COVID-19: Town Hall Forum, 4-21-20

UND leaders answer questions from faculty and staff about the University’s COVID-19 response

Editor’s note: On Tuesday, April 21, UND leaders held an hour-long Town Hall Forum teleconference via Zoom. The video of the forum is above, and a lightly edited transcript is below.

While this post will not be updated, the Q&As and other information at UND’s Coronavirus Updates blog will be kept up to date. Visit the blog for the latest information.

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Tom DiLorenzo

Provost DiLorenzo: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us for our second Zoom Town Hall. I’m Provost Tom DiLorenzo and UND’s COVID-19 Point Person.
This Open Forum is to help answer questions you may have regarding decisions and actions being taken by University leadership to help UND weather the financial implications of COVID-19. This forum is being recorded and will be posted to our blog following today’s session for those who are not able to join us live.

I am joined today by Interim President Joshua Wynne and Incoming President Andy Armacost, incoming interim Provost Debbie Storrs, Vice President for Finance & Operations Jed Shivers, Vice President for Student Affairs, Diversity & Inclusion Cara Halgren, Interim Vice President for Research & Economic Development John Mihelich, Vice President for Marketing & Communications Meloney Linder, Athletic Director Bill Chaves, Associate Vice President of Human Resources Peggy Varberg, UND Police Chief Eric Plummer and UND Alumni Association & Foundation CEO DeAnna Carlson Zink.

I will serve as the moderator of our discussion, but before we get started, President Wynne and Incoming President Armacost would like to say a few words. Josh?

Joshua Wynne

President Wynne: Thanks very much, Tom; good afternoon, everyone. And thank you again for all that you are doing for UND, the community and North Dakota.

We know that these are trying times, and we will get through this, but we will only get through it together. Having said that, it is clear from some of the messaging that went out this week and what you’ve read in the newspaper that universities such as UND are in a somewhat more precarious position than they have been before, prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact on UND is actually occurring now, and from a financial standpoint, we’re predicting that by the end of this academic year, UND will lose something like $11 million in revenue. So we need to be proactive rather than reactive about that, so that we continue to properly position UND not only now, but also in the future.

But to meet this challenge, we need to do a number of things in the short term, and then Incoming President Armacost will describe some of the things that we need to think about in the intermediate term.

As you know, in the short term, there are a number of things that we’re doing.

First of all, we have put a hiring pause or hiring chill in effect. What this means is that while we’re not “freezing” all new employees, we are doing a pause. That means we’ll really look very carefully at any new employees to make sure they are mission-critical with our ability to go forward.

Second, we are also reexamining projects and expenditures such as through the Request for Proposal process to make sure we really need to do them now.

Third, we are asking all units to look at what they can do to limit expenses and preserve cash.

And then fourth, you know about the Reduction in Effort or Hours program that we will be instituting. This is intended to do two things: First, to preserve cash for the university so that we can anticipate problems in the future and be able to address them; and second, to be as proactive and supportive of our employees as possible.

This is made possible when we reduce someone’s hours because the work is at least temporarily no longer there. It is made possible through the use of North Dakota unemployment insurance and the CARES Act.

And because of this, the great majority of employees who may be affected by this will not see a material reduction in their reimbursement — in their compensation — and their health insurance premiums will continue to be supported by UND.

So by doing these things and others, we will go a long way toward addressing our short-term issues for this academic year as we prepare for the still uncertain future that will start for the next academic year.

And to mark this transition from the present to the future, it is now my pleasure to reintroduce Incoming President Andy Armacost. Andy?

Andy Armacost

Incoming President Andy Armacost: Thanks, Josh. Let me reiterate what President Wynne just focused on, and that is the challenging times that were in, both health-wise and with respect to the near-term and long-term budgets.

But I have been thoroughly impressed with all of the campus efforts to make sure that we don’t miss a beat with respect to delivering a high-quality education to our students, and to make sure that we are taking care of each other as members of our community.

Today, my hope is that we can share good information with you and that we can answer the questions that you’ve submitted. And my pledge to you is that we continue to keep the lines of communication open and that we deal with these issues with great transparency and openness.

So, I just want to reinforce the fact that we as a campus are in this together. We are One UND.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Andy.  I’m going to go ahead and start some of the questions that we’ve already received. I’ll spend about half of our time doing that, and then I’ll let you know at about the time we are going to hear from you as well.

The first question I’m going to give to Vice President Jed Shivers.  How will service areas on campus be impacted?

Jed Shivers

Vice President Jed Shivers: Thanks, Tom. So, one of the things that we’ve really tried to keep as a constant is maximizing the safety of our students, faculty and staff during the pandemic. That’s really Number One.

And so, because students likely aren’t going to be on campus until the fall at the earliest, any function that depends upon a physical interaction with students will continue to be reduced.

