From the Dean: ‘Cross-over,’ COVID, and commencement

We now have reached the “cross-over” phase of the North Dakota legislative session where bills that originated in one chamber are passed over to the other chamber for consideration. In the case of the funding bill for the UND SMHS that is contained in the higher education budget (SB 2003), the bill (which passed without significant amendments this week) now goes over to the House, where we will testify on March 8. The Legislative Assembly now is in recess until next Wednesday when the session resumes. Other than the passage of SB 2003, there have been no significant new developments to report on the budget front (which is good news).

The past two weeks have been especially busy for me; last week I attended (virtually) the winter meeting of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), where we considered a pandemic-related backlog of accreditation dossiers of medical schools located throughout the U.S. and Canada. Then this week I chaired a virtual survey team visit to a major west-coast medical school. Both multi-day events were intense and time-consuming, but I do think that the time expenditure was worthwhile from the standpoint of the SMHS because I always learn a lot about the accreditation process that we can apply here at UND. With our own accreditation visit only a little more than a year away, every new insight helps. But ensuring full compliance with the 12 standards of performance that are made up of 93 elements is hard work – we’ve been working on LCME compliance issues since our last survey team visit in 2014!

Another major issue that we collectively are spending more and more time considering is when and how to adjust to the changing pandemic landscape. Fortunately, the latest information both in North Dakota and around the country is encouraging, although the various new viral variants are worrisome. On one hand we don’t want to let down our guard prematurely, and on the other we don’t want to continue restrictive practices if they aren’t producing significant benefit. For now, we plan to err on the side of caution, but I am guardedly optimistic that we really will be able to get to a “new normal” by the summer and the start of the fall semester.

One of the examples of the dilemma emerging around when and how to relax restrictions is Spring Commencement. Not long ago UND indicated that commencement would be all-virtual, similar to what was done previously for spring, summer, and fall 2020 commencements. I heard from a variety of students and parents about their disappointment with this University-wide decision and I solicited the opinion and feedback from all of our senior health sciences and medical students. In addition, I met with a group of students who had networked with their fellow students to suggest some options. Suffice it to say that these and other options are under active consideration, and I expect a formal announcement of commencement plans for UND SMHS graduating students will be forthcoming soon. Additionally, UND previously indicated that all students who had a virtual commencement experience last year would be invited back to campus for an in-person event when it is safe to do so, and planning currently is underway to accomplish this. Stay tuned!

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences