UND leadership: ‘Cautiously optimistic’

Faculty & Staff Town Hall discusses vaccine possibilities, Spring Term classes and more

Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of UND’s Dec. 7 Faculty and Staff Town Hall, followed by questions and answers that were not able to be addressed in the forum.

Andy Armacost

President Andy Armacost: Hi, this is Andy Armacost, UND’s president. And thanks for tuning in today – an opportunity to engage with me and the entire Executive Council and many of our leaders across our campus.

We’re here today to answer any of your questions. Some likely will focus on COVID or the spring semester. But it might be that you have other topics that you’d like to address as well.

So start thinking about your questions, so we can get right to them as soon as you pose them.

In the meantime, let me say a couple words as you’re typing.

First, many thanks for everything that you have done this fall semester to give our students a strong educational experience, in spite of all the disruptions. It really has taken a great team effort to pull off what we’ve pulled off.

And no greater thanks can be offered than to our pandemic working group, which has been meeting diligently since the middle of March to make great things happen for our campus. They’ve left no stone unturned and have really done incredible work to make sure all the logistics and the safety precautions have been in place.

I wish desperately that we could have met more, and done more, face-to-face this fall. But the good news is with the prospect of the vaccine on the horizon, we definitely want to keep moving forward slowly while minimizing the risk to the campus.

This sense of balance is something we’ve really strived for throughout the fall semester. And it’s led to our decision to return on Jan. 11, to continue our education in the manner that we executed in the fall semester, which is a combination of hybrid learning, online learning, and some purely face-to -ace classes as well.

The operative words, as you know, will continue to be things like hand washing, face covering, distancing, avoiding large groups, and of course, testing. I just wanted to let you know – and we can say more about it, and Jed Shivers may say more about this as well – but we are modifying our quarantine plans for those who are identified as close contacts. That will ease their burden considerably.

The changes we’re making are consistent with CDC guideline guidelines, which have reduced the amount of time that one would spend in quarantine, if identified as a close contact.

In addition, we’ll have cheaper and more widely available tests that give results in as little as 15 minutes. So the testing will be more rapid, and this will allow us to respond more effectively to the spread of the pandemic.

Of course, we’re hoping that vaccine comes sooner rather than later to our campus. But the testing approaches, and the changes to the CDC guidelines, are truly game changers for us.

So with that said, I wish you in advance a peaceful winter break, after we get through the final two weeks of this semester. And once again, thanks for all your tremendous work to pull off the unthinkable: offering a safe campus in the wake of the pandemic as we tried to keep our important UND mission alive and well.

So thanks, and over to Jed for your comments and the questions.

Jed Shivers

Jed Shivers, Vice President for Finance & Operations/COO: Hi everybody, I’m Jed Shivers, and I’m the Vice President for Finance and Operations and the COVID lead person here at UND. And I’m so happy to say we have gotten a question or two so far, so I don’t have to talk and absorb all the dead air.

First question; I’m going to probably try to answer myself and then turn to my colleagues. Really good question: “I’m wondering if those who are working remotely all fall should expect to work the exact same way this coming spring?” That’s a terrific question.

The way I’m going to start off by answering is, right now we really are encouraging people who can work remotely to do so. Here in Twamley, we do have a much reduced staff presence. And I think that’s fine. People are able to do that, and we encourage them to do so.

So the way I’m going to answer the question is to say, it really depends upon what the situation is on the ground in terms of what we’re seeing in infection rates, and all the other stuff that we monitor each and every day.

So, it’ll partly be a function of what’s happening.

But my sense at the moment is that we’re likely to continue in a fairly remote working status where possible for staff. And of course, faculty are able to decide how they want to deliver their coursework. I think that’s going to continue.

Then we’ll work our way through that as things change. If we have ubiquitous uptake of a highly available vaccine, that’ll obviously help resolve things. But that requires the vaccine to be available and for people to utilize it.

I think those are the things that we’ll be monitoring as they work our way through this question. But it’s a great question; what a wonderful way to start off. Anyone have anything to add?

Okay! Next question is – and here, I’m going to address this to Provost Storrs. “I have a question regarding fall 2021. The current guidance from the registrar’s office that fall 2021 will be conducted just like fall 2020 and spring 2021 with COVID-19 capacities and restrictions. What particular metrics will UND be tracking, and at what point in time will a potential change to this guidance be provided?”

Debbie Storrs

Debbie Storrs, Interim Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs: Hi everyone; Debbie Storrs, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. It’s a great question.

What we’re hoping is that with the vaccine, we’ll have a lot more people who are protected that we can shift into more face-to-face (instruction), and not do as many online and remote classes. We’ll have to wait and see until when the vaccine is available, when everybody can get vaccinated, etc.

So at this point in time, (UND Registrar) Scott Correll and I have decided, let’s just plan for the fall to be hybrid, face-to-face and online. So sort of a mix. Again, that will change, and we’ll communicate as quickly as possible with the community once we have more information. But at this point in time, that’s the plan. Ideally, we want to go back to as normal as possible, but that’s going to be really contingent on the vaccinations.

Jed Shivers: So our next question, I’m going to turn to President Armacost, Cara Halgren and Rosy Dub.