During the move to unemployment benefits, we’ll also examine — and we want all managers to examine — what work might not occur during the May 15 to July 31 period. It’s a very explicit, discrete period of time. And, I think what we’ll see is really a differential effect across the campus. It’s hard for me to imagine, for example, that we’re going to reduce public safety. I don’t think that would be a wise move during a pandemic era. But we are going to be looking (and asking our managers to look) at what makes sense.

And it’s really about this discrete time period. That’s what we’re asking people to focus on: the May 15 to July 31 period.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Jed. The next question will go to Bill Chaves: Will athletics be affected by these decisions?

Bill Chaves

Bill Chaves

Athletic Director Bill Chaves: Thanks, Tom. For sure. We are monitoring what the NCAA landscape is, and what folks are doing right now from a legislative standpoint. There’s been some relief already given, but our student athletes are continuing on, obviously remotely, and we’re monitoring the landscape.

We’re part of three conferences, and we are speaking with those conferences on a weekly basis. And so, more to come with that; but certainly, we will be affected in one way, shape or form.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Bill. Next question to Debbie Storrs: Will there be potential cuts to existing programs?

Debbie Storrs

Debbie Storrs

Incoming Interim Provost Debbie Storrs: Pre-COVID, we had some real demographic changes that we were grappling with that have led to enrollment reductions across the nation. And I think most of us have seen the newspaper article about Minnesota State University Moorhead, which is proposing to discontinue 10 majors because of their budget gap.

Right now, what our academic deans are doing is they’re looking at enrollments, and they’re considering how best to manage that anticipated reduction in enrollments and in revenue. So, this includes a range of different options, including increasing teaching loads as well as looking at which programs we might not want to accept students into because of enrollment issues and a reduction in revenue. It’s the broad spectrum that the deans are looking at.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Debbie. The next question will be for Josh: When will merit pay be affected by these decisions?

Interim President Wynne: Merit pay is legislatively mandated. The 2.5 percent increase that the Legislature deemed appropriate during the last legislative session applies to appropriated salaries and is actually part of state law. So at this point, barring some change to the law, UND and the other institutions in the NDUS will be giving merit increases.

Let me emphasize the word “merit.” It is based on annual evaluations. And at this point, we’re going to proceed with this.

Now, it is possible that the state law could be changed. But the way it stands is that it is part of state law. We will obviously follow state law. So at this point, the 2.5 percent merit increase pool on appropriated salaries will be moving forward for this coming academic year.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Josh. The next question will be for Peggy Varberg. You see and hear of  people having difficulties with the process of applying for unemployment. How has the process been going in Grand Forks?

Peggy Varberg

Associate Vice President Peggy Varberg: It’s our understanding that the process has been going fairly well. We have learned that they’ve hired additional folks locally and at the state level to process these. And so, based on my conversation yesterday with a member of that group in this region, they’ve gone well. They’re not bound up significantly in any places. We’re hopeful that that will continue.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Peggy. The next question is for Andy. With the last round of budget cuts, it appeared there wasn’t much of an attempt to discuss what was being considered with those being affected, which greatly affected employee morale campuswide. What is the plan to change the process so employees feel heard and shown some empathy?

Incoming President Armacost: Well, I wasn’t here for the last round, but I can really just state my commitment to making sure that we take care of our employees by providing open and frequent communications so that as they make life plans, and continue the great work at UND, that we can continue that as effectively as we can.

So all I can do is make sure that myself and the rest of the vice presidents and the deans and all supervisors keep the lines of communication open and commit to the well-being of the faculty, staff and students at UND.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Andy. The next question is for Meloney Linder. What can we do to help enrollment, even through our own social media accounts?

Meloney Linder

Vice President Meloney Linder: First, I just want to say thank you for that question. I really appreciate it. We are all influencers with our families, our friends, our neighbors, and those we have contact with in the community.

I think one of the most impactful things we can do is reassure people that UND is strong, and that we’re working hard to make sure that we emerge even stronger as we get through this.

The first thing that we can do is if you have contact with students, whether they’re in your class or a student worker or a friend or family member: Make contact with them. Make sure that they’ve registered for their fall classes; retention is really important to us right now.

And if they have questions or concerns, help direct them to the right place within UND where they can get support. One Stop is a great place to start.

For new students: I think it’s great if we’re able to share the points of pride of UND. UND is a regional leader on campus as well as online. We’ve managed this transition well, and we will continue to do so as we go forward.

The question about social media is a great one. It’s really easy to repost UND social media. We have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn; share the great stories. We’re doing a lot of information about resources for students, and my team is putting together a social media training that we can do via Zoom, where we’ll be able to provide you with assets and proof points of your own that you can share on your own social media accounts.

