2021 Letters to Members of the UND Community
Watch the May 7 video.
The North Dakota Legislature adjourned its 2021 session last week. I’m happy to report that the University of North Dakota and the School of Medicine & Health Sciences received full funding under the state’s funding formula for higher education. In addition, I’m pleased that a number of important initiatives also received funding. Although we’re still awaiting developments on a few issues, I’ll take this opportunity to express my gratitude to our legislators who spent four long months in Bismarck working tirelessly on behalf of the state. They deserve our thanks for supporting our university’s funding needs. We are awaiting the final outcome of the challenge grant bill (2030), which places restrictions upon partnerships across the university system, and we will provide written clarification of its impact upon UND, if those changes are enacted into law.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a tradition that began in 1978 as a time to celebrate the achievements, contributions, history, and culture of Asian and Pacific Island Americans. While this is a time to recognize their role in making America a strong and more culturally diverse country, it’s even more important to do so given the recent national examples of racial attacks and hate crimes targeting Asian and Pacific Island Americans.
To demonstrate how seriously UND takes this issue, the Teaching Transformation and Development Academy (TTaDA) – in collaboration with Academic Affairs – this week sponsored an online training program on bystander intervention, as well as a conversation and panel discussion on the topic of “The Experience of Anti-Asian Sentiment, Hostilities and Violence.” My thanks to Dr. Tamba-Kuii Bailey, Assistant Vice Provost for Inclusion & Equity, for promoting the idea for this event and moderating the discussion.
Next week we celebrate the reason we exist as a university: the graduation of our students! For most, this represents the biggest achievement of their lives. Our very use of the term “Commencement” signifies what UND is all about: offering our students a beginning in the next phase of life.
Ahead of Commencement, we celebrated the Grad Walk last Saturday. We had the chance to see more than 500 of our graduates and offer our congratulations on behalf of a grateful and admiring campus community. What struck me was the excitement and optimism of each student. In spite of all that has happened over the last year with the pandemic, there was a strong sense of hope about what lies ahead in their lives.
As we prepare for the next academic year, let me challenge each faculty member and staff member to hit the “reset button” and to make sure that the excitement and passion you bring to your students and colleagues is like it was your first time. This allows us to bring that incredible sense of wonderment and innovation to our important work as a university. Hitting the reset button allows us to reflect upon the successes we’ve had, to think about missed opportunities, and to make changes that will better serve our students.
Graduates, you’ll hear more from me on the 15th, but just know how proud we are for you. Go out and make a difference in the world and in the lives of others, continue to learn and discover, and be certain to offer your gratitude to those who helped you get to this day.
Watch the April 23 President Message.
Tuesday evening, I gave a talk to the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals group about leading with optimism through challenges. It was an honor to be asked to speak on this topic, though I had never given a talk on “optimistic leadership.”
Over the course of several weeks, I reflected upon the leaders who struck me as optimistic. That is, those who seemed to have the propensity to be hopeful about the future or about achieving some positive outcome. You’ve been around people like this.
They might appear to be happy. Or they might be aloof. It is really tough to tell one’s optimism simply by appearance, but I’ll offer four characteristics that strike me as the basis of optimism: competence, confidence, patience, and hope.
There are some people who just know they’ll be able to achieve a positive outcome, and I believe it stems from characteristics such as the four I’ve listed. When I’ve worked alongside such people, I’ve felt a sense of peace, knowing that everything will work out just fine despite the chaotic and uncertain situation in which we might have found ourselves.
When I think about my first year on the UND campus, I think of the many people who have helped get us through some tough times. There are many who have competence in their areas of specialty, who confidently executed their responsibilities, who were willing to watch things unfold as if in slow-motion, and who held deep beliefs that things would work out. We relied on them – and each other – to make smart decisions on behalf of the university. For that, I am grateful.
I strive to do my best to offer this same sense of optimism. Further, I seek to find and develop that same sense in others, though it manifests itself differently in each of us. When we see a contrarian, we should really see someone who’s looking for a different solution. When we see an “angry” colleague, we should seek to understand the reason for that emotion. When we see a person who is disengaged, we should look for opportunities to support their re-engagement.
Further, we must pay attention to our friends and colleagues who might require support that goes beyond what we can provide. For those struggling with mental health issues, I have attached a list of resources available for students seeking help and for those looking to offer support. Help is also available for university employees through our wonderful Employee Assistance Program.
We are about to embark on the next phase of our pandemic journey – the reopening of our campus. This will be almost as uncertain as what we faced on the front end. How do we restore that sense of humanity and connectedness? How do we adjust to a campus environment that is different from that to which we have become accustomed? How do we break the old habits that were aligned with surviving and replace them with new (or “old old”) habits that allow us to thrive?
Your homework assignment is to reflect upon how you’ll contribute to the re-tuning of our campus to help bring us together after being so distant for more than a year. Our ideal campus is one where we all engage, on both the important and the silly. We must do so with respect for one another, along with a sense of empathy, openness, support, and, of course, optimism.
Watch the April 9 President Video.
April 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time dedicated to promoting the awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. At the University of North Dakota, this month represents the ideal time to emphasize the important expectations among our campus leaders and the University community about the necessity of dignity and respect for all.
While this should go without saying, just imagine how much we could do to end sexual assault by observing and following the fundamental principle of mutual respect, recognizing the dignity of all humans, and taking time to care for one another. I also want to point out the services provided on campus, such as the University Counseling Center and the Community Violence Intervention Center (CIVIC) at UND, which offers advocacy and prevention services to students who are victims of sexual assault, stalking, harassment, and interpersonal violence.
On the same topic, I want to encourage everyone to attend next week’s Faculty Lecture by Liz Legerski on the “Sociology of Sexual Harassment and the Transformational Potential of Student Research.” She is an associate professor of sociology in the College of Arts & Sciences and chairs the University Senate.
Using examples from her research, Liz will describe the usefulness of a sociological perspective for understanding the social forces that enable sexual harassment across a variety of contexts. She will also illustrate the importance of providing student research opportunities with the potential to transform student learning and lives.
I know we’ve all been under more than our usual share of stress the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If there was ever a good time to observe Stress Awareness Month during April, this is it. So, please, take care of yourself and look out for others as much as possible. It’s vital that we pay attention to mental health as we continue to cope with this pandemic. Take some time for stress relief, whether it’s a walk, a nap, mediation, or break from your usual routine. I applaud UND Student Government’s efforts to promote mental health awareness, as well as strategies to cope stress.
Speaking of the pandemic, although it appears to be in its waning days, I strongly encourage everyone to remain vigilant and continue to practice those measures that keep us all healthy and safe. And students, please get vaccinated. Student Health Services has vaccine appointments available for students over 18. They have the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose. To make an appointment, please login to the UND Student Health Services portal or call 701-777-4500. There is no cost.
