Editor’s note: The following is the transcript of UND’s Student and Parent Town Hall, which was held via Zoom on Jan. 14. The transcript also includes questions and answers that were not able to be addressed during the live event.
President Armacost: Thank you for joining us. This is Andy Armacost, UND’s president. And this is an exciting time for us to kick off this semester and share with you all the information about what’s going on on campus.
I’m joining you from the University House here on campus, and it’s just great that you set aside the time to have this conversation.
There’s a whole lot going on around here. There’s work going on with respect to fighting COVID; we have a new testing strategy that will tell you all about. We have vaccinations that are coming our way as well.
And in addition to that, we’re beginning an important legislative session for the state. So this is an exciting time for us to share the case of the University of North Dakota with our state legislators, and they’re just a tremendous group who devote a lot of time, and we’re eager to work alongside them to make sure that the interests and the needs of the University are taken care of.
So, it’s an exciting time for us.
I should also call attention to the fact that Monday, when I’ll be testifying at the Capitol, it’s also Martin Luther King Day. It’s just a great reminder for us to think about the meaning of what he brought to our society in terms of searching for equity and fairness for all, but in addition, to doing it in a nonviolent way.
You’ve seen my messages in the past about avoiding violence, regardless of the political cause, and making sure that that we do so in a smart way that doesn’t harm other people.
So, celebrate that. Read his speeches, his I Have a Dream speech. I think there might be some words of wisdom for all of us in there.
Anyhow, we have the whole team here, just like in the last couple times we’ve gotten together. It’s exciting to have such a great group of leaders join us and take your questions and be able to provide great answers and great information for you.
This is about you, and we’re happy you’re with us.
I’ll turn it over to Cassie Gerhardt, who’s going to be our moderator again this evening, Cassie, thank you for being here.
Cassie Gerhardt, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity and Associate Dean of Students: Thanks, President Armacost. And again, greetings, everybody.
We’re going to get started tonight. And as we have in the past, if you’ve got questions for us, please feel free to add those to the Q&A. We will get them asked, or I have colleagues here who may answer them in the chat. So we will do what we can, but we will stick around to get everybody’s questions answered.
I will remind you that we are recording tonight’s session, and in the very near future, we will post this online for future reference.
To my colleagues who are going to answer questions, I would ask you to introduce yourself just in case people aren’t aware of who you are.
We welcome questions really on any topic tonight, so please submit them.
As questions start to come in, I’m actually going to start with a couple of them that I got from some students in a meeting just a little bit ago. Rosy, I’m going to give these to you.
Two questions. The first is, can you explain to everybody who’s listening tonight, if people have had COVID in the past, what does it mean to start having to go to testing? Do they need to get tested again? What does it mean if we’ve had COVID, as far as re-engaging in a testing protocol?
Rosy Dub, Director, UND’s COVID Medical Response: With the testing, once you’ve had COVID, and you pass, you have what’s called a 90-day period of presumed immunity. During that time, you’re exempt from testing or quarantine or anything else, provided you don’t get really sick again.
If during those 90 days, you become really sick, you should seek help from a medical provider. And after ruling out other illnesses, they may test you again for COVID.
However, after 90 days, we consider you back to Step One. And at that point, you should resume your testing; and if you’re identified as a close contact, you’ll be asked to quarantine.
You basically start all over after 90 days.
As far as testing, Bill Chaves probably has information about athletics. They have a little different testing regime, but they are testing regularly as well.
For those of you listening, pretty much after 90 days, start like you never had it before.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Rosy. Dr. Halgren, I’m going to give this next question to you. This week, students are back on campus. The question is, students are seeing others on campus not wearing face coverings, both inside and outside of buildings, and maybe more so than even what they saw last semester.
So the question is, what’s going on? Could you please highlight where the University is at with face coverings currently?
Cara Halgren, Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity: Sure. My name is Cara Halgren. I serve as a Vice President for Student Affairs and Diversity. And really, nothing has changed on campus. Face coverings are still required on campus and in the classroom.
So what we would ask is that you continue to follow that protocol and as we all get re-acclimated to campus, we will continue to send those messages to remind people that this is the best way to mitigate COVID on campus, which is still very much a concern for us.
Cassie Gerhardt: Dr. Halgren, while you’re here, because I know we’ll eventually we’ll get questions about the vaccination. If people get vaccinated, do they need to wear face coverings?
Cara Halgren: Yes, they do. And I’ve heard this from some of my colleagues. And I’m going to actually turn this over to Rosy Dub, because I think Rosy will give a by far better explanation this that I will. So, Rosy?
Rosy Dub: I should have introduced myself last time; I forget this every time! I’m Rosy Dub, I’m director of UND’s clinical COVID response.
So, back to the question about whether people who receive the vaccine should wear face coverings: yes, you do need to absolutely continue wearing face coverings.
We know that the vaccine, after a second shot, is roughly about 95 percent effective in that it prevents us from getting severe clinical illness. However, we don’t know for sure about the risk of transmission to others, meaning if I’ve been vaccinated, I probably won’t get really sick, but I still have an opportunity to be passing COVID to others.
So to protect everybody until we have a greater volume of people — a greater percentage of people — immune and immunized, we need to continue to wear our face coverings.
Cassie Gerhardt: Rosy, while you’ve got your mic open, I’ve got another question for you. Any idea of what percent of our out-of-state students who left North Dakota for the winter break have tested for COVID upon their return to North Dakota?