So more to come.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Meloney. Next question is for Jed Shivers: how will the federal CARES act support be dispensed on campus?

Vice President Jed Shivers: Sorry about the mute. The CARES Act – we really have to give a shout out to our congressional delegation for supporting this. It really provides us with support in a couple ways. The first way is each entity – each institution of higher education – receives a formulaically-derived award based primarily on the number of students and their eligibility for certain financial aid programs. For example, the more PELL-eligible students you have, the more money that you tend to get.

So, of the $5.4 million projected for UND, 50 percent must be distributed to eligible students to help them attend UND, and we think that’s terrific. I mean, where people are facing such a difficult financial period, we think those dollars are really key, and we really appreciate them.

The other 50 percent is for institutional expenses, and as of a call I was just on minutes ago with the system, we really haven’t gotten any guidance on how to use those yet. We’re hoping the use of those funds will be clarified, as both we and our representatives in the system work with the federal Department of Education.

It’s probably worth noting that while this money is wonderful and we greatly appreciate it, as you heard from President Wynne, we project we’ll probably lose about $10 to $11 million of revenue, just in FY20. And so the real question is going to be: What are we going to do about that? And one of the responses is to really think through with managers and, as I talked about earlier, the kinds of work that can be postponed during this May 15-July 31 period. Why is that important? Because that’s when the federal money and the federal program is in full swing.

And, to give you a sense of how we’re trying to time this, the money is really just arriving now from the federal government. We really wanted to create an environment where the transition into where these benefits are as seamless as possible for all of our affected employees. So that’s another part of the CARES Act: it really provides a mechanism to profoundly augment whatever state unemployment is available and to help people be harmed as little as possible as they move into these benefits.

From our perspective, we can’t guarantee zero harm, but I think it’s a much better place for us to be in with the availability of these benefits than otherwise. That’s pretty much were we are at this time. Those are the two primary benefits of the CARES Act.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thanks, Jed. I’m going to tee up a question for Debbie, and then a follow-up for either Josh or Andy. The first question for Debbie is: I heard UND is considering going online through the fall semester. Is there any truth to that?

Incoming Interim Provost Storrs: Thanks, Tom. You know, we don’t really know how COVID’s going to play out in North Dakota. So what we’re trying to do is be prepared to be as flexible as possible to adapt to whatever conditions we’re faced with.

Our Vice President Jeff Holm (Vice Provost for Online Education & Strategic Planning) has been working with each academic dean to look at which courses in the fall should be prepared to be taught online, including a smaller set of ES courses.

And beyond that, we’ve asked deans to work with faculty to think about how they can be flexible in their courses. It’s possible we may have to move in and out of the online and on-campus environment. We simply don’t know.

Toward that end, we want to provide some resources for faculty to develop some of those online courses this summer. Many of the faculty already update their courses regularly. So that focus is really going to be on flexibility to accommodate whatever we’re faced with, so that we can serve our students with the best quality way possible.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thanks, Debbie. Here’s a two-part question for either Josh or Andy. The first one is: Can you provide any updates on the timeframe in which remote work will continue? Does it still remain through May 15, or is it also extended through July 31st?

The other question is: How likely will it be that we are on campus in the fall? If we were to go online, how soon would a decision be made?

Incoming President Armacost: I’ll try first, and I know that Josh will certainly add his perspective as a physician. The timeline for ceasing remote work and returning to campus is, frankly, unknown. We talk about the fluidity of the virus, but we will await guidance from the CDC, from the governor and from the state Department of Health before assessing when we will start transitioning employees back to work on campus.

So the date that’s been published in May is likely going to be extended, and we’ll be open to when the return actually happens because it will depend on this very fluid situation.

I also wanted to highlight the fact that the campus is developing a plan that mirrors the three-phased approach that President Trump had laid out. And that three-phased plan has triggers that will indicate when we can move to a more open campus. We just have to be cautious and see what direction both the virus and the state response follows over the course of the summer.

As far as courses in the fall, Debbie talked about our preparation to have some limit on the offerings, some blend of on-campus and online. The degree to which we’re on campus will again depend upon what we see in the next couple months. We just ask people to be patient and to listen very carefully to communications we offer to the community. Josh?

Interim President Wynne: I would emphasize the thread between what Debbie and Andy said, which is – and I’m putting on my public health and physician hat now – that I think the most likely scenario, looking forward, is that the new normal will be periods of on-campus followed by periods where there is less on-campus experience. I don’t think it’s going to be all or none.

So I don’t think it’s going to be business as usual for the fall semester, but I also don’t e xpect it do be entirely online. I think the most reasonable expectation is going to be a blend of both.