And just as a reminder, commencement is coming up next month, a traditional time to celebrate UND’s new class of graduates, as well as those earning professional and advanced degrees. Although the pandemic continues to put a damper on in-person commencement, I want to encourage our graduates to participate in the Grad Walk happening May 1. It’s UND’s way and my opportunity to honor and personally congratulate you on your accomplishments.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the impacts of nationwide violence directed toward our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities. Over the next month, we’ll have a series of events aimed at combating this violence and raising awareness. It’s important to empathize with our fellow citizens and gain an understanding of what they experience – whether it’s because of race, gender, identity, religious affiliation, or other attributes. So please take advantage of these opportunities for the UND campus to grow together and better understand one another.
While many of our campus community were taking much needed rest during Spring Break, tragic events took place – first in Atlanta, GA and then in Boulder, CO – resulting in the loss of 18 lives. The University of North Dakota unwaveringly denounces these acts. They are completely at odds with the core values of our University.
The shooting in Atlanta resulted in the deaths of eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent. This comes amid a disturbing national trend of attacks on and harassment of Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). I know many of our Asian and AAPI students, faculty, and staff are experiencing a sense of isolation and vulnerability, and this shooting adds to those feelings. I assure you that we hear your concerns, stand ready to support you, and provide for your safety.
The shooting in Boulder resulted in the deaths of ten people from all walks of life, including a police officer who responded to the call for help. There will be much we never know about these two events, but it is imperative that we recognize how these violent events can stir emotions for our campus community. It’s important for us to be mindful of the help and services that we have on campus to assist people in coping with and getting through these stressful times.
UND provides services for those feeling the stress and emotional toll of recent events for staff, faculty, and students. In addition, it’s imperative for everyone to be aware of our crisis resources and how to report bias incidents. Another resource for staff and faculty is the confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
An excellent example of a service available to our students is the University Counseling Center (UCC). Among its programs is a virtual support group for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). This provides an opportunity for students to connect, share, and explore personal and global experiences together. The BIPOC Group meets online every Wednesday from 1-2 p.m. If you can’t attend or don’t wish to attend, students may also take advantage of the UCC’s free counseling services.
Finally, as we return from spring break and get back to the business of finishing the remainder of the spring semester, I want to remind everyone of another way we can all do our part to keep our University and our community safe and healthy. I encourage you to embrace the Healthy Hawks spirit and continue to take the necessary actions to get us through the pandemic and regain a sense of normalcy to our lives.
This means getting vaccinated against COVID when you can and as soon as you can. The opportunity for faculty and staff already exists, and vaccinations will be available for students in the coming weeks. And don’t forget that wearing a mask, frequently washing your hands, and continuing to engage in proper physical distancing remain vital practices until we can put the pandemic behind us. I remain hopeful that our fall semester will signal a return to normal, with in-person learning, events, and socializing.
First and foremost, I want emphasize that you have my commitment and my assurance that we will continue to pursue and fully support efforts to make UND a safe and welcoming place, where everyone feels a strong sense of belonging, fairness, and hope.
Watch the March 12 President message.
Whew! It’s been a busy week. Between testifying at the legislature, participating in online town hall forums, saying goodbye to the old Memorial Stadium, planning for how new COVID vaccination developments will affect UND, and sending students off for spring break, there’s a lot to discuss.
First, I want to call attention to Women’s History Month in March, which began in 1981 as a way to emphasize the contributions of women to our country’s history and to recognize their achievements. It’s also a good time to honor the great women throughout UND’s history, as well as celebrate the amazing women who comprise our Executive Cabinet – the vice presidents, deans, and other campus leaders.
At the University of North Dakota, we often emphasize the leaders in action our University produces and the work worth doing they accomplish. Perhaps because six of UND’s first eight graduates were women, the University has a long history of women graduates who have had impacts on the world, impacts that far exceeded their humble beginnings in a small rural state. They proved themselves to be hardworking leaders who rose to prominence in their chosen pursuits.
- Shonda Rhimes, a highly successful creator, writer and, television producer, summed it up this way: “Dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.”
- Dr. Cora Smith Eaton King, a member of UND’s first graduating class of 1889, exemplifies this spirit. She taught at UND and went on to become the first licensed woman physician in North Dakota. Even more importantly, she became a key activist for women in the state and across the nation during the suffrage movement when women fought for the right to vote.
- Dr. King paved the way for other UND women. Helen Hamilton graduated from the University’s School of Law in 1905 and became North Dakota’s first woman attorney. The law school continues to honor her legacy with its annual Helen Hamilton Day.
In February during Black History Month, I recounted how Era Bell Thompson grew up in Bismarck, attended UND, and went on to become an author and the editor of Ebony magazine. Other UND women of note include the late Alice T. Clark, UND’s former Vice President for Academic Affairs, who mentored hundreds of faculty members during her long career.
Turning to another subject, we’re about at the one-year anniversary of UND switching to online teaching because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a long, challenging struggle, but I’m happy to report that because of the accelerated Grand Forks vaccination schedule, we can be optimistic about a return to normal for the fall semester.
I want to stress that we’re still not completely out of the woods. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Also, if you’ll be traveling during spring break, continue to wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and engage in physical distancing. Let’s all work to keep the momentum toward normalcy going. Enjoy your break, but please remember to stay safe.
I was honored last Tuesday to participate in the recognition event for Memorial Stadium, scheduled to be replaced by a more modern facility that will better serve UND’s needs through the 21st century. It was wonderful to hear the stories and memories of fans, athletes, and coaches who experienced thrilling victories and (far fewer) agonizing defeats on the track and playing field. We will keep the flame burning to recognize the original intent of Memorial Stadium, which was to honor the 33 UND service members who gave their lives during World War I.
Finally, I was privileged to make a trip to the state Capitol in Bismarck to once again represent UND in the budget discussions that go on every two years when the Legislature is in session. This time, it was before the House Appropriations Committee. The hard work and service being done by our legislators should be acknowledged. It can be a long, tiring grind as our elected leaders do the best they can for their communities and the state. If you see your legislators around town, please express your gratitude for the job they do on your behalf.
Watch the February 26 message.
A few weeks back, the university announced that spring commencement ceremonies would be held virtually. A decision like this ultimately rests upon one member of the campus, and that is the President. The purpose of today’s letter is three-fold: to express my gratitude to each of you, to explain the commencement decision, and to offer a sense of what to expect.
The pandemic has challenged college campuses across the nation. I’m proud of the work the members of the UND team have put forth since last spring. We have fought hard to keep the campus operating at a time when many campuses shut down for on-campus classes, some for weeks and others for the entire fall semester. Our students, faculty, and staff have remained steadfast in their commitment to learning and growth. They have looked out for each other and kept each other upbeat during a challenging time.
Throughout the pandemic, our number-one priority has been to minimize the risk to our students, faculty, and staff while offering the best on-campus experience for our students. That guiding principle is essential for all of our spring semester activities, including commencement. The prospect of widespread vaccinations this summer will naturally minimize the risk and allow us to get back to normal for the fall semester.
Yet, we are not there yet. In good conscience, I cannot approve an event that places a significant number of faculty and staff members and our students in a risky position. Further, I cannot risk holding an event that places family members of our graduates in such a position. We considered a graduates-only commencement, but quickly realized the necessary safety restrictions would make this an uninspiring event.
Instead, in talking with students, we crafted a plan where we will honor graduates individually at the end of the semester. We will hold a separate activity where each graduate will have the opportunity to receive their diploma folder and cross the commencement stage while hearing their name announced. This will include a photo op, such as they would have at a typical commencement ceremony, one on-stage photo with the President and one posed photo as graduates leave the stage. It is our way of thanking graduates for their hard work in a personalized way. Information on this “Grad Walk and Photo Op” activity will soon be sent to all eligible graduates at their UND e-mail addresses.
We will record graduates crossing the stage and make that video available as part of our virtual commencement ceremony on May 15. This will allow each graduate to celebrate alongside their families while watching their virtual commencement ceremony, which wouldn’t be possible with an on-campus, student-only commencement ceremony.
Let me strongly urge each family to use this as an opportunity to boldly celebrate your graduate’s achievement, together and in the safety of your family unit. This is an extraordinary life accomplishment, and the work we are doing to individually recognize your graduates should be matched by your family’s excitement to honor your loved one.
I know firsthand how this feels. My daughter graduated from college last spring, and we felt her disappointment in having her senior year cut short and having to graduate virtually. This is not how we would like to celebrate. It is the right approach given the remaining uncertainty of the pandemic, and our commencement team is working hard to make this a special occasion.
Looking forward, let me invite each graduate, their family members, and their friends to return to campus for a traditional, in-person commencement whenever it fits your schedule. We are currently anticipating an in-person graduation in August, following the summer term. The widespread vaccinations happening this summer should allow us to more safely celebrate at a traditional commencement ceremony.
Graduates: please accept my most sincere congratulations on your success at UND. I know you will make a difference in this world, and we are proud that you chose the University of North Dakota to set you on course for a lifetime of success. Family members: I appreciate the support you’ve provided to your graduate for their entire UND career and, most importantly, during the difficult times of the pandemic. Through your love and support, you laid the important foundation that led your loved one to this day.
Watch the February 12 President message.
This month is Black History Month, our opportunity to recognize the achievements of Black Americans and their role in United States history. It’s important to remember the impact of education on the origin of Black History Month. Nelson Mandela, who sacrificed so much to end South Africa’s apartheid policies, once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Indeed, it was author, historian and educator Carter G. Woodson – considered the father of Black history – who in 1912 recognized the interest of African Americans in their history. Three years later, he formed an organization devoted to the scientific study of Black life and history.
In February 1926, Woodson announced a week dedicated to Black history, saying, “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice."
Fifty years later, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month as a way “to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Tamba-Kuii Bailey, an assistant professor in Counseling Psychology who served as a co-chair on UND’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, appeared this week on KVLY’s “North Dakota Today” TV show to discuss the significance of this month to the University.
“For Black History Month, it’s important to understand the humanity, the persistence, the resilience within the Black community,” he said.
Bailey talked about the Black Student Association and the online forum it recently sponsored about the effect of the COVID pandemic on the Black community. He noted the Chester Fritz Library’s virtual exhibit on Black history and civil rights, which identifies books and other works on these topics. He also mentioned UND Today’s efforts to spotlight University’s connections to Black historical events, which includes the 1959 phone call Martin Luther King Jr. had with a small group of UND students.
In addition, on Wednesday, Feb. 17 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the American Indian Center will host a Black History Month celebration.
UND is honored and proud to have alumni who have had meaningful impacts on Black history – educators and scholars, athletes, judges, and writers – among others. For example, the late Fritz Pollard Jr., a star Black athlete at UND in the 30s, was a bronze medal winner in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. During World War II he served in the Army special services and retired in the 1980s as director of the U.S. Department of State’s overseas schools for American citizens.
Era Bell Thompson, born in Bismarck, attended UND for two years where she began her writing career as a Dakota Student columnist. Author of the book “American Daughter” published in 1946, she recounted the life of a Black girl growing up in North Dakota. She went on to become the internationally renowned editor of Ebony magazine. Thompson received an honorary doctorate from the University in 1969 and, in 1976, she received North Dakota’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award.
Federal Judge Ronald Davies, a UND graduate, forever made his mark on the civil rights movement in 1957 when he ordered the desegregation of the previously all-white Little Rock Central High in Arkansas. More recently, UND historian Eric Burin published his work, “Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent and Patriotism in 21st century America,” which deals with the historical perspective of the protest movement launched by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
There can be no doubt that the University of North Dakota has produced and will continue produce leaders who – by way of their actions – have significant impacts on society and the history of this country.
As we shiver our way into what I hope will be a warmer second half of February, I’ll offer a friendly reminder that Monday, Feb. 15, is Presidents’ Day and a UND holiday. In addition to honoring those who served in our nation’s highest elected position, Presidents’ Day should also remind us that while democracy can be messy and chaotic at times, the American tradition of peacefully transferring power is vital to preserving the ideal of freedom and liberty for all.
Watch Presiden'ts message.
A major UND goal for the fall semester is to re-open the campus in the same manner we did before the pandemic, which would mean face-to-face classes, campus activities and events, and normal dining and rooming arrangements. Yesterday, we received great news from Gov. Doug Burgum’s office that will help make this a reality.
Sometime before the start of the fall semester, vaccinations will be available for higher education faculty, staff and administration under Phase 1C of the federal government’s essential worker list. What’s more, if we aren’t in Phase 1C by July 1, the state will reprioritize to ensure our faculty, staff, and administrators are vaccinated prior to the start of the fall semester. We are working with the City of Grand Forks on where University employees will be vaccinated – either on campus or through Altru. In the meantime, those who meet the Phase 1B requirements should register for vaccinations as they become available.
While this is a very encouraging development, testing remains a vital necessity. We’ve made every effort for COVID-19 testing to be as quick and easy as possible. Preventative measures, testing and tracing are how we keep the virus and its variants under control on campus. I strongly urge all members of our University community to think of others and their health by getting tested regularly.
One of the unique aspects I’ve come to appreciate about North Dakota since arriving on campus last summer is the access we have to our government officials at all levels. Last week, I got a sense of the experiential learning we provide for our students when I went to Bismarck to testify UND before the Senate Appropriations Committee. The North Dakota Legislature is dealing with nearly a thousand bill drafts representing a wide variety of interests. It’s what government “by the people and for the people” looks like, and the experience strengthened my gratitude for how our state’s legislators conduct the public’s business every two years.
And just a reminder: If you provide legislative testimony based on your interest or expertise, please say that you’re offering your personal views, which don’t represent the opinions of UND or the NDUS. Thank you!
I also want to highlight an important strategic event that impacts all of us at UND: The University’s accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission. Interim Provost Debbie Storrs leads an effort requiring the support from organizations across the entire campus. This is not only about the academic programs, but also about how we operate services and programs supporting our students, how we plan strategically for the future, how we ensure our faculty and staff have the support they need, and how we enact the public trust as we execute our mission of developing leaders.
An upcoming event students might want to check out is UND’s Spring 2021 Virtual Career Expo on Tuesday, Feb. 2, from 1-7 p.m. It’s a great way to explore internships and job opportunities, research companies and ask them questions. UND Career Services can assist in you in reaching the more than 80 potential regional and national employers participating in the expo.
Until next time, look out for each other, show your gratitude for one another, and please show your love and support for each other.
Watch the January 15 President message.
Today marks a changing of the guard at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences as Robert Kraus joins the UND team to begin his tenure as the fourth dean in the school’s storied 52-year history. I am confident that his broad and varied experience in aerospace education, aviation, administration and research will serve UND well into the 21st century as the school slips “the surly bonds of earth” to extend its reach deep into space.
We also salute Paul Lindseth – who served as dean of the Aerospace School for the past four years – as he steps down to return to his position as a professor in the Department of Aviation. During his 32-year UND career, Paul never forgot John Odegard’s mission of providing students with a high-quality education at a reasonable cost.
In the battle against COVID-19, advances in UND’s new testing and vaccine capabilities represent an important opportunity for our campus community to get ahead of the virus, tamp down cases on campus and mitigate against community spread.
The BinaxNOW antigen test is currently available at multiple locations around campus, as well as the High Performance Center. This is a “point of care” test providing results in about 15 minutes. While not quite as accurate as the “gold standard” oral and nasal PCR test, it can provide much faster results – especially for those experiencing COVID symptoms.
In addition, the State of North Dakota has announced a phased plan for vaccine delivery that will enable our medical residents and allied health training students to receive their shot – along with the faculty and staff who work directly with them – during the 1A phase. This phase also includes first responders and long-term care residents and staff.
Our most vulnerable campus community members are included in the 1B phase. Although it’s not the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe there’s room for cautious optimism in adding more arrows to our biomedical quiver.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, the North Dakota Legislature went into session last week. On Monday morning, the State Board of Higher Education will present its budget plans for 2021-2023 biennium to the Senate Appropriations Committee. I will be representing UND before the committee at 11 a.m., along with Student Body President Matt Ternus, Jed Shivers, vice president for finance and operations, and Karla Mongeon-Stewart, associate vice president for finance. Joshua Wynne, dean of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences and vice president for health affairs, will testify at 2 p.m.
This legislative session is occurring during an unprecedented time in our state’s and nation’s history. UND will be advancing some important funding initiatives, such as much-needed improvements to Merrifield Hall and upgrades to the Aerospace School’s flight apron at the Grand Forks Airport. We’ll ask the legislature to continue investing in Challenge Grants that at up to $60 million to the North Dakota University System. Matching opportunities to spur private-sector investment in academic initiatives is also important to UND. We’ll be seeking basic research funding investments to bolster economic development across the state of North Dakota while making the case that UND is well positioned to provide high quality educational opportunities to assist our state’s citizens in post-pandemic recovery.
Finally, Monday, Jan. 18, is the day we celebrate and observe the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who will forever be known as one of our nation’s most influential figures in the struggle for equality and civil rights. We honor him as a model and example of how to seek and ensure the rights of all people.
It was Dr. King who said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” I hope you will join me to take a moment to think about the sacrifice Dr. King made to assure that all Americans enjoy the same rights and consider how education continues to advance his vision – a world in which children aren’t “judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Our strong republic has a long history of a peaceful transition of power following presidential elections. Throughout my Air Force career and into my new life at UND, I have proudly shared with others my appreciation of this important tradition. Yesterday, we saw something I could never have fathomed. I was appalled to watch the incursion into the U.S. Capitol, which happened as the Congress was certifying the results of the Electoral College. I unambiguously condemn the violence that erupted yesterday, I mourn the loss of life, and I celebrate the actions of the brave souls who prevented additional tragedy. When political positions turn into violent actions, we must each condemn those actions and continue to work towards peaceful resolution of our differences, never resorting to violence. As an institution, UND remains committed to civil dialogue, free speech, and respect for others. I am proud to be part of a university focused on lofty ideals of citizenship and what it means to be responsible members of a free society. I challenge each member of our community to reflect upon yesterday's events and resolve to become beacons of progress, civility, and hope. We are stronger when we work together. E Pluribus Unum.
2020 Letters to Members of the UND Community
We are coming to the end of another semester at the University of North Dakota, a semester that will undoubtedly be viewed as one of the most unusual in the University’s history because of the COVID-19 pandemic. My first semester as your president was certainly nothing like I envisioned it a year ago, yet I’m amazed at the work we’ve done to make it happen and the resilience the community has shown to keep the campus open and operating.
Those of you earning degrees from UND this semester have good reason to celebrate your accomplishments and – with news of the first vaccinations being administered across the country – an even better reason to be optimistic about a brightening future. While the memories you’ve created over the past year will certainly be different from past classes, you’ve forged a place in history as the UND Class of 2020 that persevered and prevailed through it all. In time, you will come to understand the significance of your achievement, how it shaped you and how it influenced you. Congratulations to all our winter semester graduates! Please know that we are proud to have you as members of the UND Family.
As many depart campus at semester’s end and fan out across the state and nation to be with family and friends, Kathy and I wish you safe, happy and healthy holiday season. It is the special time of year when we can express our gratitude to those who have supported us, helped us and been there for us in times of need. Please use this time as an opportunity to tell your loved ones and the important people in your lives how much they mean to you.
Although the COVID vaccine is being distributed around the United States and the world, it doesn’t mean the battle is now over. Until the vaccinations become more widely available and we know more about the efficacy of the vaccine, it’s important to take precautions against spreading the virus – especially to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Please continue to fight COVID by wearing a mask, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing and good hygiene. Let’s all work toward making 2021 the final year of the coronavirus pandemic.
I can’t tell you how much I’m anticipating a new year and a new semester, a time when we’ll come together again with the expectation that what we’ve worked long and hard to achieve – a sense of normalcy in our lives – will soon be realized. Thank you for all you’ve done and all you continue to do.
This has been a historic and challenging year at the University of North Dakota, as well as worldwide. But as it comes to a close, we find ourselves experiencing one of the holiday season’s most meaningful feelings: gratitude.