Rosy Dub: Okay, I have to say I was getting distracted when Cassie was asking that question because I was reading that question in the Q&A. I honestly have no idea what percent.
I know that our testing for students, the general public, everybody has been decreased. There are a couple reasons for that. We fear that there is some COVID fatigue; that’s what we’re hearing from students, is that they are experiencing COVID fatigue.
And also, we’re fortunately in kind of a lull of not a real high positivity rate, not a high case rate. So people have perhaps become a little bit more complacent or feeling not so strongly the need to test.
We are very cautious and concerned about that complacency. We don’t know that we have turned the corner on COVID at all. We don’t know if we’re in the bottom of the U, and are on our way up again.
So we just want people to continue testing, continue taking the personal precautions to keep us all safe.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Rosy. I will just add if people are interested in information on our testing events, all of that is posted on the COVID dashboard. So the number of individuals, a breakdown of whether they’re students, staff, faculty, or community members, all of that is posted after each testing event.
Lots of information, though it doesn’t break down whether people are in state or out of state; but there is information on the dashboard regarding that.
President Armacost, I’ve got a question for you. If President Biden’s administration proposes a stricter nationwide lockdown, will the University send everyone home again for mandatory remote learning?
President Armacost: Sounds like a simple question, and it also sounds like there’s probably a very complicated answer to that.
I think it would depend upon what the mandate is. Without seeing any draft language of such a mandate, that’s really hard to answer.
Everybody you see here fought really hard to protect the members of our campus at all costs — testing, quarantining isolation. But I think the same group would fight really hard, and we have, to keep the campus going, without having to send people home.
And so there’s this trade-off between safety of all the members of our campus and giving our students, our faculty and our staff an environment in which they can thrive.
So, I can’t answer it. If we’re mandated to close down, we might not have any choice.
But I think you’d get universal support among the players on this call, that we will do everything we can — using all the safety precautions that we put into place, the effectiveness of testing and contact tracing and quarantine and isolation — that we would fight very hard to keep our campus open, provided that we can do so minimizing the risk to the people here.
Jed, you might also have some thoughts as the head of our COVID Response Group?
Jed Shivers, Vice President for Finance & Operations: Yeah, it’s an interesting question.
By and large, decisions about closure are really made when we have extremely high numbers of cases and hospitalizations. And of course, right now we’re really in a trough; we have fairly low numbers of both.
It’s probably worth remembering that we were up into the 1,800s per million cases, at one point — extremely high numbers of hospitalizations, and the campus stayed open.
So it’s a little hard to envision, other than if there were a collapse of the local healthcare system, why we would close. And I think under those circumstances, we’d be the ones driving that bus more than any federal mandate.
So I think these things are going to be quite local. Of course, we’ll be under the governance of the state as well as the county. So I think really, it’s going to be dependent upon what things look like, as the spring progresses.
And of course, the hope is that people will continue to wear masks, they’ll continue to socially distance, and we’ll have more and more people vaccinated. That will be an ameliorating effect against a big increase.
But we’ve all got to keep our eyes open.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thank you. A question for which I’m going to start with President Armacost, and certainly, Vice President Halgren, Vice President Shivers, if you want to chime in.
The question is, other schools in North Dakota and surrounding states, including NDSU, seem to be less strict with COVID protocols and procedures. Why is UND so strict, while it seems like the COVID positives are relatively the same?
President Armacost: Well, we value the health and safety of the people on our campus, first and foremost. And there are very simple things you can do, like wear masks, wash your hands, keep a distance from others and avoid large groups.
It’s really simple behavioral things that that the science has shown has an impact on the spread of the virus. We take those precautions seriously.
I don’t know that NDSU or other schools have different guidelines and standards. In fact, I was on a call today with the other presidents, and I think we’re in much closer alignment than what the question suggests, not to argue with whoever asked the question. It’s a fair question.
But I think we’ve all been working hard. We know that the campuses have been beacons within their local communities for health and safety. And this group that you see tonight has been at the forefront of crafting these policies and making recommendations to me.
So, I’m comfortable where we are. We’ll be prudent. But again, we have good measures in place that kept the campus open during some pretty difficult times.
Joshua Wynne, Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences: Hi, everyone, Josh Wynne. I head up the University System’s Task Force that deals with the Smart Restart, that is keeping the schools and universities open during the time of COVID.
And at a meeting today, as an example of what President Armacost was talking about, there was uniform agreement that we needed to continue, for instance, to be very careful about the use of masks, to continue the imperative to use masks, regardless of what might be going on elsewhere.
So all of the campuses were in agreement that this is very important for the very reasons that the president mentioned.
I would just like to sort of double down on his statement that really, we’re doing the prudent thing to protect students, faculty and staff. Thank you.
Cassie Gerhardt: On that same thread, Orlynn, I’ve got a question for you. Someone asked the question, why are students at UND not able to eat together in dining centers where perhaps they are able to do so in other institutions in the state?
Orlynn Rosaasen, Director of Dining Services: I’m Orlynn Rosaasen, Director of Dining Services. And I guess I just need to echo what President Armacost stated: UND is concerned about the safety of students, faculty and staff. And the safety precautions that are in place are really wearing masks and distancing.
That’s the thing that UND is adhering to in all the public spaces, and the dining centers are public spaces.
Cara Halgren: So, Cassie, can I add on to that to echoing what people have said so far and taking it one step further?