But as Incoming President Armacost just emphasized, it’s still early to be able to make firm determinations about that. That’s why maintaining flexibility, both financially as well as educationally, is so important so that we can be more proactive rather than completely reactive. But I think the theme of variability is going to be what the future holds, at least the foreseeable future.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you very much. Here’s a two-part question for Peggy: What happens to a staff member’s salary of they go to one-half or less of their hours as of May 16th?

Associate Vice President Varberg: So their reduction in hours would happen on the UND side, and then they’re eligible to apply for unemployment for that loss. And unemployment will review the last four quarters of wages. They make a decision on what that looks like in terms of a weekly benefit they’re eligible for, and then they get a percentage of that benefit. Once they’re eligible for a percentage of that benefit, they’re still also eligible for this $600 per week from the CARES Act. And that’s available to them regardless of whether they make $1 or $300; they still get the same $600 benefit from the CARES Act each week.

Provost DiLorenzo: Here’s the second part, Peggy: what if the unemployment benefit from the CARES Act run out?

Associate Vice President Varberg: We don’t expect that to happen. It’s set to sunset July 31. At that point, we’ll see if the government comes up with something additional. But during the timeframe we’re initially discussing, that should be available throughout that period of time.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you. Here’s a question for Eric: In response to the return to campus road map, are we going to be required to be vaccinated in order to return to working on campus?

Eric Plummer

Police Chief Eric Plummer: The short answer is no. Vaccines and other therapeutics are still in the testing and trial phase. However, physical distancing and other requirements recommended by the CDC, as well as the State Department of Health, will be put in place and communicated prior to returning to work on campus.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you. Here’s a question for Josh: if a person is part of a temporary reduction, what impressions does that leave for decisions that have to be made about permanent reductions? Wouldn’t that be seen as a strike against those employees if permanent reductions decisions have to be made?

Interim President Wynne: Thank you, Tom. A logical question, but let me point out that we’re talking about two different time periods. One is a short-term period, actually when the CARES Act is in effect, and then there’s the longer-term issue. And the key determinant of what happens is going to be the work requirement that will be there.

We are trying to position ourselves during the remainder of this year and into July, such that work that could be deferred or work that is obviated because there are no students on campus might lead to a reduction in effort. What happens in the fall is a different question and is not necessarily directly related to what happens now. Because for instance, if we are largely back on campus in the fall, than the workload is going to be significantly different then it is when we’re working from home and students are learning online. So it will depend on the circumstances.

The first part does not necessarily predetermine what will happen or might happen in the second phase.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Josh. Here’s a question for Bill Chaves: Pickle ball is going to restart at UND. Even though campus is closed, athletic activities for fewer than 100 people have been given the green light. Can this be correct information?

Athletic Director Chaves: Not in our facilities. Our facilities are close to the public. So I can’t speak for what’s happening in the city in general, but certainly not in our facilities, Tom.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thanks, Bill. Here’s a question for either John Mihelich or Jed. UND is the larger institution and holds the medical school, law school and aerospace school. Why is NDSU receiving $1.1 million more from the CARES Act than UND?

John Mihelich

John Mihelich

Interim Vice President John Mihelich: I’ll take a stab at that. A good question, but basically, the funds for institutions of higher education under the CARES Act were applied formulaically, as Jed alluded to earlier. Two of the big variables were how many on-campus students we had, and how many students were PELL-eligible. So those are two of the biggest factors.

It wasn’t something we negotiated. It wasn’t something we had any control over. Largely, from what I can tell, it was based on 2017 and 2018 IPEDS data that we’d submitted previously. So that’s why other institutions might have gotten more than us, and other might have gotten less.

Vice President Shivers: John has that exactly right. It is based primarily upon those factors, and it’s based upon the 2018 year. And you can imagine that some big, urban public university is probably seeing a higher payout per capita than anybody in North Dakota. It’s just because of the nature of the population of the students. That’s the way it’s going. It’s really formulaic.

Provost DiLorenzo: Here’s a question that’s also for Jed and John. Maybe we’ll start with Jed this time: How will reductions in force or time impact our grant-funded programs?

Vice President Shivers: That is a good question, and I’ll give you my perspective. I would hope that they wouldn’t affect them at all. The great thing about grant funding, at least at this moment, is that even though the United States is going through a very difficult economic time, I, at least, am not aware of reductions in funding from either the NIH, the DOD, the DOE or any other significant funders. In fact, I think the EERC has been cranking along quite well in terms of generating new awards.

So this may paradoxically be a good time for doing research, particularly research that’s federally funded, because there’s so much demand — not just in the biomedical area, but in other areas.

I would hope that people really understand the real value that research brings and, unfortunately, in a more personal way. I think from my perspective, I would not want to see people who are 100 percent funded on research or substantially funded on research really being affected. I just don’t know that it would make sense. Those people are employed, they’ve got work to do, and their funding source is coming from outside the appropriate dollars, which are tuition and operating budget revenues.

