UND leaders spent time this week fielding questions and concerns about the upcoming semester from faculty and staff, answering questions on topics ranging from testing to convincing students of the importance of social distancing and mask requirements.
UND President Andrew Armacost, along with many other campus leaders, held two hour-long virtual town hall meetings this week to connect with staff and faculty as the Aug. 24 start date approaches. Discussions are planned for students and parents later in August.
Below are several of the questions asked, along with UND's answers.
Q: How can faculty/staff encourage students to follow social distancing guidelines outside of class?
While students will be required to wear masks when on campus and indoors, faculty and staff wondered how those requirements will be enforced and how they can encourage students to be responsible when outside of the university setting.
Students, faculty and staff each will receive two cloth, washable face masks at the beginning of the year. The university also has more than 200,000 disposable masks on hand.
Cara Halgren, vice president for student affairs, said the university is trying to stress education to students. Students will be asked to take an online education course about how the campus community can stay safe in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Halgren said.
Halgren added that administration is working with student leaders so they understand the processes for new events and such. Even if the university is providing education on the topic and requires masks, Halgren noted there may still be issues.
“We recognize that not all students may adhere to that, and so we will continue to work with those students as well. And then if students falter, we will bring them in,” she said, noting that the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities may speak with students about expectations and why they are important.
Halgren said Cassie Gerhardt, associate vice president for student affairs and diversity, has been working with fraternities and sororities to discuss these expectations. Most Greek houses are off-campus properties, so technically the rules will not apply.
“We just continue to try and share that message, knowing that some days will go better, probably, than others,” she said.
Interim Provost Debbie Storrs noted that faculty can have “real influence” over students and encouraged fostering discussions.
“I think it’s going to go beyond just the classroom as you develop your relationships with your students, and they understand the broader context for why face coverings are so important,” she said.
Liz Legerski, incoming University Senate chair, said her experience with students has generally been positive. She plans to talk with her students about the importance of face coverings and why they should wear them.
“I really believe strongly that students are generally good people and that when we communicate with them one-on-one, they’re willing to listen and consider the situation,” she said.
Q: How often should people be tested?
Employees wondered how often they should be tested for the virus. There are five testing events on UND’s campus planned between the end of July and the beginning of the school year. Those events are primarily planned for UND students, faculty, staff and affiliates.
Rosy Dub, director of UND Student Health, said the department is asking anyone who can get tested to go through the process before students' arrival. This includes family members of the UND community.
“As students come back, we will be focusing more on those who are at high risk,” she said during the meeting. “If you are working remotely and not having any contact outside of your pod of people, you don’t necessarily need to be tested frequently.”
If people are not exposing themselves to the virus or taking risky behaviors, it isn’t necessary for them to be tested on a weekly basis. However, Dub said if people cannot avoid those instances, they should be testing every week.
Jed Shivers, vice president of finance and operations, said although he’s been working in the office, he has had little interaction with people physically. Therefore, he does not get tested every week.
“I think if you have higher risk, because of what you do on a regular basis in terms of frequent contact with people outside of your immediate family or group, then it makes more sense to get tested more frequently,” he said.
Guidelines and plans for recurring testing will be available in early August, said Joshua Wynne, vice president for health affairs and dean of the UND medical school. Wynne also is the state’s health strategist and is leading the North Dakota University System’s “smart restart” task force.
“The Department of Health is really focused, appropriately, on the initial surge that’s going to occur as faculty, students and staff return to campus,” he said.
Q: What about parking?
Parking also was a topic of discussion during the meetings. Mike Pieper, associate vice president for facilities, said the university did not move forward with a parking pass increase this year. Facilities is also working on expanding its Passport Parking system, which is a phone app that allows people to park in locations and pay based on time.
Pieper said his team is “looking to provide parking to those who may need to come on campus briefly, or one or two days a week.”
Facilities and parking is monitoring parking lots and will determine if parking services should shift permit areas so parking is more convenient. Parking services also created a “semester only” permit option this year for $130.
The full faculty town hall meeting can be found here.
The full staff town hall meeting can be found here.