Joining nearly every institution in North Dakota’s higher education system, the state’s largest university will be conducting courses remotely for the rest of the semester. It will not have a commencement ceremony.

UND announced Friday, March 20, that it would be extending its remote instruction for students through the end of the spring semester. The Grand Forks-based university also canceled its graduation ceremonies, but students who were set to graduate this spring are invited to participate in a later commencement ceremony. The university also intends to work with students on alternative ways it can celebrate students’ graduation achievements while maintaining social distancing.

The university is asking students not to return to the Grand Forks community so as to limit the spread of COVID-19.

"UND has a strong history of offering courses and programs at a distance, and our faculty members have redoubled their efforts to ensure this period of remote delivery of courses goes smoothly and students have the support they need to succeed," interim UND President Joshua Wynne and incoming UND President Andrew Armacost said in a joint statement.

UND is among many universities in the state that have opted to go online for the rest of the semester amid the coronavirus pandemic. Other schools are weighing their options on commencement ceremonies.

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Bismarck State University, Dakota College at Bottineau, Dickinson State University, Lake Region State College, Mayville State University, Minot State University and Valley City State University also will be delivering their classes remotely for the rest of the spring semester.

The institutions advised students, faculty and staff to check their emails for further updates about their respective campus. Most campuses also have indicated that decisions regarding commencement will be announced in the coming days and weeks.

Minot State President Steve Shirley, in a letter to his campus, acknowledged the gravity of the decisions being made, particularly on his campus.

“My deepest apologies for this unfortunate set of circumstances, particularly to our graduating seniors who will not be able to complete their final semester on the (Minot State University) campus,” Shirley said. “Your senior year is a special time, and it is frustrating to have it end this way. You have my sincerest thoughts and apologies.”

Interim DSU President Steve Easton expressed a similar sentiment to his campus community.

“We recognize his decision has a significant impact on our students, faculty and staff. We held out as long as we thought we could on making the decision for alternative learning and commencement. We believe this decision is what is best for the health and safety of the members of our campus community and southwestern North Dakota,” Easton said.

North Dakota State University, North Dakota State College of Science and Williston State College -- the three remaining North Dakota University System institutions yet to decide -- are still mulling options for continued instruction.

North Dakota State says it will be updating its campus timeline on or before April 1, according to a NDSU blog post. The university’s current plan is to offer online instruction beginning Monday, March 23, for the two weeks. NDSU says it's holding off on making a decision regarding graduation for as long as possible. It anticipates making a decision on that in the next week or two.

NDSCS will continue to review its plans and will make a decision by the end of the week of March 30.

UND decision

All UND courses have a Blackboard site and students should log in daily to learn how instructors will support their successful completion of spring courses. The university said laboratories and individualized experiences, such as clinicals, student teaching, research and flight training, may need to be adjusted.

In order to address questions about the decision, UND will be holding a virtual forum on Tuesday, March 24.

On-campus residence halls will be reserved only for students without other living options available to them. Residence halls will remain open, and Wilkerson Commons will continue to serve meals, though the dining room will be closed.

For students moving out of their residence hall, the university is developing plans for “an orderly move-out that preserves social distancing and limits the size of crowds.”

The university is asking students not to come back to campus until they receive further guidance.

UND says it is working with the State Board of Higher Education to examine options to compensate for costs associated with early cancellation of residence hall room and board contracts.

University offices continue to operate. The university asks that questions or concerns be conveyed through phone or email, as most university staff are exercising remote work plans off campus.

Additionally, UND has also canceled all study-abroad programs and suspended all university-funded travel until further notice.

University buildings are now secured and accessible only by electronic or key access, with the exception of Wilkerson Commons, Safety and Facilities, and Ina Mae Rude Center for Innovation.

Regarding research, UND said that under the direction of interim Vice President for Research and Economic Development John Mihelich, it will be “working to ensure the continuity of research and creative activity on campus to the highest degree possible in the face of recent COVID-19 related challenges.”

More university updates regarding the coronavirus can be found at http://blogs.und.edu/coronavirus/.

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