Interim President Wynne: Tom, if I might add to what Jed said, putting on my dean’s hat, it looks like the School of Medicine and Health Sciences may have its second highest annual amount of research funding in the history of the school, this year. And one of the groups is our group that’s looking at what’s called “host pathogen interactions,” as in a human being, being attacked by a virus. That would be an area, you would think, that we would want to expand. There almost certainly will be additional federal resources available to do that, to help deal with this pandemic problem.

So I agree with you completely, that there are real opportunities there. And UND, per usual, can be a leader in these areas.

Provost DiLorenzo: Any follow up, John?

Interim Vice President Mihelich: No, just to reiterate what President Wynne and Jed said, this is a time when our researchers are working as hard as ever. We’re going forward. We’ve made adjustments where needed in terms of lab work, but people are moving forward.

I think it’s a time of great opportunity. And I think that we should be focusing more effort at this time, given the circumstance and some of the additional federal dollars that are available.

Provost DiLorenzo: When will the employees be notified of the reduction of hours and what date will this reduction take effect?

Associate Vice President Varberg: The reduction takes effect May 16, for most. Additionally, supervisors will notify employees directly up to or prior to May 1. We are required to give two weeks’ notice. That would be the May 1 date. So we will be doing that, by that date at the latest.

Provost DiLorenzo: Are further reductions in graduate offerings anticipated?

Incoming Interim Provost Storrs: Our graduate admissions are still very, very strong. In fact, that’s really the hope, because we have a lot more people interested in graduate education, and it could help offset some of the lower undergraduate admission trends.

But it will be up to the deans to make those decisions about what graduate courses and offerings they can provide, based on a number of considerations including how many GTAs and GRAs they’ll be able to provide and what the faculty can handle. I know the deans are working with their chairs and their faculty to consider all of those things, but we’re hoping that graduate education and enrollment continues to grow.

Provost DiLorenzo: Admitting graduate students in the fall at least is very unlikely, considering most of the applicants are international. Are there any plans to admit them online, and what would happen to their possible assistantship?

Incoming Interim Provost Storrs: There have been a lot of conversations about the challenges that our international students might face in terms of getting visas. The online opportunities are where potentials lie, and so we absolutely want to accept students, when possible, if they can access their courses in an online environment.

Those are some of the discussions that Vice Provost Jeff Holm is having with the deans and the chairs. How can we prep for the graduate students that are international in an online environment, given that we anticipate they’re going to be faced with some visa and travel restrictions?

Provost DiLorenzo: Do you anticipate people asking or requesting to go the unemployment route in light of the salary and benefits?

Associate Vice President Varberg: If we mean volunteering to do that, that’s a possibility. However, we have a process according to our policy, NDUS HR Policy 24, which requires us to go through specific steps in reviewing the workforce in every group.

Provost DiLorenzo: If staff members have their hours reduced, are they at higher risk of experiencing a reduction in hours as things go forward?

Associate Vice President Varberg: Not necessarily, no.

Provost DiLorenzo: If we reduce hours to zero to 20 hours a week, how will this affect an employee’s eligibility to their UND health insurance coverage?

Associate Vice President Varberg: So all employees who are reduced, whether they’re brought down to zero or have a partial work schedule for the week, will see no difference in most of their unemployment. The health and life insurance that UND covers will still continue. If they’re reduced to zero, UND will cover the cost of their voluntary benefits, which are things like dental and vision, and so forth. We’ll carry those. There are other options that we’re looking at on that side.

We are able to allow an employee to pay as they go. Otherwise, it will collect in arrears; and so when the employee comes back, if they’re down to zero, they will be required to pay back their share of the premiums that we’ve paid on the voluntary benefits. Additionally, leave accruals will just be held if they’re down to zero.

The seniority of a person and what those accrual levels are will not change. That will hold true. And for those who are working a partial schedule, they’ll get those benefits at a prorated basis in terms of leave and holiday.

Provost DiLorenzo: With athletic events on hold, will there be restructuring of funding to divert money from athletics to support academic activities?

Athletic Director Chaves: So today, we are still planning to play in the fall. We’ve heard nothing different at this point in time, but we are modeling several different budgets as we move forward. And we’re working with Jed Shivers and Karla Stewart in that regard.

At this point, we still plan to play until we hear otherwise.

Provost DiLorenzo: Are there options for voluntary pay cuts and/or opt out of FY 2021 merit raises to help UND’s overall bottom line?

Vice President Shivers: One of the great things about the University of North Dakota is that people ask that question, honestly, because that’s altruism at its finest. And I really appreciate it.