This is a great question, and I’m going to preface it by saying, it’s great that we’re even able to ask this question, which is, “Is UND going to require faculty and staff to get the vaccine?”

So the reason why it’s a great question is, there’s a vaccine that’s coming! That’s really terrific. And you know, profound gratitude towards the National Institutes of Health and all the other people who developed the technology to make what is a world record in vaccine development. These things have taken many, many years in the past.

While it may not seem like it, the development of this vaccine is quite remarkable, and is a testament to all of the investments that our country has made in biotechnology.

Let me turn that first over to President Armacost. Will it be mandatory for faculty and staff to get the vaccine? And then commentary from Dr. Halgren and Rosy Dub.

President Armacost: It is a great question, Jed. And the discussions are happening on campus currently about both mandatory vaccinations and/or mandatory testing.

At this point, we’re not going to mandate testing, but we do strongly encourage it. But back to the vaccine, which is what your question was about.

There are, I think, some legal questions that are being worked on by the North Dakota University System, and we’re soon to have active discussions about what the whole system is going to do.

I think it’s important that if we do have mandatory vaccines, that it’s got to be a statewide initiative, it’s got to be system wide, and not just each individual campus making its own decisions.

But right now, it’s undecided about what we’ll do. Also, just like with many other vaccines, many people request exemptions. So it’s a kind of a thorny issue that we’re going to work through, again, with public safety issues versus rights to make private decisions with your health care.

Joshua Wynne might have some thoughts on this as well, but I’ll turn it over to Rosy first.

Rosy Dub

Rosy Dub, Director of UND COVID Medical Response: Hi, I’m Rosy Dub, director of UND’s COVID medical response. I’m curious to hear what Dr. Wynne would say about this.

My understanding is that as President Armacost stated, the question about mandating it – I don’t believe that we can technically mandate the vaccine, because of it being under emergency-use authorization. However, we’re checking into that legally.

And there are other incentives that can be used. Institutions can set up their own incentives to make it appropriate for people to choose the vaccine.

We really want people to recognize that the vaccine is our step towards getting back to the new normal. We’re hoping that out of our own personal choices, we’ll make the choice to keep ourselves and our community healthy.

We need a high uptake. Our flu vaccine for our state is typically about 50 percent uptake. We need to achieve 70 percent of people taking the COVID vaccine to receive the herd immunity that we need to function as we are used to or having new normal.

Dr. Wynne, do you have more to add to that?

Joshua Wynne

Joshua Wynne, Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean, School of Medicine & Health Sciences: Thanks very much, Rosy. I actually have two comments. They’re on the “can” and the “should” side of things.

On the “can” side, although obviously I defer to the attorney general’s office, I don’t think there will be any real question whether the state – I’m not sure about the University System – but that the state can mandate vaccination. This has been tried and answered in the United States Supreme Court and the famous case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts.

The more important thing, though, is the issue you raise, Rosy, which is, do we even need to do that? And the important thing that you refer to is this concept of what we call herd immunity – that is, based on the particulars of this particular virus, how much of our community – the herd – do we need to have protected to protect, essentially, all of us?

And as you indicate, that number appears to be somewhere between 50 and 70 percent.

The concept of herd immunity is that as long as enough of us – in this case, to use your number, 70 percent – have immunity to the virus, all of us get protected, or almost all of us.

So even someone who is not vaccinated, gets protection from those of us who are.

The other important thing to remember about this herd immunity is, it’s the sum of people who have natural immunity because they had COVID in the past, and people who have been vaccinated to the best of our knowledge.

So we may not have to have 70 percent of everyone vaccinated if people who have had COVID before also have sufficient immunity that they can ward off the infection.

I think the bottom line is that we can probably satisfy both groups – that is, the group who, for whatever reason, would rather not get vaccinated, I think that it would probably be acceptable and not to try to force it. And yet the rest of us who are willing to get vaccinated, or get COVID inadvertently, help protect everyone.

So I think the issue of mandatory vaccination may well be less of an issue. And we can still get to acceptable community protection without having to coerce people who may feel that they don’t want to do it.

President Armacost: Jed, one other comment, too. There were two other questions on there. One is, “when do we expect it on campus?”

We have no way of knowing at this point. Operation Warp Speed is just now ramping up, and we’ll just have to wait and see what kind of progress they make.

The second question is, will each member have a choice? Will they be able to make a choice between the type of vaccine that they get? The writer wrote something about an RNA versus a traditional vaccine, and my understanding is that both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines are are RNA-based.

So in terms of the style, you’ll get the same one.

We don’t know which vaccine will come to our campus at this point. We don’t know. And Josh, I don’t know if you had any other comments on that area.

Joshua Wynne: The only thing I’d add is that it does matter which of these two vaccines you get because you need to get the second dose of the same vaccine as you had in the first place. Both of them are so-called mRNA vaccines. That’s never been done before. And the Pfizer one is a three-week interval between first and second dose. And the Moderna is a four-week interval.

But we don’t know yet from the state which of the vaccines we may get or in which quantity. As President Armacost said, the actual distribution is still undetermined. Although based on a recommendation last week, from an advisory group at the national level, the state has also been working on tiers of priorities for distribution. And I would imagine that many of us are going to be, thankfully, in one of the lower tiers meaning we don’t have high-risk groups. So almost certainly the first group to be offered the vaccine will be frontline healthcare workers, particularly those working on COVID units, followed by long-term care, eventually, for ordinary citizens who are at higher risk due to older age or comorbid conditions. And then for most of the UND the population, it will be beyond that. But given the amount of vaccine that is being produced, even with some of the hiccups, this is going on at warp speed. As the president said, and it is truly amazing that we went from discovery of the virus to a vaccine in under a year. That has never been done before in the history of the world.

Rosy Dub: I don’t know if anybody is interested in this, but you probably heard, too, that the vaccines are like 95 percent effective – excellent results with them.

Jed Shivers: Okay. Well worth pointing out: If we get the Pfizer vaccine, we already have an ultra-low freezer here. So we can start it. So we’re good to go.

Joshua Wynne: Can I mention one other thing about that, Jed? Since there has been some concern about the ultra-low temperature that’s required for the Pfizer vaccine, it has a shorter half-life when not under ultra-cold conditions, so that we don’t anticipate a huge problem, even at universities that don’t have the ultra-low temperature freezers.

Jed Shivers: Thank you. So we’re going to switch a little bit here and talk a little bit about budgetary anxiety. I think this is a good question, probably needs to be addressed.

So the question is: “With the coronavirus and already anticipating low enrollment, how big of a cut to our budget are you expecting? And will these cuts be done at the college level? People are very concerned for student stability and job security.”

Those are good questions. So I’m going to answer them in the following way, and then I invite my colleagues to answer also. First of all, we were concerned about what our budget would look like for the current semester that we’re in the fall semester because we really didn’t know what COVID was going to do. And through the fall semester, I would say we’re doing better than we anticipated. So that’s big news. What we don’t know about, of course, is what’s going to happen in the second semester. So nobody’s going out and popping any champagne or celebrating because we really want to see what the second semester will bring.

I think that’s a testament to the ability of people like Dr. (Jeffrey) Holm and Dr. Storrs and all the faculty to continue to provide pretty high-quality educational services to everyone – educational products to everyone. So as far as keeping people here, we’re just going to have to wait and see and we’ll adjust accordingly.

So I can’t give anybody any kind of absolute assurance. I don’t know that anyone around the country — unless they have multiple billions of dollars of endowment – is in a position to do that in higher education at this point. But we are better off than we anticipated so far. We’ll see what happens. Of course, we also worth noting, we did get the governor’s budget and we appreciate the economic context in which he framed that budget. But we’ll be working with the State Board of Higher Education, which has a pretty clear position on what those going-forward budgets can be. So I can’t give you definitive answers at this point. But I will say that we’re a bit better off than we anticipated. Dr. Storrs?

Debbie Storrs: I’d just like to add that we are better off than anticipated, but we still don’t know what the outcome will be in terms of spring enrollment. And so I think we’re all very concerned that students will be able to take some time off, regroup and come back either in person or online and continue their education here at UND. I wanted to thank everybody for doing such a great job of supporting students and being flexible when they requested it. I know it’s been an enormous amount of work on the part of faculty.

The other thing that’s really interesting is all faculty and staff at UND have access to the Starfish data report, the dashboard that is available now. We’ve done a quick look at that and it looks like that there’s not more flags. Those are where faculty go in and raise a flag, and flags are typically of concern. There doesn’t seem to be overwhelmingly more flags this semester compared to last fall, which is a good sign. There are some variations by faculty raising more flags, and I’m not sure how to interpret that. One interpretation is that faculty are just using Starfish more to communicate to students when they’re concerned. So take a look at the Starfish report and see if you see any patterns. You can reach out to students or you can have our academic advisors reach out to students because we want them to know we’re here to support them, and help them make good decisions for the spring. Thank you.

Jed Shivers: Okay, I’ve got a quick one here, and I’m going to direct this one to associate vice president for human resources, Peggy Varberg: “How will snow days work this year? If UND calls a snow day and I work at home, do I have to work?” So the question is: I’m working at home. I’m working remotely. If there’s a snow day called, are you going to make me work that day?

Peggy Varberg

Peggy Varberg, Associate Vice President for Human Resources: There’s a discussion around that very question. As we move forward, even out of COVID world, we’ve established that employees at all levels can work successfully, remotely for those that have that capacity in their position. So I don’t think we have a 100 percent answer at this point. It’s something that’s being discussed by all 11 schools and the System office. If we were to move to that level, it would require some policy changes. And so we can’t give you I can’t give you a definite answer on that at this point.

Jed Shivers: Okay. Another quick one I can talk about and I think Associate Vice President Mike Pieper might want to comment on as well, as well as Provost Storrs and also Dr. Cara Halgren: “Has there been any thought of shutting down campus during the winter break?” I can honestly say I haven’t thought of it at all. So that’s the way I would answer this. And I’m not sure, given the fact that there are activities that are academic, that really occur fairly continuously, as well as maintaining the campus and providing services to students who cannot necessarily go home right for the holidays. I don’t think that’s a practical reality. But I invite anyone who wishes comments, please do.

Cara Halgren

Cara Halgren, Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity: I’m Cara Halgren, Vice President for Student Affairs and Diversity. And Jed, you had it right. Our residence halls and dining services will continue to stay open to serve students over the break.

Jed Shivers: Any other comments on this, Mike, you want to talk about?

Mike Pieper, Associate Vice President for Facilties: I guess the only comment that I would make is there’s certainly less events and activities happening than in normal years. But I would think that on a department-by-department basis, if you decide to maybe take leave at the same time or your building or your office suite or whatever could be shut down between breaks, I would just ask that people reach out to Facilities so that we can be aware and monitor differently than it would be if it was being occupied.

Mike Pieper

Mike Pieper

Jed Shivers: Okay, thank you. This is a question that’s a good question because it’s not related to COVID, but I think is important to our campus, certainly. This is about the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion projects the task force has going on. What it says is: “The next step will be implementation of measures to improve these issues at UND. Will each college, school and department have an opportunity to hold meetings to discuss the report’s findings and possible areas for implementation within our entities?” Dr. Armacost, I’m going to turn this one over to you.

Andy Armacost: I’ll say two words: I would hope so. I guess that was more than two words. I would hope those conversations happen at all levels of the institution. If you haven’t read the report yet, please take the time to do it. The work of this taskforce has been exemplary. Cara Halgren and Tamba-Kuii Bailey did an amazing job as the co-chairs of the committee, and their work will provide a starting point for us to adopt these initiatives into the strategic plan. There was some question about timing as well. When does it happen? Right now, we’re in the communication phase, taking the report and trying to speak with as many people about the report, whether it’s legislators, whether it’s campus members, local community members, etc. And so the next step is to just start the process of prioritizing, figuring out what can be accomplished, figuring out what resources that we might need, or might have, and then making a judgement about how we build these ideas into the strategic plan for the university. So it’s great work, but conversations happening at all levels of the university, that’s exactly what I think the taskforce had hoped would happen. So I would encourage colleges and schools to do that. Cara?

Cara Halgren: I would agree absolutely with everything that you said, and I just want to do a special shout out to my colleague, Dr. Tamba-Kuii Bailey, because while his work references the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Task Force, the work is his. He did all of the heavy lifting in terms of putting all the information from the separate groups together to produce the final document. And so he deserves all of the credit for outstanding work. It’s been a privilege to be a part of this group. And I think the suggestion about coming to each of the colleges is a great one. And in fact, I will follow up with Vice President Storrs on that after we’re done with this call.

Jed Shivers: Okay, thank you. Quick question for Peggy Varberg: “Will the Families First Corona Virus Response Act be extended beyond 12/31/20? Or has it been extended?”

Peggy Varberg: Two parts: It has not been extended as of yet, and we are hoping that it gets extended. In some of the information I’ve read regarding the stimulus that’s potentially on the table, they haven’t specifically called any attention to that piece. They’ve called attention to furthering claims, opportunities – those kinds of things. So we are watching closely in response to that and trying to glean some answer that we can share with the UND community. But right now, it’s on the table as expiring December 31.

Jed Shivers: Thank you. Two quick questions for Rosy, and I’m going to combine these questions. The first question is: “Are there any resources to get antibody tests?” So you can comment, Rosy, if you would, on what’s happening with that. The second question relates to the vaccine. I might be mistaken, but I think the person is wondering if the immunity from the vaccine is only 90 days because that’s what we were talking about earlier. So if you could please comment on additional testing and – I think I have it right – immunity post-vaccination?

Rosy Dub: Sure. The antibody testing is available through your private provider. Antibody testing can be sent to the State Health Lab or to reference labs. We are not offering negative mass testing events as the value of that is still questionable as to whether or not it does prove immunity. We don’t know what level of antibodies are necessary, or how long was antibodies are protective. So, yes, you can go to your private healthcare provider and request antibody testing. The other part was the immunity from the vaccine. I think I saw some of the questions saying that you have presumed immunity for 90 days after having the disease. We do still believe that that is true. We are hoping. We don’t know the answer to how long the vaccine is protective. We are hoping that it provides a lengthier course of protection. Right now, our flu vaccine is good for generally a year at a time. The answer to will you have to get an annual vaccine for COVID is unknown at this time.

Jed Shivers: I’m going to address another question on vaccinations. I don’t know that there is an answer here, but I think it’s worth talking about briefly. Although individual rights must be held to utmost importance, that individual’s rights not to vaccinate has a potential for strong negative community outcomes. Will individuals who have elected not to vaccinate have some restrictions on their work behavior depending upon the nature of their work? Conversely, will there be an incentive for those who vaccinate to vaccinate and avoid this issue related to individual rights?

So, a really interesting question. I can comment quickly on this. I think we have a history here of mandating vaccinations but with significant exceptions for things like religious liberty issues, etc. And I imagine that that will continue. I think Dr. Halgren might want to comment on that further, as well as Rosy Dub. I would say in addition to that, perfection is not something that’s required in vaccination. You do not require 100 percent of everyone to be vaccinated, but at least – as we talked about earlier – 70 percent would be good. That’s something that we are going to have to explore as we have a better understanding of how much vaccine we have available to us, and how rapidly the ability to vaccinate people will proliferate through our campus community. It’s going to be a while before people other than health care providers and those in nursing homes are going to get this. I think that’s something we also want to keep in mind.

