but I don’t think this is going to take a long time.
Does the University know if we can schedule summer and fall events at this time? For example, if someone has a conference or training in August 2020, can and should they move forward with scheduling travel? Debbie, could you start with talking about summer courses and someone else can chime in with events?
Senior Vice Provost Storrs: I think Dr. Armacost mentioned this earlier, but we’re talking with deans right now about summer course offerings and planning to work with them to try to move as much as possible to online instruction, providing faculty teaching in the summer with the support of TTaDA to make sure those are quality online courses.
Editor’s note: It was announced March 31 that summer classes will be held online only.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall, but I always believe we should be as prepared as possible given the changing nature of COVID-19. We want to be prepared for the worst-case scenario where we might have to provide all-online instruction. But I think it’s too early to make that call, yet. Dr. Halgren and I are meeting to talk more about on-campus, summer events. We have a lot of events that happen where we bring in groups of students and conferences – we’re meeting in the very near future. We’ll have more information for the campus about that.
Provost DiLorenzo: This was about events, and I think we have cancelled all of the spring semester’s events, and we have also said that there will be no University-sponsored or funded travel during the course of this semester.
Senior Vice Provost Storrs: I’ve gotten questions from faculty about attending academic conferences in the summer. I think it’s too risky, personally, to confirm that yet. So I would, again, advise not to make those reservations because too much is unknown. Again, we have our own travel restrictions at UND. Dr. Wynne might want to talk about what might happen over the summer knowing again that much is still unknown.
Interim President Wynne: I’ll try to address this both from the standpoint of an interim president but also as a physician who has been very involved in these sort of things.
If we look back to the past, at the last major pandemic, which was the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and 1919, what they saw was that the new cases tailed off during the summer. We don’t know if that might occur with COVID-19, although it is not unreasonable to assume it. So we may actually get a respite, which I know will be a great relief in the summer, and again, I’m speculating.
But it might allow a relaxation of some of the more limiting things we’re doing now. T
here are two provisos that I would say. The first one is relaxation – I don’t think it’s going to be a total elimination of the sort of things that we’re doing with distancing. So if it’s a conference attended by 30,000 people together in an auditorium, elbow to elbow, I would share Senior Vice Provost Storrs’ reservation about making a commitment to do that sort of thing.
On the other hand, we may see that we can do more in the summer. The second proviso is, again, looking at the epidemic of 1918 and 19. It did come back in the fall and thereafter. What I’m hoping, speaking as a physician, is that all of our efforts that we’re doing now we’ll enable us to get ahead of the curve, if you will, so what happens in the fall and beyond is more positive than what happened in the past.
What we’re trying to do now at UND and throughout the North Dakota University System is avoid that spike in cases that are now in New York City, Spain and has occurred elsewhere. The expression is to “flatten the curve.” The reason we want to try to flatten that curve of new cases is so the health care system is not overwhelmed. If we can do that successfully, and I think we can, we have a better chance to return to normal sooner rather than later.
What happens in the future is going to be determined in substantive measure by what happens now and in the next couple of weeks, and month. All of us are staying attuned to this, but I think there is a reasonable possibility along the lines that Debbie suggested that during the summer, there may well be more flexibility to do things again. But big conventions, meetings – that’s something that I don’t predict will be occurring as early as this summer.
What are the guidelines for postdocs and experiment work in the lab?
Interim Vice President Mihelich: The goal is continuity in our research. There will be some disruptions. One thing I’ll announce is that we’re suspending in-person contact and data collection with human subjects research. There will be some impact, but again, the goal is continuing to do the best we can with what we have. Graduate students involved on research teams: again, we want to encourage research activities to happen remotely.
I fully understand that that can’t happen in all cases, so when it can, we expect the work to get done with the utmost caution and adherence to best practices. I would encourage faculty and research leaders, and PIs, to be as flexible as they can with their graduate students. Back to the point Jed made earlier, graduate students are employees. They have work to do. And I think as long as supervisors are as flexible as possible, that’s the guideline – that they get that work done.
Dr. Wynne, are there plans for students who have medical placements, such as medical students, nursing, behavioral health students? I understand that this is an evolving situation, but making sure students have opportunities is significant from an academic standpoint.
