UND leaders say resilience has been key for students, faculty, staff and administrators over the last year as the campus dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Various leaders from across campus participated in a virtual townhall meeting last week to answer questions from students, faculty and staff.
“... Students are resilient,” said Cara Halgren, vice president for student affairs and diversity and dean of students. “And I think over the last year, we found out that we are too.”
Halgren said there have always been various support systems in place for students on campus, but those proved to be vital during the pandemic. Halgren said there were some things the campus could have done differently over the past year, yet she’s “really proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve done with students.”
Jed Shivers, vice president for finance and operations, said he looks at the effect COVID-19 had on Grand Forks and the county. He said many of the steps that UND took “were not just for the health and well-being of our university community, but they affected Grand Forks County as well.”
“I’m looking forward to really understanding whether or not we made a difference in reducing the hospitalization rate and, of course, sadly, the death rate in our county versus other counties in the state. But I kind of think we probably did (make a difference),” he said.
Dr. Joshua Wynne, leader of the medical school, noted the campus did reasonably well from a physical health point of view, but the pandemic still took a hit on students’ emotional health.
“The emotional toll that the pandemic has taken, particularly on students, but also faculty and staff – but especially on students – has been enormous,” Wynne said. “And I do think that we, the universities, stepped up and tried to make as available as we could counseling and other support services. But the impact on students has been palpable.”
Wynne agreed, though, that students have been resilient, adding that he thinks they already are rebounding.
The university made investments in its coronavirus efforts, UND President Andrew Armacost said. The campus spent about $35 million since the beginning of the pandemic on its response, though a “vast majority of that” was reimbursed by the federal and state governments and from other government funding.
“So, whether it’s been changing air handlers or buying cleaning equipment or reconfiguring rooms or developing better hybrid technology to support classes, it’s an expensive proposition to make the changes that we made,” Armacost said. “I’m extraordinarily proud of the work the campus did.”
Armacost noted the university does not have the authority to require vaccinations for COVID-19; that would require legislative and State Board of Higher Education action. At present, North Dakota law has a limited number of vaccines that are on that list, and the COVID vaccination is not one of them, Armacost said, adding there are currently no plans to add it to the list.
Rosy Dub, director of UND’s COVID clinical response, said there are plans in the works to provide vaccines to interested students during orientation days this summer. There will also be vaccination opportunities this fall.
Many students and family members had questions about what the fall semester will look like this year. Last fall was the first time students were on campus again after the start of the pandemic and many classes were hybrid or moved online entirely amid rising case numbers. There were changes to housing and dining, with most residence hall students having no roommates and receiving meals in takeout boxes.
Karyn Plumm, vice provost for student success, said courses will again be listed as either in-person, hybrid or online.
However, Plumm said for hybrid classes this fall, the expectation is that the instructor will be live in the classroom, and that students will have the choice in those courses to be live in the classroom as well. Or, they can choose to participate remotely.
“What we’re hoping to do with some of those courses is to give students a little bit more of an option,” she said. “Some of our students want all in-person courses, and some of our students want all online courses still. So, a little bit of flexibility is built in there.”
She said the university has about 77% of its courses listed as either in-person or hybrid.
Orlynn Rosaasen, director of dining services, said the university is planning to open the dining centers “more along the traditional lines of pre-COVID.” The seating capacity will go back to 100% and they are looking at using typical plates rather than takeout boxes.
“Obviously, if the campus is back to normal, we’ll be back to normal. And if the campus is not, we’ll adjust our plans accordingly,” Rosaasen said.