One of the things that people were asking about in the chat, it looks like, is, why does it make a difference for us to have these COVID restrictions in the dining hall, when we’re going to go back to our rooms, and we’re going to hang out with other people?
We understand that. At the same time, the COVID restrictions in the dining room are set up for those folks to be able to be there and be safe, who choose not to go back and do that same thing.
Again, it’s about meeting the needs of all students and ensuring that we have safe opportunities for all students in dining.
That’s part of the reason — not part of the reason, really the whole reason — why we have the parameters in place that we do.
Cassie Gerhardt: President Armacost, a question for you. This goes back to face coverings: the state mask mandate expires on Jan. 18. Will UND keep its mask mandate? Or will we work with state and city leadership to ensure we keep masks and not spread the virus? I think this is from someone who wants us to keep the mask mandate in place.
President Armacost: As you know, we’ve had a mask requirement on campus before the state or the county or the city did, and if the plan is for at some point very soon for the governor or others to eliminate the mask mandate, we will certainly keep it on our campus. It will be driven by what we think is the science — what we know to be the science and what we think is best.
The mask mandate will be here until we get the “All Clear” signal from our medical professionals.
Joshua Wynne: Cassie, if I could just add to what the President said again, which is yes, as it currently stands, the state mask mandate does expire as indicated. But that doesn’t mean that it might not be extended.
The governor is having a press conference tomorrow at 3 p.m. So for people who are interested in that, you might want to tune in to that press conference to see what might be developing.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Dr. Wynne.
A couple of questions have come in related to the vaccination process. So Rosy, Dr. Wynne, I’m going to pose these to the two of you.
The first one: if a person who’s known to have allergies, is it advisable to take the COVID vaccine, or should they decline?
Rosy Dub: I can start and say that because you have allergies, it does not mean that you should not get the vaccine.
If you’re known to have allergies to any component of the vaccine, then we would not want to have you take the vaccine.
However, before Dr. Wynne joined us, I was going to copy statements he made earlier today at the Town Hall about your risk of severe reaction. Dr. Wynne, would you care to elaborate on that? You did such a good explanation of that at noon.
Joshua Wynne: Thanks so much, Rosy.
So, we know that with any vaccine, there is a risk of minor complications, and very rarely severe complications.
The most severe, acute — that is, right after you get the shot — complication is known as anaphylaxis. And that’s when the blood pressure falls precipitously, and it can be quite dangerous.
The good news is, it’s treatable. But it does occur rarely.
For many vaccines, the frequency is one in a million doses. That’s pretty rare.
It appears the risk of anaphylaxis with at least the Pfizer vaccine — and we think it’s probably true of the Moderna as well, although we don’t know this — is somewhat higher, maybe a half a dozen in a million. So it’s a little more common, but still extremely rare.
I would agree with what Rosy just said about things. If you have a general allergy, that probably is not a contraindication to the vaccine; if you are allergic to any of the components, that is.
And I would add that if you’ve ever had an anaphylaxic reaction to anything, you need to check with your health care provider before getting the vaccine.
But even let me just emphasize this again, even if someone gets the most severe acute reaction of anaphylaxis, it is treatable. And that’s why we insist that people who get vaccinated remain at the facility where they got vaccinated for a number of minutes following the vaccine, so that even if you develop this severe complication, we can give you epinephrine and the other treatments.
And since I have personally treated people with what otherwise would have been fatal anaphylaxis, and they’re walking around just fine now, I can tell you the treatment works and that this should not be a strong reason why you decline the vaccine. Thank you.
Cassie Gerhardt: Dr. Wynne, I’m going to come to you and Rosy with this one as well. For those folks joining us. I know we’re getting a couple of aviation specific questions. We haven’t asked them yet because we’re connecting with some of our colleagues to get answers for you. So please note, we know they’re in the queue. And I know Provost Storrs is working to get some answers, so we will come back to those.
But this is one, Dr. Wynne, that you may be able to answer. Has the FAA approved a COVID vaccine? If so, will UND have that vaccine available for its flight students?
Joshua Wynne: I’m sorry, Cassie, I don’t know the specific FAA regulations. Let me mention to the student who’s asking it that I actually am a pilot. I’m an ATP pilot, and I have a medical certificate so that I fly, and flew just two days ago.
But as far as the specifics of the FAA, I don’t know. My assumption would be that there would be no reason why, after getting a vaccine, you could still not fly. I don’t know of any reason why that wouldn’t be the case.
But we will get the specific answer from one of the aviation medical experts, and let you know. So Rosy, can we post that someplace when we get the definitive answer?
I never want to speak for the FAA without absolutely checking my references. But I do not imagine that it would be a problem.
We will confirm that and will let you know.
Rosy Dub: We will do that, and we’re in on a phone right now with some of our FAA, folks. But if we don’t have the answer on this forum, it’ll be posted on the transcription of this once it’s on the website. We will definitely get that answer.
Cassie Gerhardt: I shouldn’t have assumed, Dr. Wynne, that just because you’re a doctor and a pilot, you would know that answer. But I took a shot. So I apologize.
We will get that answer for you.
I’m going to shift gears a little bit. Jed, I’m going to give this question to you.
Can staff safely assume that if working from home, we will stay this way through the spring semester and beyond until we have reached herd immunity or reached a threshold of vaccinated students, staff and faculty?