Another great question, and this one is for Rosy. If people have had COVID, should they still get vaccinated?

Rosy Dub: Yes, we do recommend that they still receive a vaccine. If you’re acutely ill with COVID, that is probably not the best time to get the vaccine, just for the reason that your body’s immune system is using all of its energy to fight COVID itself. So the maximum efficacy of the vaccine would not be to your advantage. If you have an active case of COVID, yes we would like you to get vaccinated. So please just wait a week or two or a certain length of time before you get vaccinated. Not when you’re acutely ill, but yes we do recommend to vaccinate.

Jed Shivers: Quick question for Debbie Storrs. I, and likely many other faculty, am currently teaching a completely online course. Nearly all students in this course complete finals online, but one student – not in state, not even in the upper Midwest – has requested to complete her final exam via paper and pencil at her location with a proctor approved by me. I assume this is acceptable, but UND has specifically said all finals must be completed online. Quick comment on that, Debbie?

Debbie Storrs: Sure. I responded directly to the person, but I’d be happy to respond to everybody. One of the reasons we requested all finals to be online is to encourage students, when they’re done with their classes, to return wherever their home may be, rather than bring them to campus to take the exam. In this case, obviously, it makes sense to have flexibility and I’ve responded to that. Of course we can accommodate that. But the goal is to not have any on-campus finals, even if we have COVID protocol in place, because we want to encourage students to go back home when they’re done with their classes.

Jed Shivers: Let’s move on to a little bit of campus life. Question for Dr. Halgren, will adjustments to room capacities be considered in the spring semester if COVID numbers decrease?

Cara Halgren: No. Unfortunately not, but we are cautiously optimistic for fall and we’re crossing our fingers. We know students have missed living more closely with other students but we really think it’s in everybody’s best interest if we hang tight for spring and continue the course for action we have currently in place.

Jed Shivers: Here is one that’s been answered in the chat but worth talking about, I think, because a lot of people have this as a concern. Will we need to use our own sick leave balance if we are exposed or tested positive for COVID beginning January 1? As a new staff, I don’t have sufficient sick leave to get through even a single period of quarantine. Peggy, would you like to talk about that?

Peggy Varberg: I think the answer is that we need to hopefully understand more of what the FFDRA, what the federal government is going to do for us. We have not made that decision, and I think that’s something the president and his executive council will need to have discussions on – whether we’ll want to move the person into paid admin leave who tests positive and not able to come to work. We need to have those conversations and they’re being discussed. They’re also being discussed across the System, with other schools. It’s an issue, for sure, that we have our eyes on.

Jed Shivers: I think it’s important that people have an understanding of that, in that they know that we’re noodling our way through this, as these issues arise.

Now we’re looking very far into the future. What about summer activities and classes, asking Debbie Storrs and Karyn Plumm.

Debbie Storrs: I’ll take a stab at it. It all depends on the vaccine and how many of us are vaccinated and feel like it’s safe. At this time, summer classes are scheduled in the same manner – online, face to face COVID capacity. Same with the activities. We do have a lot of summer activities and those are going to pause and wait until we know what way we can offer them. If we’re planning on them now, we should plan on them in terms of the same COVID protocol.

Jed Shivers: Next question could be for Cara Halgren and Debbie Storrs. Should student employees be returning to campus to work after finals, or after Christmas? Or should they be allowed to work remotely?

Cara Halgren: That’s a conversation between the supervisors and the students, but regardless, we are interested in making sure students are healthy and that they’re getting tested. If they go away for a while and then come back to campus, there are testing opportunities for them to take advantage of. But again, when a student worker works is probably between that student and the supervisor.

Debbie Storrs: I don’t have anything to add except student workers are really vital to many of our areas – the library, IT and others. Please have a conversation with your supervisor, particularly if we can see if there is some flexibility in doing things remotely.

Jed Shivers: This is a great question for Rosy, and this may get a little technical. Is UND going to change COVID quarantine timeframes to meet new ND recommendations, i.e. 10 days?

Rosy Dub: Yes, we are complying with the CDC guidelines. The blog is getting updated today, as we speak. It’s important to remember that isolation with a positive case has not changed, that still remains 10 days. Quarantine periods have been reduced from 14 days to 10 days. This is where it gets technical. If you’re able to get a test on day six of quarantine period, and it’s negative and you have no symptoms, you could actually shorten your quarantine to seven days. I want to caution people not to take the seven days as the new quarantine timeframe. The quarantine time is 10 days and at this point it is not less than seven days. You can’t test out of less than seven days. You can’t test out of quarantine yet; you can potentially shorten it by a couple of days if you test day six or seven and get a negative test and have no symptoms. That will be on the blog as the day continues.

Jed Shivers: It’s an interesting thing because what you’re really seeing is the CDC trying to understand how to combine what’s medically optimal with what they actually see in terms of individual behavior on a massive scale across our entire country. And what you’re actually seeing is trying to adapt what’s really pragmatic vs. what’s medically optimal, and that’s what they’re coming up with. It’s an interesting thing to observe.

Quick question for Dr. Halgren, any idea how many students will be on campus during the break?

Cara Halgren: Students who were planning to stay during break need to request that through Housing. In the past, we’ve typically only had 100 or less students stay on campus. I’m not sure of current numbers. If I find out before the end of the call, I’ll let you know.