Gratitude, for the hard work that all of you have put in, and that has helped UND meet all of its challenges and then some; gratitude, for our fellow academics, scientists, supply-chain managers and others worldwide, whose exceptional efforts now have brought forth several COVID vaccines; gratitude, for North Dakotans’ longstanding love of learning, which enables that same research work and “life of the mind” to flourish here.
Thanks to all of your efforts, UND and North Dakota now are poised to make 2021 a truly exceptional year.
With gratitude, we offer best wishes for a holiday filled with love, and a happy new year.
As with so many of our great family traditions in 2020, the ongoing pandemic has forced all of us to celebrate differently. Despite this reality, it’s my sincere hope that all of you were able to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday – a brief respite from classes and work — to make connections, maybe virtually, with those you hold dear.
And as we prepare to wind down classes for the fall semester, I also want to express my heartfelt gratitude for your continued patience and fortitude amid the pandemic. It’s because of everyone working together that we have been able to keep our current hybrid educational (in-person and online) model intact and the University moving forward. As we look ahead to spring semester, classes will begin as scheduled at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 11, and in the current hybrid format.
I know there are likely many questions from students, parents, staff and faculty as we continue our transition from fall to spring. I, along with other University leaders, will address your questions and concerns during two Zoom Town Halls on Monday, Dec. 7. The first Town Hall gathering is set for noon, and will be geared toward staff and faculty. Another will be held at 6 p.m. the same day for students and parents. I hope you will join us, and the details are shown below.
Diversity, Equality & Inclusion
I would like to commend the recent efforts of Cara Halgren, Vice President for Student Affairs, Diversity & Inclusion, and Tamba-Kuii Bailey, Assistant Professor of Education, Health & Behavior, co-chairs of the University’s Task Force on Diversity, Equality & Inclusion. Over the past several weeks, Drs. Halgren and Bailey led the 27-member Task Force through high-level discussions about important questions facing our campus and beyond.
The Task Force has a produced a report with a series of recommendations that we must now consider carefully and fully vet through stakeholder involvement, campus conversations, and work within the President’s Executive Council. This review will lead to changes in the One UND strategic plan to enable key initiatives, and ensure the proper long-term adoption of these changes.
The commitment demonstrated by Vice President Halgren and Professor Bailey and the rest of the Task Force, and the resiliency of our entire Campus Community amid this pandemic never ceases to amaze me. We’re not done with the COVID fight by any stretch, but with each passing day the news of new vaccines and treatments grows more promising. While we inch toward an eventual return to relative normalcy, let’s not give up on the basics: wear a face covering, maintain physical distancing, practice good hygiene, and be mindful of our vulnerable populations. And, please, keep up on testing and remember to get a flu shot. These are the best ways we know to keep our Healthy Hawks flock flying strong!
Finally, as I reflect on my first semester at UND, I am impressed by the strong commitment of our students, faculty and staff to care for one another, and it is this commitment that gives me confidence in our ability to continue to work together to move UND forward.
Watch my November 19 video.
As we head into the Thanksgiving Break, I want to share a few thoughts about how we’ll finish the semester.
The novel coronavirus still has its grip on Grand Forks. The Governor’s recent measures reflect the gravity of what we are facing. We have seen the impact of these types of measures on our campus, as masking, distancing, hygiene, and testing all have positive consequences. We’ve knocked down two spikes since July, but this latest spike has been tougher.
As we move toward Thanksgiving, we are emphasizing “Go Home Once” to minimize travel and reduce infections, and we ask students to do one of the following:
- Students with campus requirements after Thanksgiving for any fall classes or employment should avoid traveling at Thanksgiving. Students are encouraged to stay in Grand Forks, be safe, and finish the semester strong. Once the fall semester is over, return home to visit with family and friends and return to Grand Forks in January. This includes all students enrolled in any class that requires physical attendance including flight training, aviation labs, students with clinical labs, and students in other course specific labs. Students should reach out to their instructors if they have questions.
- Students with all online courses who choose to travel outside Grand Forks for Thanksgiving should finish the semester away from campus and return to Grand Forks at the start of the spring semester. If students live in the residence halls, they can keep personal items in their room until they return in January. While there will be no residence hall refunds, students who do not return after Thanksgiving will receive a 5% dining refund, consistent with NDUS policy.
- Students who have all online courses and wish to stay in Grand Forks after Thanksgiving are welcome to do so but should avoid traveling at Thanksgiving. We realize some students may choose this option because of access to technology, employment, connection with others, support systems, and critical services.
Other relevant factors for the remaining weeks of the fall semester include:
- All finals will be online. There are no exceptions. If faculty have received a previous exception, this is no longer an option as we want students to return home as soon as possible.
- For students graduating this December, our Commencement ceremony will be virtual. We will make it as special as possible as we know this is an important accomplishment for students and their families.
- Remote work by UND staff members should be accommodated whenever possible. Driving factors are the intent to de-densify workspaces and the decision by Grand Forks Public Schools to go entirely online following Thanksgiving.
Spring semester classes will start as planned on Jan. 11. The University is having ongoing discussions regarding the safety of our campus and will continue to communicate more information in the upcoming days.
These are, indeed, challenging times. It is incumbent upon each of us to look out for the emotional and mental well-being of our friends, classmates, and co-workers. Stress levels this time of year on college campuses are already high, and throwing COVID into the mix makes it even worse. We have critical resources at the ready, including the University Counseling Center for students and the Employee Assistance Program for our faculty and staff. Let’s finish this semester strong, supporting each other as one community.
As we head into the weekend, there has been an increasing chorus of ideas about next steps in curbing the spread of COVID-19. Greater uncertainty exists about how our lives might be impacted by decisions made by civic and industry leaders as the COVID-19 cases continue to grow in our community. Yesterday, Mayor Bochenski issued an emergency order that limits bar and restaurant capacity to 50%, which follows the City Council’s resolution last week to require face coverings in the city. In addition, our County Health Officer is considering mandating additional measures.
Since the early days of the pandemic, UND has been at the forefront of prevention, testing, and support for COVID-positive members and close contacts. I have been proud of the hard work of so many on campus to set up an environment that minimizes risk to our campus community’s health and safety. The additional local measures bring Grand Forks closer to the requirements that we have on campus, and I think this is a good thing.
Throughout, we have aimed to provide flexibility for our faculty, staff, and students. This has enabled us to balance the dual goals of offering high quality educational programs along with minimized risk to health and safety. That flexibility will continue with our hybrid and online courses as well as remote working whenever possible.
As the city, the county, and other institutions make decisions about how they will operate, rest assured that that Pandemic Working Group, the Executive Council, and I are committed to these goals and offering you the flexibility to manage your lives most effectively. We realize the fluidity of the situation can cause anxiety, and we commit to communicate regularly and with as much advance notice as possible any changes at UND.
Please watch my November 6 video.
Today’s video addresses a few important issues, including COVID and Thanksgiving, elections and free speech, and equity and inclusion. Please spend a few minutes to watch and listen.