I will also note that around here, we like to refer to it as flock immunity and not herd immunity. So Jed your comments, though, about working remotely whence we reach flock immunity?
Jed Shivers: (laughs) Well, I’m not sure that I’m the person who can really define what flock immunity actually looks like, or is. But I will say this: When you think about it, we’ve done a very careful job of monitoring the downside of this epidemic, right? Every day, we look at the statistics for understanding where we are in terms of the incidence and prevalence of disease. We’re looking at hospitalization rates, etc.
Now, we’ve actually started in earnest to look the other way, which is — and this is a nice thing to start to look at — hey, people are starting to get vaccinated.
Right now we’re in a trough period, a low period, I don’t think that we’re at all confident we’re going to stay that way. I think the probability is we’re going to see some or more resurgence of the disease; but we’ll see.
And we’re just going to keep an eye on all these indicators and also look at the number of people who’ve been vaccinated.
I’m not sure that these types of infectious diseases ever go away. I don’t think that would be a correct thing to think about. I think they may recede into the background, where people who are more vulnerable to them have to be careful; and depending on how long the vaccine lasts, this may be something that we’ll be vaccinating for, for a good long time to come, depending upon individual vulnerabilities, similar to the flu. We’ll see what happens.
I think we’re going to be careful in terms of understanding how much we can reopen.
So I would say, we’ll have to wait and see. When you think about it, just before the Thanksgiving season, we did have people coming back to work, and that was when we were in pretty high numbers. So for example, in Twamley Hall, we had more people coming back to work than we do now.
And as the number started to get bad, more and more people stayed home, and the building is relatively empty at this time.
So I think that we’ll probably see a hybrid of some people coming back to work because they would like to come back to work. And we’ll be judging whether or not it’s safe for them and working with them to ensure that people are safe.
I will say, though, that we’re entering into a new time of work, where some people are going to want to work remotely. They’ve discovered that it actually works quite well for them.
And I think employers all over the world and certainly the United States will be dealing with this issue.
So we’ll have to see as we evolve and think about this, what types of work environments we’re really going to evolve into. The world has changed a bit in terms of working, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.
I’d love to give you a more definitive answer to that. But the truth is, we really have to watch and see and really understand what’s going on. So we’ll be cautious.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks.
We received a handful of questions about academic instruction, how we’re doing things. So Dr. Storrs, I’m going to probably have a little rapid-fire and send a few to you; and I know you’re aware of some of these, too, as you’ve watched the chat.
So the first one: the ratio of in-person classes at UND is vastly different from other locations and institutions. Why is that?
Debbie Storrs, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs: Hi, everybody, thanks for joining tonight. My name is Debbie Storrs, and I’m the Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.
We have worked with the Office of Safety to measure the safe distance between seats to ensure that the classroom is a safe place to teach and learn. And that’s what determines how many students could be in a classroom at any point in time.
We literally took a tape measure in the summer and measured every classroom to ensure that we had the six feet distance necessary. That’s how that was planned.
Cassie Gerhardt: Related to that, has there been a change in percentage of in-person hybrid classes and online classes being offered to UND students this semester, compared to the fall semester?
Debbie Storrs: There’s a little bit more online courses than the fall.
Karyn (Plumm, Vice Provost for Student Success), correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s about 70 percent on-campus hybrid courses and about 30 percent online. She’s nodding her head, so I got the answer right.
That’s slightly higher than in the fall.
The other thing is, many of our faculty, when they’re teaching the on-campus courses, not all but many, will give students the option of whether they want to engage completely remotely or not. So the faculty member will determine that, and you can certainly check with your faculty member.
And what we found is that many students, out of convenience or safety, prefer to engage in on-campus courses by distance in their residence hall or their apartments.
Cassie Gerhardt: Dr. Storrs, a question on the academic calendar. Is UND considering keeping students in class through Spring Break and letting them out earlier, like other colleges are doing?
Debbie Storrs: No, we’re not. At this point in time, we are planning our Spring Break. And we will continue the typical academic calendar for spring semester.
Cassie Gerhardt: Great. We’re going to stay in the academic area, and I think, Dr. Storrs, you were able to get some answers to a couple of aviation-specific questions that have been raised.
The first one is, are there plans for more FAA evaluators this spring? This person is hoping to see the backlog in the certification rides cleared up, so aviation students can continue on schedule toward graduation, which has been delayed.
Debbie Storrs: I found a friend in aviation, our Associate Dean Beth Bjerke, who is driving and answered my phone call. She said, we actually have more flight instructors this semester and this year.
So, we should not have a backlog. I did answer that question and gave the name of our chief flight instructor so if that student or that parent has a question, they can call him directly.
But she said there shouldn’t be significant waitlist. So if there is a concern, please contact either Associate Dean Beth Bjerke or Jeremy Roesler, chief flight instructor, whose name and contact number I put in that response.
Cassie Gerhardt: Great.
Meloney, I’m going to take this one to you, given that this is an area that reports up through you all. Do we have any early info regarding plans for graduation, either in May or August? Any early thoughts on where we’re at in our planning for commencement in May or August?
Meloney Linder, Vice President for Marketing & Communications: We have been receiving a lot of questions regarding spring commencement. Given the fluidity of the pandemic and how long it takes to plan the spring commencement, the decision was actually made just this week that spring commencement will once again be virtual.
We are just now in the process of getting that information out. As far as summer, that has not been determined yet.
