Provost Forum themes: Be safe; be flexible; be kind

This is a difficult time, but by caring for each other and doing our best to help students succeed, UND will be fine, Provost Tom DiLorenzo says

With everyone’s help, UND students will get the credits they need to complete their courses and to graduate on time, said Tom DiLorenzo, UND provost and vice-president for academic affairs. DiLorenzo was one of the speakers at Wednesday’s Provost Forum. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

At the UND Provost Forum on Wednesday, Provost Tom DiLorenzo had three key messages for the UND community.

First, he said, if you want the latest information about how the coronavirus is affecting UND, visit the Coronavirus Updates blog.

Second, if you’re looking for updates on how UND is preparing for the Spring flood season, check out the UND Flood Information 2020 blog.

Third and perhaps most important: be kind.

“We are in a special point in history where it is incredibly important to be kind to each other, to be flexible, to be open to change,” DiLorenzo said.

“So our students, for example: we are going to do absolutely everything we can, to the best of our abilities, to make sure students get the credits they need to be successful in their education and to graduate on time. And we ask all of you to help us do that.

“Students may feel the need to go home to take care of things,” DiLorenzo added. “Let’s be sensitive to that. Let’s be flexible. Let’s allow them to do what they need to do. To our staff: We want to be sensitive to you as well.

“Things are happening very quickly,” DiLorenzo said. “We recognize that; we’re going to do everything we can to help all of us make it through this time. … You know, we’re looking at a world phenomenon. It’s really a community of the world right now. That’s important, and we are all here to help each other make it through these next weeks and months.”

At the forum, DiLorenzo, UND Chief of Police Eric Plummer, Vice President for Student Affairs and Diversity Cara Halgren and others offered detailed updates on the University’s coronavirus planning and on preparations for the Spring flood season. Much of that info can be found on the University’s coronavirus and flood blogs, which are linked to above.

‘We are planning, planning and planning, because as the deans have heard, there is nothing better than well-laid-out plans,’ said UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo at the Provost Forum on Wednesday. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Safety, kindness, flexibility and planning

But throughout the presentation, the speakers highlighted safety, kindness, flexibility and planning as the constellation of values that members of the University community should keep in view.

Speaking of kindness and flexibility, here’s another example where they could come in, DiLorenzo said. “One of the things that (Senior Vice Provost) Debbie Storrs and I have wrestled with is this: For our students who are studying abroad, should their programs be cancelled, some of those programs will not let the students finish online.

“In that case, then the University could say, ‘Well, it’s been cancelled; that’s that.’ No. Instead, we will do everything we can to get that student the credits they need, so that they can be academically successful. And that’s the message we should be carrying out.”

Meanwhile, planning is vital at all levels of University life, including administrative, departmental and individual. At the administrative level, teams and committees are meeting daily to study the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and other sources, consider what other universities are doing and think through UND’s best response.

“It’s not just Plan A, it’s Plan B, Plan C and Plan D,” DiLorenzo said.

“We are planning, planning and planning, because as the deans have heard, there is nothing better than well-laid-out plans.” Through the planning process, administrators can think through the likely consequences of various actions, choose the best alternatives and be ready to implement them as fast-moving conditions change.

“And that’s why all of you should be planning, too,” DiLorenzo said.

“Suppose the decision is made that staff members should work from home. Are you and your staff ready? Does everyone have, say, the wi-fi connections and other equipment they would need?

“I ran into someone from finance recently, and it warmed my heart: the person said, ‘We will not miss a payroll. We can do this from home if we need to; we are ready to go.’ That’s how all of us should be looking at these kinds of things.”

Maintaining student, faculty and staff safety is, of course, the core value that shines more brightly than the others. People’s safety and well-being are paramount, said Vice President for Student Affairs Cara Halgren at the forum.

And in this case, honoring that value might call for doing a seemingly un-North Dakotan thing: saying to a colleague, Don’t tough it out. Instead, go home and/or seek treatment if you’re not feeling well.

Eric Plummer, UND’s associate vice president for public safety and chief of police, spoke about coronavirus and flood-season preparations at the Provost Forum on Wednesday. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

‘Fine in the end’

“We have this history,” Halgren said. “In the past, we just forge through, we work through it, we can do anything. This is not like that.

“So do your friends, your family and your colleagues a favor, and if you’re not feeling well, go home.” Moreover, have that conversation with a colleague if you think that person should go home.

DiLorenzo agreed. “We’re in a different time,” he said.

“This is a public health issue.” So, when topics such as ‘social distancing,’ cancelling meetings and avoiding contact with others come up, “it’s difficult, because that’s the complete opposite of who we are. We’re a university, after all. We meet. We bring people together.”

But these days, the watchwords must be “safety first,” DiLorenzo and all of the other speakers stressed.

“And what I want you to go away with today is this: we care about each other. It’s important that we be as flexible as we can, and I want you to walk away knowing that we are prepared. We’re working hard.

“I want you to walk away feeling good about this University and the preparations that we’re making, because we are going to get through this together. We’re making the very best decisions we can make, and it’s going to be fine in the end.”