Interim President Wynne: That’s an excellent question and one we face in the Medical School, the health sciences, nursing and other places, where a critical part of student education occurs in the clinical setting. For the present, the remainder of this month, on the strong advice of national groups that deal with this, and also the dictums from most of the local hospitals, our clinical students have been removed from the clinical setting. We are looking closely at the appropriateness of returning to that environment in the future.
This is still a work in progress. On one hand, we feel the imperative to try and make sure that health sciences and related student activities are not interrupted at a time when the nation and North Dakota is going to need health care professionals in a very urgent way. On the other, we do not want to put our students at risk. We have to balance doing what is right by the student versus societal need.
A related question that I’ve been asked several times is, what about students who may not be involved in clinical activities, but would like to volunteer to help out? Again, the national guidelines have suggested the following: that students should not be involved in this sort of voluntary activity, unless there is a true emergency in the local healthcare system from the standpoint of workforce; that the student only participates in the care of non-COVID-19 patients to try and protect the student as much as possible; also, that the student is not subject to any pressure from either UND or the local hospital system to do this, and it must be totally voluntary.
Fortunately, we are not in that situation, so we do not anticipate students in the clinical arena, at least at the present and hopefully foreseeable future.
I have two UIT/tech questions and I’ll give a shot at this and perhaps we can have Madhavi address these later. What provisions can be made to support faculty and staff who lack a computer at home?
Provost DiLorenzo: We’re working on those things. We do have provisions for that. You’ll need to contact UIT staff, and they will get through with you.
Another question was the ability to create teams in Microsoft Teams so that people can make teams for departments and classes using this tool.
Madhavi Marisinghe, CIO: We can certainly look into it. We need to assess the impact or perhaps find options to make it easier.
Jed, can you say more on the COVID-19 productivity form and how that should be filled out?
Vice President Shivers: If you go on the HR website, and you press the COVID-19 button, you will see a form. The form is revised for the productivity report, and the way in which we’ve revised it is we’ve eliminated all the hours.
Now what we’re looking at is just telling us what you’re working on. It’s a much higher-level approach, and it will help us keep people from having to consider whether they need to use a vacation hour, or something like that. What we’re doing is based on the feedback we’ve received from people.
Many of our department’s faculty members conduct research remotely, at various sites across North Dakota, in different states or even different countries. Will their travel be approved and reimbursable?
Interim Vice President Mihelich: We realize that, and the suspension of travel was one of those things that can impact research. When the UND put that restriction in place, we had a process for requesting exceptions, and that exception needs to be approved by the dean, vice provost and president.
As far as whether it will be approved, I can’t say. It will be handled on a case-by-case basis with a discussion about the degree of safety that can be maintained, the importance of the research and the consequences of it not happening at this moment.
So we’re definitely all for considering exceptions, but the restriction is put in place for a reason – to maintain the safety of our faculty and students.
What are the thoughts, advice or timelines in planning future campus visits and similar events for prospective students?
Senior Vice Provost Storrs: We’re disappointed that we can’t bring prospective students to campus because we know when they come to campus that can really change their decision about coming to study here. We’re disappointed, but the health and safety of our prospective students, as well as our staff and faculty, are paramount.
So, our open houses coming up in April and May are going to have to be cancelled, because we want to adhere to social distancing. We don’t want to bring groups together.
But our great admissions team is working hard in other ways. They are working with Meloney Linder to figure out what kind of virtual visits might we have for our prospective students. So we’re pulling together some really creative minds to find solutions to that, but we want to ensure that there is social distancing happening.
We’ll do our visits in a different way – virtually.
Are medical students allowed to be in UND buildings off-campus while off clinical rotation? We want them to have a home, but want to maintain a degree of safety and health for all.
Interim President Wynne: The important thing is the physical separation. There are times when students need to come into retrieve information for their studies. That is certainly permissible. John Mihelich talked about how operations in the research area might be continuing with a sparse number of people, physical distancing and so forth.
They key thing when we think about these things is to keep the physical separation. It’s been recommended to stay at least six feet apart, and to keep a time of encounter with other individuals as limited as possible. That’s been recommended to be under 15 minutes.