I was recently struck by an image of the first graduating class at UND – six women and two men. That was in 1889. One graduate was Cora Smith Eaton King, who would become the first woman in North Dakota to receive a medical license. Talent knows no bounds.
There is a dialogue emerging across the nation about diversity, equity, and inclusion. In my view, it has been emerging for decades, if not centuries, yet it has moved slowly. The events of this summer have accelerated this discussion and brought many additional voices to the conversation.
A college campus must be a place where we have tough conversations to build a sense of understanding, an understanding of why we think the way we do and why others think the way they do. That appreciation will help mold our ever-evolving view of the world and our role in it. When you hear ideas you do not like, don’t get angry. Seek to understand others, and seek to be understood.
Our campus has an important opportunity with our Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, chaired by Cara Halgren and Tamba-Kuii Bailey. This 27-member task force will soon make suggestions about ways to bring a wholeness to our community and to take positive steps toward a more inclusive and equitable campus. Their suggestions will challenge me. They will challenge us.
It is my job – and yours – to think carefully about how we embed their ideas into the fabric of UND. The tapestry of our campus must be whole and unified. It must be one, not in spite of our differences, but because of them.
In my remarks during the Oct. 5 UND presidential inauguration, I talked about the “Chain of Office” and how it symbolizes both a connection with the past and the need to contemplate change. A good example of this is how the last few months have been profoundly different from what we expected for the fall semester. This change has demanded incredible work by many and the patience of all.
COVID and its Obstacles
We’re now heading into a tough time for the pandemic, and I respectfully ask everyone to redouble their efforts to keep themselves and others safe. The recent increase in COVID-19 cases has been steady. Unlike the quick rise and fall of cases we saw in late August, we are now seeing a steady increase in cases. The measures we are taking for testing, isolation, and quarantine are certainly suppressing the growth in cases, but the steady increase without abatement indicates we have work to do.
Let me reiterate our expectations: wear a mask when interacting with others; wash your hands frequently; keep a safe distance of six feet or more from others; and avoid large groups of people. It’s a simple set of steps that can be difficult to practice.
You might wonder what your friends will think of your mask. Will they think you’re overly paranoid? Will they shun you? The truth is, they probably won’t think any less of you. In fact, they’ll likely follow your positive example. It’s relatively easy and simple to take these steps, but it’s more important than ever that we make the effort.
I was in an off-campus meeting the other day with seven UND members and another 25 community members. We were safely distanced. But the UND members followed our on-campus rules and wore masks. By the end of the meeting, there were an additional seven members of the crowd who followed our lead. This is the type of reaction you get when you take the steps to be safe. Others will follow you, as they know these simple steps make a difference. The same can happen in your circles on campus.
A Civic Responsibility
Speaking of setting an example and individual actions, please be sure to exercise your right to vote in the upcoming election, at all levels of government. This is the opportunity to use your voice to determine how you wish to be represented in our republic. Not all nations give voice to the people, and our Constitution grants us the good fortune to have a say in our nation’s future. Please take advantage of this right.
To Infinity and Beyond
There are many areas of possible growth on our campus, and one is in outer space! We’ve hosted four key space leaders over the last year or so, and I know there’s an important role our University can play in the ever-increasing domain of space. This includes commercial and military uses of technology. Our space studies, UAS, and engineering programs are logical connectors, but so is our work in law, philosophy, business, and policy.
I’ve quipped that I’d like us to launch satellites from Grand Forks, but please don’t take that literally. A more practical goal is to design, build and control satellites after they’re launched into orbit elsewhere aboard a commercial space vehicle.
Consider all the work we can do at UND with our air-based autonomous systems to test technologies and procedures for future systems operating autonomously in space. There’s a promising frontier right in front of us. Let’s use the creative and scholarly talent of our faculty, students, and staff to make some magic happen.
To Inclusivity and Beyond
In my next letter, I will share my thoughts on the work being done by UND’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. More specifically, I want us to be prepared for the important conversations ahead. What I envision is a campus rooted in the highest possible levels of respect for each other, one that uses education and conversation as a way to defuse the growing polarization around social and political issues, and one that raises its song of gratitude for the contributions of each of its members.
Have a great week.
Kathy and my first Homecoming Week at UND is one that we won’t soon forget. And not just because of this year’s atypical celebrations, done virtually over Zoom and livestreams, due to the pandemic. We had the honor of starting this week with my inauguration as the 13th president of the University. “Lucky 13” as Grand Forks Mayor and UND alumnus Brandon Bochenski put it at Monday’s inauguration ceremony. He is correct in that I am very fortunate to have been chosen for this amazing opportunity, and I want to thank all who have offered well-wishes to Kathy and me this week. We are humbled by your words and gestures.
I would have much rather had a room filled with all of you to share in the moment. Instead it was a special family moment, livestreamed to the world.
I want to highlight a portion of the inauguration that truly resonated with me. It was the words of wisdom bestowed to me in the “Presidential Reflections Video,” featuring all six living UND presidents and recordings from the great Tom Clifford. The willingness of these individuals to take time to talk so fondly about their time here is a testament to how special this place truly is.
The whole inauguration was a bit surreal for me, kind of a “This is Your Life,” mixed with lots of much-too-kind words and all the formalities that come with installing new presidents. The day was made even more special as Kathy and I were joined by my mother, Sue, my sister, Katie Muhle, and our daughter, Audrey, who kindly embarrassed me and brought me to tears with family stories and gentle ribbing. Our daughter, Ava, watched from afar and offered an equally moving message via video.
When my turn came to speak, I had to clear my head and dry my eyes. My inaugural address, a video of which is below along with a full transcript, concluded with a note on how we as a University community can embrace change. The pandemic reminds us that there are forces we can’t control.
It’s my goal to ensure the concept of change is a positive one – because at UND – all of us can change the world!
I hope you enjoy my full address.
Enjoy the weekend and thanks for reading.
Please watch my October 2 video.
I’d like to offer a quick note of thanks for your hard work this semester, whether you’re a student, a faculty member, or a staff member. To return to campus during a pandemic has required us to work together and to keep each other safe.
Please continue to take the steps for prevention: wear masks, keep your distance, wash your hands, and avoid large groups. I have appreciated seeing you across the campus taking these steps seriously. I know, this seems like one big sociological experiment to see how individual behaviors—both good and bad—can influence the behaviors of others. But it’s not an experiment, so please continue take the easy actions that will positively impact others. These little things are really big.
Thanks also for patiently waiting for our decision about post-Thanksgiving classes. I felt it was important to continue our current mode of operation with hybrid approaches to classroom learning, some in person and some online. The factors that drove this decision include our success in driving down the number of active cases, the lack of a surge in cases following the three-day Labor Day weekend, and the effective precautions we see in the classroom, with no known in-class transmissions. I know the members of our campus will continue to exhibit the good behaviors mentioned above and will take advantage of opportunities for testing. Please do your part.