So, just to give you an idea of how I think this is going to work, and Peggy can also respond: in order to get unemployment, management has to do the action. It’s not something that you can volunteer for. If a person were to, for example, say “I’m going on leave between May 15/16 and July 31,” that person would not be eligible for the unemployment benefits. It has to be as a result of a management action; I think that’s the most important thing.

That means some sort of volunteer program or formal volunteer program will not help the individual employee, which we really want to have happen here.

I think the way this will work, which is probably the way it ought to work, is that managers will talk with employees and review the schedule during this discrete time period and figure out what they are going to do. Based upon the work, is there an opportunity to drop to 50 percent? Is there an opportunity to drop to zero? We provided managers with a calculator, which literally calculates for each person how this will work; but it’s a guide, it’s not a guarantee.

So that’s available to managers, and they can have those conversations with their employees.

At the end of those conversations — which are going to happen quite rapidly, because, as we know, the end of the month is approaching with speed — we’ll be able to generate the requests, they’ll all be reviewed by Human Resources to make sure that they’re consistent with the rules and regulations, both federal and local, and then we will assist.

The other key thing is that people must apply for these benefits. This is not something that the University can automatically do for you. So you must apply the benefits if in fact you’re one of those folks, but we will help people apply for those benefits — particularly people who may have trouble connecting via the Internet or whatever vehicle they need to access the benefits.

Associate Vice President Varberg: We’re working with groups who may not have the technology either on campus or personally to move through this process in unemployment. It can be done via a portal; it’s quite easy to use. We’ve watched a couple happen recently from people who do not work at UND who have already been impacted by a layoff. And it has worked very well.

The advice is to make sure that you read through the directions first before you start the process and have all the documents that you need to present. One of those will be the letter that’s provided to the employees who are seeing a reduction in hours, from zero to partial. That letter is necessary to be provided so that the unemployment folks will know that you are still employed by UND, that it’s an impact because of our current environment, being COVID-19. And that we expect to bring you back, and those things are the reasons why you won’t have to actually look for work during this time, as well. Our expectation is to bring you back.

You see, the governor temporarily waived, in his executive order on March 20, the requirements that you actively look for work each week.

So we are working with some of those groups now. You may also do this over the phone as well, but we are working to help those who really don’t have some of the technologies to do this and apply for those benefits.

Interim President Wynne: I just wanted to follow up on that very kind offer from the questioner, and just point out that one of the ways to help — although it doesn’t help the UND budget per se — is to donate to help our students. So, if I might, I’ll call on DeAnna Carlson Zink, the CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, to indicate how faculty and staff and friends the University might be able to pitch in to help students. DeAnna?

DeAnna Carlson Zink

UND Alumni Association & Foundation CEO DeAnna Carlson Zink: Absolutely, and thank you, President Wynne. We are pleased to be working with the Office of Student Affairs and Diversity to develop funds that are like an emergency fund situation. It’s called the UND Angel Fund. These are donated dollars that can be put to work immediately. Students fill out an application form online that goes to the Office of Student Affairs, and then those gifts are given out.

We’ve had a tremendous response from faculty, staff and others, all across the board. We’ve had young alumni who are reaching back to those they went to school with and wanting to help out immediately. So we continue to promote this.

You can go online to, and it’s right on our main page. You click a link and make whatever gift you’d like to. Every gift is greatly appreciated by our students.

Provost DiLorenzo: Excellent. Thanks, Josh, for reminding us to go in that direction. I think this is a quick one: Peggy, can staff take the reduction in hours earlier than May 15?

Associate Vice President Varberg: No. The policy requires we give a two-week notice to folks, so the expectation is they will work up until May 15 on their normal schedule and then beyond that, whatever the agreement is.

Provost DiLorenzo: Here’s a two part question for Josh and/or Jed. I’m going to say both parts because they’re linked. Why are staff the only ones face hour reductions? And, what’s the definition of mission critical?

Interim President Wynne: On the theme of “we’re all in this together,” I think everyone is going to be contributing in one way or another. For faculty, what this will mean at a minimum is a likely increase in amount of courses and workload. I think one of the things that we’ve experienced already is that the shift to online, at least from a faculty standpoint, actually may entail more effort and more work than standing in a classroom and giving a lecture.

So, I think, there will be different expectations and different requirements for faculty as well as staff.

As far as what we need to do going forward: we need to carry out those functions that are essential to the University now and in the future. So in carrying out our mission of education, discovery and service, we have a lot of goals that are outlined in our strategic plan. Those are the things we really need to focus on.

From the standpoint of staff, considering this reduction of in hours that’s going on now or will be going on, part of that has been occasioned by just a reduction in work, because there aren’t students on campus. And part of it is because of things that we can safely and appropriately defer to the future.

