UND President Andrew Armacost says the COVID-19 pandemic and budgetary pressures are two of the biggest issues facing the university.
“I've truly admired the sheer determination of so many to pull off a semester under the heavy weight and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Armacost said, speaking during UND’s University Council meeting held Monday, Oct. 26, via Zoom.
The University Council is the legislative body of the university, which consists primarily of faculty and administrators, making a membership of more than 800 individuals. The council is the larger version of the University Senate and typically does not have a quorum of individuals to take action on any items. The meetings, which are normally held once a semester, serve as opportunities for campus updates from the president or other university leaders.
Armacost spent most of his formal remarks on the pandemic and the upcoming legislative session.
The university has had an uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Case numbers were holding steady in the 30s at the beginning of the month. However, case numbers have been around 100 or more in the past 10 days.
As of Monday evening, UND’s dashboard shows 150 active, self-reported cases related to the university. That number includes three faculty, 24 staff and 123 students. There are 383 individuals in quarantine or isolation, including 55 staying in university-purchased hotel rooms.
Armacost wrote a letter in favor of a citywide mask mandate. As of Monday afternoon, Grand Forks does not require residents to wear masks, except in city-owned buildings , such as the Alerus Center.
UND does require masks on campus and in the classroom. Armacost said, in September, that he wanted the same guidelines on and off campus, but has stopped short of asking publicly for a mask mandate.
“We realize this is a challenging time across our state, and there are different viewpoints about how to balance health and safety with economic considerations. I think we all agree that we need to keep Grand Forks open,” Armacost wrote.
He goes on to say that national, state and county health officials “all agree that wearing masks along with social distancing are our best defenses against community spread.”
“The university currently requires masks while inside each of our buildings and outside when social distancing is not possible,” he wrote. “A citywide mask mandate is consistent with what we expect on campus and will certainly help UND remain open.”
Armacost also spoke about the university’s budget situation during the meeting. He noted that the school’s budget is facing pressure from two key funding sources: tuition and state appropriations.
UND fared OK with tuition dollars this semester, seeing a slight uptick in enrollment this fall. However, the upcoming legislative session will ultimately impact the university’s budget in the spring.
Earlier this year, Gov. Doug Burgum had proposed a 10% reduction to the North Dakota University System budget. However, Armacost noted that the State Board of Higher Education and the North Dakota University System have submitted a needs-based budget that slightly increases dollars in the next biennium.
How the budget will shake out and whether there will be cuts next year is to be determined. And, as Armacost pointed out, the higher education budget is typically among the last budgets to be approved by state legislators.
“We'll have a better sense as we start talking to the legislators during the session to see what direction it might head,” Armacost said.