With those stipulations, having intermittent, occasional contact is pretty low risk. But I just learned, for example, that the president and first lady of Harvard University developed mild symptoms and tested positive, and yet they had been interacting with very few people over the last 10 days, or so.
The moral of that story for all of us is that physical distancing dictums really are important, along with handwashing and all of the other common-sense public health approaches that are our best approach to protect ourselves, families and others.
Is there a deadline for students to move out of housing?
Vice President Halgren: No. In fact, we know that some students and their families are trying to figure out what they want to next, whether a student is looking to stay on campus because, remember, residence halls and Wilkerson Dining Center continue to operate and are still available for students.
But, if you are interested in leaving things here for a while, don’t worry, we’ll keep them locked up in your room, they’ll be fine. We will make sure that you have access to them whenever you are able to get back onto campus.
For faculty members’ sabbatical or other faculty development opportunities for fall 2020 are affected by COVID-19, can they request to delay their sabbatical activities?
Provost DiLorenzo: The answer is absolutely. Please work with your chair and your dean on your planning for sabbaticals and developmental leaves. We’ve always been willing to work with faculty when their sabbaticals or leaves change, or they need to have some sort of consideration.
There are also some questions about deadlines for students in terms of withdrawals, adds, those kinds of things – we’re looking at all of those, we don’t want to disadvantage students. We will be coming out very soon with extensions and deadlines. We want to work with students, chairs and deans a bit more on that. Stay tuned for that, as well.
I’d like to have DeAnna Carlson Zink, our CEO of the Alumni Association & Foundation to say a few words. We’ve had such an outpouring of support for students, faculty and staff. If individuals would like to support our community in some way by giving donations, can you help us understand how we can do that?
Foundation CEO Zink: We have talked to a number of alumni and friends across the United States, and it’s one of the great things that makes this University so wonderful, because of the caring these alumni and friends. So our direction to them and to others has been either to provide a gift through the UND Foundation for a Priority Needs Fund – every college has a Priority Needs Fund, so they can give directly to a college.
Or if they’d like to help the University as a whole, they can provide a gift for the Angel Fund, and all of those gifts will be put to use immediately to benefit students, faculty and staff in the short term.
Working Remotely / HR Frequently Asked Questions
If I work from home, do I need a Flexplace Agreement?
No. Not if you live in ND MN, close by Grand Forks, when related to COVID-19.
I have a health condition(s) that puts me at higher risk for complications from COVID-19, or I live with someone who is at a higher risk (i.e. child, parent, spouse), how do I begin working remotely?
In this situation, partner with Human Resources. Email Peggy Varberg, HR AVP, at firstname.lastname@example.org requesting a temporary assignment to a remote location. Provide a basic explanation. No medical documentation is necessary at this time. Note, you are not required to disclose a medical diagnosis or other medical information to your supervisor.
Human Resources will confidentially evaluate the request, explore alternatives, and attempt to appropriately address the employee’s health concerns while maintaining UND’s operations. See question #1 above: if approved, supervisor and employee must create a plan for remote work expectations.
If they are at increased risk but do not feel they need or can work remotely, employee should still go through this process in order to look at the possibility of reassigning duties and/or workstation location if needed in the future. This will be the employee’s call to make.
If I am ill and unable to work, do I need to use sick leave?
If I become ill and am unable to work, do I need a Long-Term Medical Leave (FMLA)?
Possibly. If you are medically unable to work for more than 3 consecutive days and are receiving treatment by a health care provider, you must submit a leave request form. See Long-Term Medical and Family Leave Policy
Each individual’s situation is different and questions should be directed to their supervisor and/or HR. UND Human Resource Manager’s Areas of Responsibility:
- Becca Jacobson-Provost and VP of Academic Affairs-All areas except the below:
- Kelsie Carrier-VP Finance and Operations, VP Marketing and Communication, VP Student Affairs & Diversity
- Misty Brustad-Facilities Management
- Mel Arnold-School of Medicine and Health Sciences
- Aerospace Coronavirus Updates
- Campus Emergency Management
- School of Medicine & Health Sciences COVID-19 Response
- University Information Technology
- CBR Rediness Preparation
- University Counseling Center