Cassie Gerhardt: Great, thanks, Meloney. Chelsea, I’ve got a question for you. What is being done to bring corporate recruiters together with graduating students? In particular, this person is interested in aviation students – people who are already thinking of jobs post their graduation.
Chelsea Mellenthin, Interim Director of Career Services: I’m happy to answer that one. Hello everyone, I’m Chelsea Mellenthin, Interim Co-Director right now for Career Services. So, we are certainly aware of the industry and the economy and doing everything that we can to help prepare students for life post-graduation. Some of the things that Career Services help with is resume reviews and cover-letter writing. You can schedule an appointment with us through Starfish, and we also have an online document review process that students can utilize. I’d also like to let students know about our upcoming Career Expo, which will take place virtually, through our Handshake platform, on Tuesday, Feb. 2, from 1 to 7 p.m. We have over 70 employees registered, so we really encourage students to come out, network with those employers that are at that Expo. We still have information sessions that we are offering through Handshake as well, so encourage students to get onto our Handshake platform, as that is where we’re posting all of our information sessions and that’s where we’re hosting our Expo. That’s for aviation students and all students on campus. One other thing that I’d like to add is that we also serve alumni. So, perhaps you get a job post-graduation and you want to change careers because maybe it’s something that’s, “Oh, this wasn’t what I thought it was.” We will continue to serve you even well after your graduating year, so please come see us if you have any questions.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thank you, Chelsea. Dr. Halgren, I’m going to go back to dining centers, and I’m going to send this one to you. So, going back to what some of the conversations were earlier, could changes be made in the dining centers so that areas maybe upstairs in Wilkerson be distanced in a section where students who are comfortable sitting together would be able to do that? Could there be some different physical arrangements for students, given their different comfort levels.?
Cara Halgren: I appreciate that people want to be together, and there is nothing that we want more than to have opportunities for you to be together. At the same time, we need to do so in a way that’s safe. While we’re not in a position now to be able to create those kinds of circumstances, because, while those people who may choose to sit together are okay, they still pose a risk for those people who are working in the dining center, and other people who share that space. But you need to know that the pandemic group continues to meet daily. We continue to have these conversations about ways to ensure that we’re providing the greatest opportunity for students while promoting the greatest safety. We’re not there yet, but there is nothing more than we would love for you all to be able to hang out together in the dining center, and we hope that someday soon we’ll be able to do that again.
Cassie Gerhardt: Rosy, a couple of questions about the vaccine: when do you feel vaccines will be available to the UND student body?
Rosy Dub: Actually, I wish I could be more promising, but it’s very possible the general student body – the healthy people – will not be receiving vaccines until, potentially, the third quarter of this year. Definitely not before late spring, and maybe even summer. That could all change. We’re hearing things with the new rollout of not holding the second doses, as we have started our vaccinations with the federal regulations. There is discussion about releasing those second doses. Right now, at this moment, I would expect late spring or summer. Could change tonight or tomorrow.
Cassie Gerhardt: Rosy, I think you’ve got an update as well regarding the vaccine related to the FAA.
Rosy Dub: I do, thank you. I heard from both of our aviation medical examiners at Student Health and there are currently two vaccines that are approved – the Moderna and the Pfizer – both of them are approved for airmen and for ATC. Provided proper, additional safety precautions that include staying on the site of the shot for 15 minutes, as Dr. Wynne explained, to watch for reactions. In addition, 48 hours of no fly or no safety activity following the shot, which likely includes no tower work, if you’re an ATC. No flying and no safety work for two days following.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Rosy. President Armacost, a question about the potential for the vaccine to be required. Would UND legally be able to require students to get vaccinated for COVID? How would this be enforced, and what would be done if they refuse to get the vaccine?
President Armacost: From what I understand about North Dakota Century Code, requiring students to be vaccinated for any vaccine that the state would want to specify has to be in the Century Code. So, this would actually require legislative change to make that happen. Currently, it’s not required and, unless that happens, which I don’t believe there will be a push from the NDUS to make that request. My best guess is it won’t be required. And I think that will be an enduring answer. Josh, I don’t know if you have other insights.
Joshua Wynne: No, I would agree with you, President Armacost. I don’t expect that it will be required at a state level. Let me just mention, though, that if the state were to mandate it, if that were to occur in law, this has been adjudicated by the Supreme Court and that is legal. So if the state chose to do it, it could be mandated. My expectation is that will not happen.
Cassie Gerhardt: Meloney, I noticed a follow-up about commencement. If people aren’t able to be involved in-person with this upcoming commencement, will there be future conversations about their ability to return to have that in-person experience?
Meloney Linder: Yes, and I should have brought that up when I answered the first question. Of course; we understand that participating in commencement and having the opportunity to walk across the stage to receive your diploma is one of those major moments in one’s college career and, yes, when in-person ceremonies resume, anyone who has missed that opportunity because the ceremony was virtual will be welcomed back to participate.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks for clarifying. We’re getting a couple of questions, and probably through some different lenses. I’m going to look to Provost Storrs, President Armacost, Dr. Halgren, Vice President Shivers. As North Dakota loosens some of its guidelines, why are we continuing to be so strict? If the safest place for students is in the classroom, in light of the restrictions, can’t we loosen those up a little bit in light of what people are seeing in the community? If you could speak to that, maybe, Dr. Storrs, you could speak to it from the classroom and our plans there – if people looking for some of those restrictions to be loosened the same way we’re seeing them in restaurants and other off-campus locations?