But things that don’t fall into those categories are important for what our mission is all about, and we need to do everything possible to carry out those elements.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you. Here’s a question for Cara Halgren: what is the time frame for the students to be moved out of residence hall completely?

Vice President Cara Halgren: Thanks, Tom. I’m going to answer it in two parts. First, we still have students living on campus with us. And so those students will continue to stay in the residence halls through the normal spring semester, and will move out around the time of commencement.

For those students who still have items in the residence halls and haven’t been able to pick them up, we certainly know that different students have different needs. And so we want to work with people individually to find a time for them to remove their belongings — a time that works for them and they can do so safely. All we ask is that people coordinate with the UND Housing Office to do that.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you. Here’s one for Debbie: the reductions in force have impacted faculty in a variety of ways; meanwhile, departmental tenure and promotion guidelines and expectations were created under the older department arrangement. Will the University and its colleges be revising TRP expectations in light of this downward pressure on research and creative activity? If so, within what timeframe?

Incoming Interim Provost Storrs: The deans have been fantastic. We’ve been meeting with them at least twice a week; Tom and I have had conversations with them on a range of issues. And this has come up, and your deans have been real advocates who want to make sure that faculty are successful. So they’ve been sharing ideas about how to ensure that — even in the annual evaluations — that the COVID-related outcomes that may have an impact on your research or creative activity productivity are acknowledged so that you’re not harmed by that.

In other words, the deans are having those conversations and coming up with ideas about how to make sure that you’re protected in the annual evaluation.

There have also been discussions about promotion and tenure guidelines. Those are things that I think absolutely should be reviewed at the department, college and then at the provost level, because I don’t think this is just this semester; this is going to be an ongoing issue that will impact your workload and your outcomes.

And the last thing I’ll say is that with the deans and recognition that faculty’s outcomes will be impacted, we have on the provost website an extension request, if you want to extend the date by which you come up from promotion and tenure. We already had an existing policy that allows for unusual circumstances that would allow for an extension. We’re invoking that and have created a clear process.

The deans have been very engaged in supporting that. If any questions arise, please ask your dean or contact me. We’re happy to help you navigate that process.

Provost DiLorenzo: Here’s one that we can start with Jed: how are the enrollment projections calculated?

Vice President Shivers: Well, it’s a pretty complex process. I’ll try and summarize it as succinctly as I can.

We keep track of a multi-year history by college, by degree type, by locale, because revenue is actually tied to where people live. We basically use those historical data. That provides us with a baseline, and we can see what the trends have been, take that information and in a process with each of the deans of the colleges, work our way through the programs in an extremely granular fashion and arrive at — not just really enrollment; the real key drivers here are student credit hours, which in turn result in revenue. That’s how we do it in a nutshell .

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you. Here’s a three-part question for Peggy. Can staff members still use a tuition waiver for the summer, if their hours are reduced?

Associate Vice President Varberg: Yes. If they’re a benefited employee who sees a reduction, they’re still a benefited employee. And therefore that does hold true. They just need to make sure that they file the proper paperwork on time, as usual.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thanks, Peggy. Here’s the second part: is the stimulus portion of the unemployment package taxed:

Associate Vice President Varberg: In the unemployment monies that they will get from the state, that $600 — there’s no income taxes taken out, but it will become part of your taxable income at the end of the year. So it will be reported.

Provost DiLorenzo: The third part: what is the impact on your Flex benefits, specifically daycare contributions, if your employment is reduced?

Associate Vice President Varberg: We’re still looking into that right now. There may be two options. One would be if they don’t want to pick up those benefits and continue to pay those voluntary benefits that we talked about earlier on an ongoing basis; we’ll let you know what those look like before May 15, so you can make that decision. If they don’t, then they go into arrears with everything else.

But in the case of our flex benefits, we are allowed to spread those out over time to be paid out. It’s my understanding with the dental and the health, we may not be able to do the same thing. However, with the Flex, we can do that. So rather than having to pay that whole portion back at once, in August, when a person comes back, we can make arrangements and make that smaller deduction throughout the rest of the year through Dec. 31.

Provost DiLorenzo: Will the balance on the benefits that the University is paying for furloughed employees be due from the employee all at once when they resume employment?

Associate Vice President Varberg: With the Flex, probably not. But with the premiums on the vision or the dental, probably so. But as I mentioned, an employee will have the option to pay as they go throughout the summer — throughout the time that they’re reduced. If you are not reduced fully, then that will be deducted from your check regardless. If you’re reduced to zero, then you will have an option to pay that as you go, which may be a better better financial arrangement than having it all taken out of that first check when you come back in August.

Either way, there needs to be some planning and some consideration on impact on your financials individually.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you, Peggy. Here’s a question for Debbie: Are faculty teaching contracts not going to be renewed for summer semester as part of these cuts?