Jed Shivers: An interesting, one might even regard as provocative, question for Jeff Holm. Dr. Holm, should professors be required to lecture while we are online? Many students are concerned about having to teach themselves.

Jeff Holm

Jeff Holm

Jeff Holm, Vice Provost for Online Education & Strategic Planning: My simple answer would be that our Teaching Transformation & Development Academy has wonderful options available to help you. The key is to engage with, and keep students engaged in your course content. Sometimes that means live lectures. Sometimes it means recorded lectures. Sometimes it means other things. But I think the key component is how best, given your course content – what can you do to best keep students engaged in your course and learning to the best that the situation allows? As I said, contacting TTaDA is a great place to start if you’re not sure how to do that.

Debbie Storrs: I just want to add that I have appreciated how much work faculty have put into the online and hybrid courses, and I think that we have been able to communicate with our students. There’s been a lot of support from TTaDA, a lot of faculty engagement on how to transfer knowledge and discussion in an online environment. We’ve been able to work on the quality, and so the more that you can engage students as Jeff mentioned, the better. But I would not say that it’s a requirement. I think we have to really give faculty the flexibility on deciding how to help students learn in their classrooms. Sometimes pure lecture isn’t the best way to engage students. That’s why we’ve invested a lot of time, even previous to the pandemic, on flipping the classroom. More active engagement and active learning. I would encourage you if you need support, please reach out to TTaDA – we’re here to help you. The focus is on quality education. That can look very different for different faculty.

Jed Shivers: Quick question for Karyn Plumm, are spring finals going to be online only, like in the fall?

Karyn Plumm

Karyn Plumm, Vice Provost for Student Success: I don’t really know the answer to that question. I think it’s going to depend on our situation. Right now, I would say yes, we will plan to have them online for the spring. We will have to wait and see if we have a vaccine that early. It doesn’t sound like we will. But if we were, that might change the situation. But right now, plan for your finals to be online.

Jed Shivers: Another quick question for Debbie Storrs and Karyn Plumm. Please remind us of how classes will be held the first two weeks of the semester. Will they all be online?

Debbie Storrs: Classes after the winter break will occur just as scheduled, so either face-to-face/hybrid or online. I just wanted to share with you that they’re already scheduled for the spring, so you know how your spring courses are currently scheduled. And as of now, 67 percent of our classes are scheduled to be face-to-face with reduced classroom capacity. And 33 percent are scheduled completely online.

Jed Shivers: I love thematic consistency, it makes me so happy until I can’t take it anymore. Along that theme, if we have been working remotely and we have found that we are able to serve our students and complete our job well, would there be an opportunity after COVID to remain remote? What an interesting question.

Debbie Storrs: We want you to be happy, so I’m glad that thematic questions are making you smile. I’ll just say this: I think we should take a lot of the lessons from the pandemic and see which ones we want to carry forward. If there is an interest in continuing to teach online, and you can engage your students in that matter, I think that should be a discussion with your chair and dean. That’s one of many lessons, right? The flexibility, the support we’re providing faculty and other lessons we’ll want to carry forward as well.

Jed Shivers: Thank you. Quick question for Peggy. Why do essential workers who have been here every day since the start of COVID need to track their hours daily, but remote employees are not required to?

Peggy Varberg: I actually just answered that in chat, but I’m happy to answer that here. It’s actually the reverse. So those who are working on campus, essential or otherwise, working on campus and not remotely, are not required to turn in productivity reports unless maybe their supervisor asking them to. Those who work remotely are supposed to be turning in activity reports to their supervisors each week. And further, we did get a question about whether this is going to be continued in the new year. We have not discussed that. My assumption is probably if we’re going to continue to be working remotely or have those that continue to work remotely. But that that has not been discussed.

Jed Shivers: Thanks, Peggy. A quick question for Rosy. And I can also speak to this a little bit myself. Are the results for testing going to improve in the near future? If you are tested and don’t hear back for five to seven days, it is quite nerve wracking.

Rosy Dub: Yeah, I can understand that. I think what we’re seeing here is a dichotomy between where the tests are sent to. So on one hand, we have tests, which are often done on Saturdays, they often go to the state lab. If the state lab can handle them, they go there. And anecdotally, we’re hearing that people who got tested on Saturday got the results back quite rapidly. On the other hand, most currently, we’re seeing testing results lengthen when they are sent to the lab in North Carolina. I would not suggest that you do not get tested on Tuesday and pick Saturday instead, because you never know where the lab tests are going to go. So there’s no really good way to game this. The most important thing is to get tested regardless.

And of course, the other part of it is if you are getting tested, it’s really good to keep wearing masks and observe social distancing until you know whether or not you have it or not. Although I personally do understand the anxiety that it generates, the most important thing to do is to monitor your own symptoms and to really continue to observe the safety precautions that we have. So that if you get your test back in a day, and they’re hopefully negative, or you get them back in five days, and they’re hopefully negative, you’re still doing the same thing that you’ve done.