Debbie Storrs: I’d be happy to try answer this question. As President Armacost said, we’re prioritizing health and safety. And remember, we’re also thinking about our faculty who are older and may have some health conditions. So we want to make sure they’re protected as much as possible. The classroom is one of the safest spaces because we have the distancing, we have the masks, we have the plexiglass – we believe it’s a very safe place. At the same time, given what we know about COVID and what we don’t know, we want you to use our safety protocol because it’s important for us to protect the safety of all of the campus members, including students and our staff and our faculty who might be at higher risk, because they’re older.
Cassie Gerhardt: Another question about housing and dining: Between Troy, Orlynn and Cara, I have a few parts to this. With the dining center not allowing students together and also not much going on in the residence halls for social activity, is there a concern that most freshmen will choose to live off-campus as sophomores? I know we’re in room reselection currently and it’s tough to justify for my student with all of the restrictions. Troy, maybe if you want to speak to what you’re seeing in the residence halls and the re-contracting process.
Troy Noeldner, Director of Housing and Residence Life: Thank you Cassie, I’m Troy Noeldner, Director of Housing and Residence Life at the University of North Dakota. Glad to be here. We know it’s been a challenging year for students, and we know it’s not the type of experience that students were exactly expecting. Not that this is the experience that we’re used to providing, as well. I do want to clear up one thing with that – there is social activity happening in the residence halls. There was social activity that was happening last semester, and we’ll continue to provide social activities. The difference is that in-person nature versus the virtual and the activities that we’re able to do. We’re hopeful that as COVID maybe changes, or vaccinations become more available, hopefully we’ll be able to change to meet those circumstances. But we’re going to continue offering events. We offered over 300 events last semester in the residence halls. We had over 4,000 students participate in events throughout the semester. So, we did have activities happen, they just weren’t in the traditional in-person format. We do hope that next year we’ll be back into whatever the new normal will be, with double-occupancy in our residence halls, students with roommates. Hopefully we won’t be in a situation where we’re having to have all of these restrictions in place. We don’t know what exactly the future is going to hold, but I think we’re all hoping for the best here, moving forward. What I would hope is that students don’t judge their experience completely on this year in the residence halls. Renewal is coming up for next year. We understand that this isn’t the experience that they had in mind, but we hope that they can come back and try out for another year. We’re trying to put things in place for our students who have a private room this year. We’re going to continue to offer them a private room next year, at the current rate for a double room, so they aren’t going to have to pay that premium next year for a double room if they come back, because we want them to have the experience on campus again. So we’re going to do some things to hopefully provide the incentive to come back and try again in a more normal situation, so we can give them the experience they were expecting to have this year. Don’t give up on us, yet. We’re going to still provide a great experience for your students and we’d love to have them back for another year with us.
Cassie Gerhardt: Orlynn, a question related to dining centers for you. Since no changes are going to be made to the dining centers, will students be allowed to change their plans for the spring semester?
Orlynn Rosaasen: We always allow board plan changes at the start of spring semester. They can fill out a form at the cashier’s stand at Wilkerson and Squires Dining Centers, or they can email Dining directly at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Just to tag on to what Troy was stating about next year. We all understand that this year has been challenging and that students aren’t necessarily getting the experience that they would like to have, or we would like them to have. But we have some exciting things happening next year with dining, with the Memorial Union opening up. There are going to be some exceptional dining options in that building, with the addition of Chick-Fil-A and Panda Express, and then also a Starbucks in that building. So we’re really looking forward to those types of operations opening up, and also finding ways and creating ways so that students who have meal plans, who are living in the residence halls, can use their meal plans over in the Student Union – trying to create that convenience for them, that mobility, so that when they’re on that end of campus, they’ll be able to use those plans.
Cassie Gerhardt: Orlynn, a student who left after Thanksgiving and anticipated getting a partial refund to their dining plan, but has not seen that posted, who should that individual contact with questions?
Orlynn Rosaasen: They can email directly at email@example.com, and that will get forwarded to the right individual.
Cassie Gerhardt: Sounds good, we’ll help you out, whoever raised that question. Thank you. We had a question raised about rush week. And I’m going to assume by “rush week,” they mean sorority and fraternity recruitment, and asking if that is happening. Yes, recruitment is happening this spring. In most cases, our individual chapters will be coordinating those events in their off-campus locations. Information will be available. But yes, recruitment activities are happening in a little different way, but those are all facilitated by the individual organizations, typically, if they’re off-campus property. So, yes, it is happening.
Dr. Wynne, I’ve got a question specific to you, and it’s one of those that’s looking for a medical opinion. So, likely, you’re the only one on the panel who should answer it. What are your thoughts about the new CDC requirements starting Jan. 26, that, if we travel internationally, we not only have to have a COVID negative test, but we also have to have a letter from our healthcare provider? It seems like that will consume a lot of healthcare providers’ time.
Joshua Wynne: Thank you for the question. I haven’t seen the CDC guidelines, so I’m not familiar with all of the specifics. Certainly, given the transmissibility of some of these variants where they appear to be very transmissible, trying to stamp down on that would seem to be appropriate. So for the first part of it, having a negative test seems quite appropriate to me. As far as the letter, without having read the specific CDC guideline, I actually would share some of your concerns as to the benefit of that, because that’s not entirely clear to me, so let me do a little checking and I’ll post a response. I’m not familiar, I’m not sure. But, again, the negative test is quite appropriate, and I have no problem with that. As far as a letter from a physician, I also have some reservations. I’ll look into it and get back to you. I’m sorry I can’t give more of a definitive answer.