Incoming Interim Provost Storrs: The deans have been asked to look at the summer offerings and make sure that those are courses that are fully enrolled and to identify courses that they don’t have to offer again as an attempt to reserve some funding. So in general, faculty are on a nine-month contracts, so faculty who anticipate teaching in the summer, that would vary depending on the college demand and need.

Provost DiLorenzo:  Thank you.  Eric, here’s a question for you: will small groups be allowed on campus this summer?

Chief Plummer: Right now, the university is closed to all events, camps and groups on campus, and that’s through Aug. 7. And the reason we’re doing that is as we move further into Phase One, the guidance that’s out there is to limit groups or gatherings to no more than 10 people.

As we progress Phase Two, we will be limited to groups less than 50. But in all phases, physical distancing and other measures are going to be required.

Now, these provide some unique challenges for the University community. And we will continue to vet all groups or events that people hope to have on campus in the upcoming months through the events process as we move forward.

Provost DiLorenzo: This is sort of tied together there, Eric. Let me add this. Are there plans to cancel some regular summer conferences?

Chief Plummer: So again, right now, anything on campus is going to be canceled through Aug. 7, based on the guidance put out by President Wynne earlier. As we move forward, and as things start to improve within the state and within the region, we may be able to revisit those items.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you. Here’s a question for Jed: will there be a new round of voluntary separations due to the current budget realities?

Vice President Shivers: It’s a great question. We were probably going to consider it, but at this point, we don’t have any plans specifically to embark upon that.

Provost DiLorenzo: Is there an option for the employee to drop benefits so they don’t have to repay the premiums.

Associate Vice President Varberg: We don’t think so. Again, with Flex – that may be the one where that can be done. It’s quite a bit more loose on some of the parameters. But with dental and vision, it’s likely that this is not enough of a “qualifying event.”

However, we are looking at that through NDPERS.

Provost DiLorenzo: A question for Josh and or Andy: other institutions and organizations outside of higher ed are having their Top Tier salary individuals take pay cuts. Would that be a strategy that UND uses?

Interim President Wynne: Thanks, Tom. Well, this is something that the Executive Council, incoming president Armacost and I have been discussing, and I can assure you that it’s under careful and active discussion at this time.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thank you. Here’s a two-part question for Peggy; and we’re getting close to our time here. So, I’ll give you some information about how to get your questions answered if we haven’t had time.

Peggy, is there a reason why people wouldn’t get the $600, given the online calculators?

Associate Vice President Varberg: We can never say 100 percent sure of what unemployment is going to do. We’ve done the best that we can over the course of a short period of time to find out all the information that we can. What we’ve learned is that if you are eligible for $1 from your state unemployment, then you’re eligible for the entire $600 each week that you certify. So that that shouldn’t be an issue as long as you’re eligible.

There may also be another avenue — if you are not eligible for unemployment — for you to still to apply to receive the $600 as well. There are several options on unemployment. The first one is the one for customary unemployment.  Another is an area where people can go who traditionally are not eligible for unemployment, to see if they can still get some level of North Dakota unemployment and additionally the $600.

Provost DiLorenzo: This is a short one, Peggy: can staff members reduced to zero percent still be involved with professional associations or other activities in which they are representing UND?

Associate Vice President Varberg: I would say if they’re representing UND, the answer is probably no, particularly if this is part of their position description. I would say that difference here would be if you are a member of staff Senate or University Senate, those kinds of things, you can still be involved in those efforts, because that is a voluntary position, if you will; it’s not required for your job. It’s not like your job, and you’re not doing any work that would be considered part of your actual job that we’ve hired you for.

Provost DiLorenzo: Thanks. And let me end with a question to Debbie. Have you considered adding more online degrees, since graduate program enrollment is on the rise? Wouldn’t this make sense to offset some financial concerns?

Incoming Interim Provost Storrs: Absolutely. We are interested in adding more online degrees. The deans have been working with their chairs to identify where there might be demand and capacity. If faculty have ideas, we’d love to hear them, but that’s absolutely an avenue that we want to grow. And that I think will distinguish us from our competitors. We already have a very solid, online base of courses and programs that we offer that are known to be high quality. And we’d like to offer more; I think that’s going to be a strong future for us.

So, yes, we’d love to hear your ideas.

Provost DiLorenzo: And that does it for us today. Thank you for joining us. I’d like to thank the whole leadership team for being here, and the more than 1,000 individuals who participated. We really enjoy the opportunity to communicate with you in this way. And we’ll continue to provide these ways of communication as we navigate a very fluid situation. This Zoom Town Hall was recorded and will be posted, along with questions and answers, on our Coronavirus blog and published in UND Today later today. If you have more questions — and I know you do, because we didn’t get to all of them — you can write to us at