To our awesome faculty members: a hearty thank you for what you’ve done to deliver the university’s primary mission. You’ve designed and re-designed your courses, and you’ve been flexible and resilient. The students I have spoken with across the campus truly appreciate what you’ve done to sustain high quality courses and experiences. They want this to continue. As you contemplate the right way for you to finish this semester, please continue to focus on what’s best for your students. They are thrilled to know that the in-class experiences you’ve designed will continue through the end of the semester. Remember to affirm your plans with your department chair/dean and post to your Blackboard site by the end of the day on Friday, Oct 2 (today!).
Enjoy the weekend and thanks for reading.
Please watch my September 11 video.
Let’s end the week with some good news on the COVID-19 front. As I write this, UND’s number of positive cases have declined and – so far – have not returned to anywhere near the levels we saw from mid-August to early September. The number of people in quarantine and isolation is less than half what it was a week ago. This tells us that all the planning and hard work everyone at the University put into keeping the campus open is having a positive impact. Yet, this is an ongoing battle we must continue to fight if UND’s campus is to remain open. Our goal is a safe September that leads to better days ahead. Let’s keep it up and not let our guard down!
As focused as we’ve been on COVID-19 since UND reopened for the fall semester, there are other important topics I want to cover. For example, we’ve recently established a Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which is chaired by Cara Halgren, Vice President of Student Affairs, and Tamba-Kuii Bailey, Assistant Professor of Education, Health & Behavior. This task force will help lay the vital foundation for updating UND’s strategic plan to focus squarely on goals and initiatives that achieve a stronger sense of belongingness and equity. I strongly encourage our campus community to participate in work that’s critical in defining who we are as a University.
In addition, UND has begun searches to fill two significant, high-profile positions that are key to our strategic future. On Sept. 4, we launched the search for dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. The person who fills this position will have the opportunity to not only run our renowned aviation program, but also to impact our world-class education and research programs in atmospheric science, space innovation, unmanned aircraft systems, and Earth system science and policy.
This week, we also we began the search for a new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Because Academic Affairs is responsible for creating, implementing and supporting UND’s academic priorities, I want the entire campus to be involved in the search process. Beth Bjerke, Associate Dean of the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, and David Flynn, Professor of Economics and Finance in the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, will co-chair the search committee. A series of campus listening sessions will be held next week to gain a broad perspective about what the members of our community wish to see in their next provost.
Finally, please also take time today and this weekend to reflect upon the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, DC, and Shanksville, PA. As we honor those who lost their lives, we continue to mourn alongside their families and friends, and we condemn these acts of hatred. Additionally, we must always honor the brave first responders who courageously acted without regard to their own personal safety. Let me ask you to take a moment after reading this note to reflect upon the sacrifices that were made that day.
Let me take this opportunity to welcome our newest campus members and to welcome back all others. As I write, I’m reflecting on this week and the extraordinary efforts of so many to get ready for the fall semester.
At the same time, the uncertainty of the pandemic and its impact on our campus grips us all. What’s will happen this semester? Will we transition to online classes? Will we need to close the campus, as we did during the spring semester? Or will we charge through this unscathed?
Now is the time when each of us needs to do our part. We must rise to the challenge. We know behaviors drive infections. If we can’t keep up with the infections, then we must consider the possibility of shutting down the campus. If your goal is for UND to remain open so you can be here, then this is your challenge: Rise up! Meet the challenge! Be healthy. Stay open.
What We Know
We have great support from the state and federal government to offer testing and to cover expenses associated with creating a COVID-resistant campus.
Our faculty and staff have been at the core of creativity for fall semester preparation. Their efforts have been extraordinary.
We have strong testing and response systems in place to care for everyone.
Although the number of active cases might appear high, we anticipated this. It’s entirely consistent with what we observed over the summer and what we currently see in the region. As I write this, we have 250 positive cases with 611 people in isolation or quarantine.
Whether we continue to keep UND open depends upon having sufficient resources to stay ahead of the curve. These include the people, the isolation/quarantine rooms, and the other logistical elements necessary to handle a pandemic of this scale.
What We Need
Follow the four prevention principles we’ve laid out. Wash your hands frequently; keep a safe distance from others; avoid large gatherings; and wear face coverings when interacting with others.
- Test frequently. The state continues to generously support this activity. Please get tested!
- Respond accordingly. If you test positive, you must isolate for 10 days. If you are a close contact to someone who tests positive, you must isolate for fourteen days. It’s not ideal, but it is of vital necessity for the good of public health.
- Please don’t break quarantine or isolation. If you do, it’s a violation of the Code of Student Life and you’ll be suspended. We need you to help keep others safe.
- Engage your professors. They are here to help and will make sure you stay on course for the semester.
We all miss gathering together, but we must first get through the rise of infections – and we can only do that together.
Rise up, UND! We are in this together. We are One UND.
Please view my August 14 video.
We’re about a week away from reopening the University of North Dakota for the 2020 fall semester. After five months of online education, it will be exciting to see students, faculty and staff back on campus. It will also be interesting to hear what everyone thinks about how UND has changed since they’ve been gone. I think you’ll notice and like the difference.
However, as you know, this will not be the typical beginning to the semester. As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize the concerns about keeping everyone at UND – as well as the surrounding greater Grand Forks community – safe and healthy. This is our No. 1 priority.
It’s important before you come back to campus to be tested for the coronavirus. We strongly encourage students, faculty, staff and their families to take advantage of testing sites set up around the state and on campus. Testing is one of the best tools we have to help prevent the spread of the virus. I also want to remind everyone that wearing a mask is required on campus while interacting with others and attending UND-sponsored events.
I wish there was a way to share with you all the experiences, meetings and conversations I’ve had over the past several months as we’ve planned and prepared to reopen UND for the fall semester. This has been an intensive process based on careful, thoughtful and thorough planning. We have sought input from faculty, staff, students and community leaders on a daily basis.
Our work has been based on five guiding principles that aid us in making the appropriate decisions for everyone’s benefit. They are:
- First and foremost, consider the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff;
- Ensure that our educational and scholarly experiences remain focused on excellence;
- Sustain a sense of community founded on principles of respect and empathy;
- Promote collaboration on campus, while recognizing key differences among our units;
- Respond sensibly to changing conditions of the pandemic.
We have built as much flexibility as possible into our reopening plan to deal with changing conditions. For example, the University can rapidly transition to online teaching if needed. In addition, those uncomfortable with attending or teaching classes have the option to do them online.
As students and faculty begin classes, perhaps the most noticeable difference will be the health and hygiene measures put in place to keep physical distancing and maintain cleanliness on high-touch surfaces. Our goal is not only to make UND a COVID-resistant campus, but also a COVID-resilient campus.