Rosy Dub: I might add a little bit to that. I didn’t memorize those guidelines either. But, I think, I know specifically, a letter is requested if somebody is in their 90 days of presumed immunity. I don’t know if it’s required for a negative test. With a negative test, I know that they have to have their name, their date of the test, the kind of test, some of those specifics. But, I could be wrong. The letter may be required for proof that they’re in that presumed immunity period. It may not be for all people that are flying.
Joshua Wynne: And, that would make more sense to me, Rosy. I probably be okay with that. But, that would apply to only a small minority of people who are traveling. We’ll get clarification on it, so that we can give you our interpretation of it. Thanks, Rosy.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, Rosy. The person who raised that one specifically to Dr. Wynne and none of us for the medical advice. So that was good in the chat. It was specifically to Doctor Wynne. So, thank you, Dr. Wynne. Rosy, thanks for your additional clarification.
We have answered all the questions that had been posed in the Q&A. So we’ve got about 11 more minutes scheduled. We are happy to stand and answer questions. But I also want to do a callout: if you have a question you would like us to ask please add it to the Q&A. And I see one right now. So before it even gets sent to me in other ways, I’ll just read it. Maybe a few different perspectives… I know Troy talked about it a little bit on housing. Provost Storrs, you might have some thoughts. Dr. Halgren. What is UND doing to keep freshmen to UND after a year like this? Other colleges are taking a different path that is more appealing and my daughter is doubting her selection of UND.
Debbie Storrs: I’d like Vice Provost Karyn Plumm to answer this question because, you know, we care. We care deeply about our students. And I’m sorry to hear your consideration and your frustration with your experience. We want you to stay at UND. We know that we provide incredible learning opportunities. We also don’t want this pandemic to disrupt your experience, but we know it has. And I know Vice Provost Plumm’s team has done a lot of outreach. And, they also have additional plans to help support students. So, I’ll go ahead and turn it over to Karyn for some additional information.
Karyn Plumm, Vice Provost for Student Success: Hi everyone. I’m Karyn Plumm. I’m the Vice Provost for Student Success. As Dr. Storrs mentioned, we have been working with advisors across campus on the academic pieces and the changes to classrooms and taking classes online and all of those pieces that nobody really looked for or anticipated. We do have some learning specialists that have been working with students who are struggling with, ‘How do I do online classes successfully.’ We’ve been reaching out to students who are struggling. Advisors have been reaching out to students who are struggling. We get notifications if instructors are noting that students aren’t doing as well in courses as they might expect them to. So, a lot of that outreach on the academic end. I know that we have partnered with Student Affairs as well, with a student support team. For students that are really struggling with multiple classes and multiple issues, we have a team of folks reaching out to them to make sure that they are being supported as well. Trying to just make sure that we’re as flexible as we can possibly be for students. We know that this was a hard year. We know that it’s been difficult for everyone. Trying to make sure that everybody gets through it successfully has been our goal.
Debbie Storrs: If there’s anything specifically we can do, send me an email. Just put a dot between my first and last name at und.edu. And if there’s something specifically we can do to help your student, please let me know and I will get in contact with my colleagues and we’ll do what we can. UND is the right place for her and we’re happy to help remind her of that.
Cassie Gerhardt: I don’t have additional questions in the queue. So I’m kind of looking around. President Armacost, anything you are hoping to be able to share or answer and we just didn’t get the right question asked tonight to put you on the spot to answer it?
President Armacost: Well, just two quick observations on the last question about your daughter who might be questioning whether this is the right place. The care and concern that everybody on this call and everybody shows. I’m new, right? I showed up as president this summer. I’ve seen nothing but love and support from the faculty and staff to make sure the needs of our students are taken care of. And I would love to know more. When you send it to Cassie, send it to me too. Or to Debbie Storrs as well. We’d love to know. And Cara Halgren. Who else is here? Put all of us on it. We’d love to know what pathway other schools are taking because we’ve received other feedback from parents who have said, ‘We’re so happy with the path that you’re taking, because we feel our other child is at a school that’s quite reckless and isn’t taking these needs so seriously.” So, we’re trying to strike that balance.
In fact, when the surge of infections happened in late August, early September and again, in November, we fought like mad to keep the campus open, to not revert to sending people home. We debated it. We came up with what we thought was reasonable. The systems we have in place really held tight. We’ve worked hard to make sure that our students are going to get the support that they need. So, we would love to hear more from you about the specific pathway that other schools are going that might be more appealing and address those with you. Again, the love and support from this group for all students on campus is just really incredible. And, we would love to see your daughter stay here. As Debbie Storrs said, we’re all working through this. And, we’ve never seen a pandemic like this and the impact on our whole society.
The other thing I wanted to comment on too is there were a lot of comments about why can’t we just get rid of the mask mandate. Why can’t we just follow the state aggressively and just be done with it all. That sense of urgency is natural. I think we all feel it. We want it to be over. But, we’re finding ways to connect with each other unlike we’ve done in the past. But, let’s apply that same sense of urgency to do the things that we need to do to get out of this, right? The same sense of urgency to test and keep the spread in check. The same sense of urgency to get vaccinated when the vaccines are available. And, the sooner we can do that, that same sense of urgency that many have described – “let’s just be done with it” – I agree, let’s be done with it. But we have to do it the right way and make sure that we keep people safe.
