UND’s Smart Restart: Provost and Academic Affairs

Ongoing communications with faculty and students throughout summer is key

When UND reopens for the fall semester, it will offer a mix of online and on-campus courses. Classes on the University campus will be set up to maintain safety and appropriate physical distancing. UND archival image.

As the University of North Dakota prepares to reopen for the fall semester, the Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs is planning to provide students with online courses, as well as on-campus courses, as safely as possible.

Debbie Storrs

Debbie Storrs, UND’s Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, organized a fall planning group composed of faculty leadership, representatives from the School of Medicine & Health Sciences, the School of Law and other areas across campus.  The team has developed guides for faculty on how to plan for opening in the fall.  These guides are posted on a page on the provost office website and will be updated regularly.

In addition to the fall planning group, Storrs has invited two colleagues to join her leadership team during the 20-21 academic year.  They include Cindy Juntunen, who will serve as Associate Vice Provost in addition to her duties as Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, and Scott Correll, who will serve as Administrative Fellow in addition to his duties as the registrar. These additions, plus changes in reporting lines, ensure the support and services the provost’s office provides will be met.

“I’m working with the team to develop additional fall guidance to share with UND’s chairs, who play an important role in directly supporting the faculty and the curriculum in their departments,” Storrs said. “We want to make sure the chairs have the information and tools they need to support faculty.”

Training under way

Cindy Juntunen

Associate Vice Provost Juntunen will provide training for chairs starting this week. Storrs said the training will provide chairs with information about the safety features and options they can discuss with faculty for teaching on campus. Following the training, chairs will be asked to meet individually with faculty to answer questions, discuss their plans, and identify solutions to any accommodations they might need.

Given the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, Storrs said she expects changes to occur throughout the summer, which increases the need to work closely with partners across the university and to communicate often.

“We’re working very closely with our colleagues in facilities to ensure all classrooms have hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes and plexiglass barriers,” Storrs said.  “We understand our faculty are at higher risk than students, and so it is important we provide layers of protection for them.”

Ensuring classroom safety

Storrs said her office is also working closely with the Office of Safety to verify classroom seating capacity.

Scott Correll

“On the Provost website, we’re updating a spreadsheet on the numbers of students they can have in the assigned classroom at any point in time that faculty can look at daily to accommodate the scheduling of their courses,” she said. “They’ll have to rotate students in smaller numbers if they’re teaching on campus. Director of Safety, Terry Wynne, has been a phenomenal colleague, measuring each classroom and marking chairs that students can sit in to ensure the necessary physical distancing.”

Deans and chairs are also working with their faculty to prepare for the fall semester.

“While we know many students want on-campus classes, we also see our online sections filling rapidly,” Storrs said.  “We’re working with deans and chairs to see if we should we shift more courses online to accommodate students’ demands.”

In the area of online education, Storrs believes that UND is in a good position relative to other universities.

“We have the capacity to scale quality online offerings because we already have a good infrastructure,” she explained. “We have faculty with expertise in online delivery and programs that are fully online – even before the coronavirus outbreak.”

Meeting online teaching goals

Further, Storrs praised instructional designers in the Teaching Transformation and Development Academy (TTaDA) who have been working closely with faculty to help them design and create an online experience that is engaging and meets their learning goals.

UND’s Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs is working is working with college deans and department chairs across campus to assure that the fall semester reopening provides students with a high-quality educational experience while supporting faculty. UND archival image.

According to Storrs, several UND colleges are moving forward with developing completely new online programs.

“That’s exciting and good news because it means more opportunities for students,” she said. “Rather than an either/or approach, many students will likely choose to take both online and on-campus courses, and those who are unable to relocate to Grand Forks can complete many programs completely online.”

Collaborating with students

Storrs said an important part of the planning process is collaborating with Student Affairs and UND’s student body leadership.

“We have to ensure that students who want the on-campus experience have a realistic expectation of what it will look like in the COVID-19 era” she said. “The virus requires us to rethink how to hold concerts, how students will engage in the library, how we structure celebrations, and a whole host of other activities. All that’s going to change as we work to determine how to do it safely.

“Communicating the changes necessary to heighten protection will be important for student satisfaction and awareness,” she continued. “As long as we can communicate what on-campus classes will look like and why we are organizing them in the way faculty decide, students will understand.”

UND’s staff is also involved in ongoing conversations around campus on how to reopen the University for the fall semester, Storrs said.

“Our staff are essential in all facets of the institution, including supporting student success,” she added. “It’s an enormous task, but there are many, many people who are helping to lead it and empower others to make decisions. I’m confident that we’re going to get there, but we’ll have to be flexible about what it looks like the day we welcome students back to campus.”

Storrs noted that some aspects of the provost office haven’t changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have the same goal of providing support to ensure our students have academically sound, high-quality learning experiences,” she said. “We will continue to provide faculty with the support they need to provide this educational experience to students, while engaging in their creative activities and research. We continue to provide support to our academic leaders – the deans of the various schools and colleges.”

For the most current information regarding notifications about the coronavirus, UND’s response to in and any impacts on university classes, operations or events, visit UND’s Coronavirus Updates Blog. This blog will be updated regularly throughout the summer and fall.