Jed Shiverse: I think it would be fair to say that there’s a lot of effort to try and improve the response time for testing across the state. Remember, the state has done a great job in terms of testing. It has been a leading state on a per capita basis in terms of testing. They’re working all the time to try and figure out a new and improved ways to make that happen. And hopefully we’ll be able to adapt to those as we move along. Rosy or Eric, either of you like to add to that little monologue I just did there.

Rosy Dub: I would echo your monologue, Jed, in that the State Health department is well aware of the anxiety caused when we have delayed getting results to people, as well as the effectiveness of our isolation and contact tracing when we have to wait four or five, six days to get people notified. There’s a lot of work being done to try to improve those turnaround times. And that’s where I’ll leave it at at this point. The state is continually working on trying to improve the process.

Eric Plummer

Eric Plummer, Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of Police: I think it would be also important to note that we are working on several different options for testing as well, including the BinaxNOW test which will be available to faculty, staff and our students through an appointment at Student Health. That’s more of the antigen rapid test. Now, I do know that Student Health, they are limiting that right now to symptomatic people.

President Armacost: Eric, to further explain what you described as a rapid test, the results of this BinaxNOW test come back in 15 minutes. It shortens that response time considerably, which is good for contact tracing and isolation and quarantine as well.

Jed Shivers: Okay, thank you kindly. Quick question for Dr. Karyn Plumm. It looks like there are changes coming to Essential Studies via NDUS. Is UND planning to alter its essential studies requirements to match those proposed by NDUS?  How might the recommendations for equity, diversity and inclusion from the taskforce impact ES requirements?

Karyn Plumm: That’s a great question. There are a couple of pieces that I want to address. NDUS has approved the option to propose an alternative general education program that is not required for any institution to take part in. Recently, the chair of the essential studies committee sent out an email to department chairs, asking them to send to faculty to ask that very question: Is this something that our committee should look at? Should we consider making changes or not? There is no mandate that we have to do that. And, we have not yet had the chance to talk about the diversity taskforce’s recommendations that were put for us. That is on our agenda for early spring. We’re finishing up validation materials right now. But our change in diversity courses for Essential Studies just changed this fall from the previous change that was made a few years ago. So, we don’t yet have the data on how that results in the assessment for learning outcomes for students in Essential Studies, given the changes in those required diversity courses were made much more rigorous and much more specific than they had been previously.

Jed Shivers: Thank you, Karen. A quick question for both CEO of our foundation, DeAnna Carlson Zink and Dr. Cara Halgren. Is there an update for the Angel Fund? How much is left versus how much is still being requested by students? And, if you would also kindly comment on the other current scholarship fund that benefits people who need money in real time.

DeAnna Carlson Zink

DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO for the Alumni Association & Foundation: I’ll jump in and then Dr. Halgren can add how it’s being used. But right now, our goal was to raise $150,000 for the Angel Fund, and we’re at just about $200,000 that have been gifted. And our goal was to raise $300,000, because we had a match for this Open Door scholarship that’s really helping students in need right now to come back to school or come to school for the first time.

The newest update from today is we raised $334,000. So many of you have participated in this. We’ve had almost 1,000 donors who have reached out to make gifts to these two funds for our students. And we really appreciate you. Thank you for caring for our students in so many different ways, not just in the classroom, but for their other needs. We do have a thank you event as well, virtually, of course, on this Thursday, Dec. 10, at 11:30 to 12:30. Cassie Gerhardt and Janelle Kilgore are going to be part of that program along with two of our students who have benefited from your gifts. Dr. Halgren, the needs that are still there?

Cara Halgren: Sure. At this point, we’ve had over 300 students or approximately 300 students that have had their needs met. But what I will tell you, and my colleague, Cassie Gerhardt just texted me, is that we have greater need than we have resources at this point. Students are continuing to send in their requests for Angel Fund.

Just to give you a sense of what students are saying as they’re completing their application, and these are for students who are funded. “Thank you very much. The Angel Fund came in when I needed it most. After not being able to work for two and a half weeks, I didn’t have any income for food and rent. This really helps me out.” “Thank you so much for this wonderful news. A weight has been lifted off my shoulders.” “Thank you so much. The Angel Fund allowed me to finish paying off this semester and make my rent payments on time. I can’t stress enough how grateful I am.”

I am grateful for all of you who have given previously to the Angel Fund. It is making a difference for students in real time and we would just want to impress upon you that the needs still exist. And we certainly welcome your gifts as we try to meet those needs on behalf of students.

Jed Shivers: Thank you. Just a quick bit of housekeeping: by my clock, I think, we’ve got about five minutes left and probably about three minutes for more questions and answers and then I’m assuming we’re going to turn it over to President Armacost for some closing comments. Would you agree that’s a reasonable? Okay, cool. So it’s good to get at least one thing right today. So, quick question for Rosy and Eric: Will UND be willing to provide rapid saliva testing for spring term? So let’s not worry about saliva testing. Let’s talk more about rapid testing at a more massive scale. What are we thinking?

Rosy Dub: We are definitely moving to plans to offer rapid mass testing to students, faculty and staff with the start of the spring semester.

Eric Plummer: I would say that it’s dependent upon how many tests we get. Our allocation from the state will drive how we deploy those tests. And I believe that our goal is going to be to make them as convenient to take as they can be made convenient. It’s one of those things where it’s going to be important for us to get the largest number of people tested that we can get. And the good news is, hopefully if all goes well, it is just a finite number of weeks before vaccines come. So that’s a good thing to think about.