One final comment too. I know Provost Storrs has indicated the most vulnerable. We talked about our professors as well. Among the student body, there are vulnerable students in numbers that you probably don’t realize – diabetics, asthma, etc. The number of students with health conditions is much greater than what I had ever imagined. And, so we need to keep them at the forefront of our thoughts as well, because they’re the ones interacting with all the healthy students, right, the invincible students, and so let’s take care of them as well. Together, we can do this and be patient. We love your students. We love you. And we’ll get through this together.
Cassie Gerhardt: Thanks, President Armacost. I will say a note on behalf of all my colleagues, thank you for all the kind comments that you are sharing in this chat with us. Many of you respond with comments to Kristi Okerlund when she sends out the parents’ newsletter. We try to share those when you name our colleagues for academic departments. And, so thank you.
I will just remind everybody, we truly see this as a partnership. We know we have a number of parents on the line with us tonight, and students. We do this all together. And so we appreciate you all taking time to be with us tonight and to raise questions. Before we go, I do want to remind people: we have two more town halls planned for this semester. Our next one is scheduled for Tuesday, March 9. Again, the same time: six o’clock central time. That one is right before Spring Break, so we can answer questions in that area. And then we have our third was planned for Tuesday night, May 4. So, right before we head into finals week and the summer break, we are hoping to answer any questions. If for some reason there’s the need and desire to have one before then or something else changes, we can certainly get something scheduled. But, we have planned those two additional town halls for this semester.
And, at any time, you don’t need to wait for these events to ask us questions. Again, if you get a question to me or to Kristi or, as President Armacost said, to anyone here, we are happy to answer your questions or get it to our colleagues who can answer those questions. So thank you again, for all the sweet comments that you’re posting in the chat. We certainly appreciate it. I am not seeing another question. Dr. Wynne is confirming that what Rosy shared is right. So way to go Dr. Wynne in approving what Rosy said. That’s awesome. I appreciate it.
I don’t think I’ve got other questions and so I want to be mindful of time for those of you who are joining us from other parts of the country. We’re waiting for brutal North Dakota blizzard to hit here tonight. We’re supposed to get a little bit of snow maybe and lots of wind. So, it’s just called January in North Dakota and we’ve avoided it for 14 days, but it sounds like it might arise this evening. So, President Armacost, now you’re going to start to see what winter in North Dakota is really like. This has been a treat for the last few weeks for those of you not in North Dakota.
All right. With that, I am going to say good evening, everybody. Thank you to my colleagues. Thanks to everybody who joined us. Have a great spring semester. Stay well. Get tested and, when it’s your turn, get vaccinated for COVID. Be well, everybody.
Q&A: Following are questions and answers that were not answered in the live Town Hall.
Has the FAA approved a COVID vaccine? If so, will UND have that vaccine available for its flight students?
Great question. Yes, there has been approval. However, there are also wait times after vaccination before individuals are able to fly. for more information, see https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=94991. The vaccine will be available to all individuals per the state protocol in terms of priority (determined by the state health department). Thank you for the question.
Are there plans for more FAA evaluators this spring? Hoping to see the backlogs in the certification rides cleared up so aviation students can continue on schedule toward graduation (now delayed by a semester already).
Hi. Please contact Jeremy Roesler in aviation, who manages the flight operations, at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can assist you with this answer. According to the associate dean, we have more flight instructors now than we have for some time. And we have not had wait lists, so Jeremy may be able to answer your specific concern. Thank you!
How is it that labs can be done online, specifically the sciences like chemistry and anatomy?
We have been working with faculty to use videos, lab simulations, and other lab software, including virtual reality, and to have one lab partner present and the other remote on video while they are completing a lab assignment together. These options don’t work for all labs but they have allowed faculty to provide these kind of lab experiences more flexibly than ever before.
Have you made residence hall roommate decisions for next year yet? This year you had students room with suitemates rather than roommates.
I alluded to this in my response but maybe did not address it clearly. We are planning for next year to have more traditional assignments with students having roommates. We are also planning to offer students who come back for another year the opportunity to keep their private room. Please check out our website for more details at www.housing.UND.edu or email housing@UND.edu.
I understood that there was supposed to be a partial dining plan refund if you didn’t return to campus from Thanksgiving thru the end of the semester. My son did not receive his refund – is there someone we need to contact?
Please contact dining@UND.edu to inquire about the dining refund. Thanks.
My concern for next year and in-state tuition is that my child was unable to get her driver’s license in August or September due to the COVID restrictions. What accommodations are you going to make for this for out-of state students?
We are working with each student on an individual basis. If there were issues getting the driver’s license in August, we will take that into consideration.
I have to mention that my twins have loved their freshman year. They are so happy that the school was so proactive about COVID as of day one. A lot of their friends have roommates, no mask policy, etc. and they’re VERY uncomfortable. Plus my kids say that last fall was one of the very best times of their life.
We are so glad your twins have had a great first semester at UND – that makes it all worthwhile.
Thank you for all you do and we appreciate the care and thoroughness. We are so impressed with UND! (We have a freshman from Oregon).
We are always here if anything comes up, glad to be of service.
Please offer these sessions in the future!
Thank you UND! Our family appreciates the hours and hours you have put in to make plans for our students to help keep them healthy and safe.