Jed Shivers: But get tested anyway, okay? And another question on mass testing events for Rosy: Will there be UND mass testing events during Christmas break for people hoping to travel right at the end of the break or people wanting to be tested right before classroom work continues?

Rosy Dub: Yes, we are continuing to offer the testing events, every Tuesday ad roughly every other Saturday. We modified the Saturday schedules to help bring in the testing needs for post-Thanksgiving and post-Christmas. If you go to the UND COVID website, you’ll find the testing dates and times listed on there.

Jed Shivers: All right, I think we’ve pretty much hit our allotted of time for questions and answers. I want to turn it over to President Armacost.

Andrew Armacost: Thanks for taking the lead on this and directing all the questions. Let me first thank all the panelists for being here. You do amazing work day in and day out. And thanks for providing such clear answers to the questions that were asked. To those who attended as questioners, as members of the audience, thanks for tuning in. We hope that this provided good information to you for the remainder of the semester, and for what to expect as we head into the spring.

I truly appreciate, as does everyone on this call, all the hard work that has gone into making this fall semester so successful. We’ve had ups and downs with respect to the virus. And, we’ve put resources, many, many resources to make this happen. The state has been generous in supporting testing and supporting contact tracing.

Our goal is to make sure that we minimize the risk to you and make sure your health and safety is first and foremost. As we go into the spring, of course, that balance of delivering our educational mission with the desire to minimize risk is right at the forefront. And, Jed, you’re right. We’re weeks away. There’s a number of weeks as we go forward. But we have to be patient because we don’t know what disruptions are going to happen this spring and through all this we will stay together.

We’ll work hard. We’ll keep communicating with you. We’ll have town halls like this in the spring semester, as well. So thanks so much. Enjoy the rest of the semester. Happy Holidays. We’ll see you soon.


Q&A: Following are questions and answers that were not able to be answered in the Town Hall.

Staff (and faculty?) have been required to complete a COVID-19 Productivity Report documenting our work and hours since March. How much longer will be be required to complete this log?
Faculty were not required to fill out the productivity report, only staff working remotely, unless the Dean required something different for faculty. We have not discussed the continuation of the report as of yet.

 Are we still going to hold staff to the 240 carry over amount for annual leave?
Yes we are. This was an NDUS system decision, not just a UND decision.

I, and likely many other faculty, am currently teaching a completely online course. Nearly all students in this course complete exams online, but one student (not in-state, not even in the Upper Midwest) has requested to complete her final exam via “paper and pencil” at her location with a proctor approved by me. I assume this is acceptable, but UND has specified repeatedly that ALL FINALS must be completed online. Please clarify. (Thank you!)
Thank you for your question.  The request to provide all finals online is to prevent gathering on campus and encourage students to return home as soon as possible.  In your case, this would be a reasonable exception.

Will we have to use our own sick leave balance if we are exposed or test positive beginning Jan. 1? As a fairly new staff, I don’t have sufficient sick leave to get through even a single period of quarantine.
We are currently having those discussion,s but hoping that a new stimulus bill will have some level of further continuation of those federal benefits.

Will adjustments to room capacities be considered in the spring semester if COVID numbers decrease?
Thanks for your question. We are not going to change things for spring semester. However, we are cautiously optimistic about the fall semester.

With the FCCRA, if we have not used all 80 hours and are exposed again, would we be able to use any hours not used? That’s if it is extended.
My assumption is it would be still the total of 80 as carried since April 1, 2020.  So if an individual has used all 80 hours, it will not be reset.  If an individual has used partial, whatever the balance is would be available.

Why do essential workers, who have been here every day since the start of COVID, need to track their work hours daily, but remote employees are not required to?
Remote employees are required to report via a productivity report submitted weekly to their supervisor. Those working on campus are NOT required to submit a productivity report.

If we have been working remotely and have found that we are able to still serve our students and complete our job well, would there be an opportunity after COVID to remain remote?
You should definitely chat with your supervisor about that.

 Could you please repeat the percentages of classes that are in person, hybrid, and totally remote?  Thank you.
Sure, as of this week:  67 percent of spring classes are scheduled to be face-to-face/hybrid and 33 percent are scheduled to be online.

 If you are working partially remotely and partially on campus, do you just fill out the productivity report for the days you are working remotely?
On the weekly report, on those days that the individual is working on campus, they should state that for that date.

Where are COVID-19 tests sent?
Our tests from the mass testing events are all sent to off-site labs:  The NDDoH Lab in Bismarck, or Mako Lab in North Carolina.

How about our parking passes? If we decide to work from home 100 percent for spring, can we receive a refund?
For an A permit and if the individual paid in full, partial refunds are given through March 31, 2021. If you are on payroll deduction, the deductions stop. As of today the refund is $125 and drops $12.50 each pay period ending March 31.

Is there a way that we can purchase a parking permit for the ramp for one semester, since I was remote for the fall, but will be on campus for the spring?
Yes. Contact Kerrie Peltier in Parking Services. We do not sell semester permits for the ramp, but the annual permit is pro-rated at this time. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, a ramp permit is $300. Hope this helps.