Given the level of disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to everyone’s lives, my sense is that we all yearn for a return to sense of normalcy. Please be patient—it is vital to remember that the current context will be different, yet it won’t be forever. To get to where we want to be, it will require all of us working together, cooperating and engaging in best practices on campus and in the community to defeat this pandemic.
We should be encouraged by examples from this summer, when our campus came back to life with the presence of aviation students and student-athletes. Physical distancing, face coverings, and hygiene suppressed infections, and isolation and quarantine prevented additional spread. We know these methods work, but we also know the emotional impact of having to keep a distance. It is critical for the University, professors, staff members, coaches, and friends to continue to provide great support to each other.
I have trust in UND’s students, faculty and staff, as well as the citizens of Grand Forks, to take ownership of the vital task of protecting one another. Through our words and actions, we are demonstrating that we take this responsibility very seriously. With all the tools we’re providing, my hope is that we choose to take up the task of caring for one another. More than ever, UND needs leaders in action to conquer the challenges ahead.
Please watch my July 24 video.
I want to be a NoDak. What I mean by that is that I want to learn all I can about the history and traditions of the University of North Dakota. Yes, I have a long way to go, but in the past month since Kathy and I have been on campus, we’ve enjoyed walking Sadie around UND, meeting people (Hi, Matt and Bella!), and absorbing as much as we can about the University and those who made it great.
For example, whether I am in Twamley Hall or at University House, I’m treated at noon to the strains of the song “Alma Mater.” It was written by John Macnie, a Scottish-born and educated professor who taught at UND from 1885 to 1903. He taught French and German, but was also fluent in other languages and literature. He taught math and philosophy as well.
The first two lines of “Alma Mater” are:
Hail to thee, O Alma Mater! Hail to thee with heart and tongue!
Pride we feel and love yet greater, While we raise our grateful song.
A century later, these words resonate with me because they express the importance of gratitude. I want this to be a contagious idea on our campus. Saying thanks to those who go out of their way to make our University, our students, our faculty, our staff, our community, and our state better should become a habit. Whether it’s through giving or through volunteering, we should be gracious to those who those who help the University. We should never be shy about expressing our gratitude.
I’ve been reading the biography of John D. Odegard, the founder of UND’s School of Aerospace Sciences, which bears his name today. What a fascinating individual! It’s interesting to contrast how university programs were launched 40 years ago with how we do things today.
Odegard got NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin – the second person to ever walk on the moon – to come to UND to help organize a space education program. As a result of Odegard’s visionary efforts in the early 1980s, we have Professor Pablo de Leon in our Space Studies Department designing space suits and conducting experiments for NASA’s deep-space exploration program. It also positions UND’s Aerospace School to pursue opportunities with the newly formed U.S. Space Force.
As I familiarize myself with UND’s campus and its history, I start thinking about opportunities. For example, North Dakota is a state without a literary landmark. We have graduates from our University who became famous in the literary world. I can envision a literary landmark honoring such a person at a symbolic campus location – this is an idea worth exploring!
While I was at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I was fascinated with its mid-century modern architecture to the point where I became a bit of an aficionado. I know UND is part of a historic district that includes late 19th and 20th century revivals architecture. There’s another opportunity for me to explore one of my interests and become even more knowledgeable about the rich history of UND.
I have begun my journey to becoming a NoDak. I look forward to sharing with you and learning more about the history and traditions of our University.
Please watch my July 10 video.
Recent national trends with the COVID-19 pandemic show a marked increase in the number of new cases. Although North Dakota still has a low infection rate, we have also seen a significant increase in the number of cases over the last week.
The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, in its May meeting, took a position to ensure each of our 11 member schools returned to on-campus classes this fall, and to do so with your safety as our #1 priority. In five short weeks, we welcome back to campus 13,000 students, faculty, and staff, and our collective efforts and individual behaviors will drive how our campus will be impacted by the virus.
UND has been well-prepared to implement a return-to-campus plan, as our Pandemic Working Group has been in full swing since March 11. This group has met daily under the leadership of Jed Shivers, Vice President for Finance & Operations; Jen Berger, Emergency Operations Director; and Eric Plummer, Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of Police. The team has broad representation across campus, and our faculty, staff, and Student Senate leaders join the working group once a week for input, questions, and updates. Together, this team has developed a comprehensive set of guidelines that should reduce the risk of disease transmission on our campus.
We will continue to monitor both national and local trends in COVID-19 spread, to test aggressively, and to adjust our campus risk level according to key leading indicators, as shown on our Healthy Hawks restart site. Our campus protection measures have been more aggressive than what we have seen across the state, and that will continue. When we universally practice physical distancing, wear face coverings, avoid crowds, and practice good hand hygiene, we keep each other safe and protect the most vulnerable among us. This relies upon your actions and encouraging your peers and colleagues to do the same.
As we prepare for these physical changes to our campus life, we must fully recognize the emotional and mental impact of what we’ve been through. We have had limited social interactions with our friends and families for four months. Many are trying your very best to balance work or school life with family life. Those with school-aged kids have somehow managed this balance, serving both as a UND team member and as a full-time educator to one or more children. Those with aging or sick family members in their homes have had to live under extreme caution as they try their very best to keep their homes free from COVID-19. For many families, the long-term financial uncertainty heightens stress levels.
For those seeking additional support during this time, a general list of resources can be found within our Healthy Hawks resources page. For faculty and staff, let me draw your attention to our Employee Assistance Program, a great avenue for support. Our students should reach out to Student Health Services, to One Stop Student Services, or to the University Counseling Center, depending on your needs.
Together, we must look out for each other. Let me encourage supervisors to work closely with each of your members to address their concerns and to check on their well-being during this tough time. If you haven’t already done so, make sure your team members take well-deserved leave, as the pace will start picking up in the days leading up to the start of the fall semester. Our students will be returning to campus after a significant break, so let me call on faculty and staff to pay close attention to their needs.
Finally, in the wake of recent policy changes impacting our international students, you must know how important you are to our UND community. The International Center is a great resource for you, and they will continue to keep you updated on news we hear from around the country.
Your homework assignment this weekend is to call a colleague whom you haven’t seen since March, just to see how they are doing. The support we give each other is critical. Let’s work hard to keep each other safe while we learn and discover.
Please watch my June 25 video.
Kathy and I are thrilled to be on campus. We are eager to meet you and to share in the joy of what it means to be members of the UND campus and the Grand Forks community.
Early in the week, I had the chance to witness the farewell to our longest-serving Mayor of Grand Forks, Mike Brown, and the swearing-in of Mayor Brandon Bochenski—both are graduates of UND! We truly appreciate Mayor Brown’s two decades of faithful service to Grand Forks and Mayor Bochenski’s commitment to lead our city.
Today is a good opportunity to update you on several ongoing discussions as we prepare for the return of on-campus classes and activities this fall. Although Grand Forks has been impacted minimally by the virus, we need to remember we are reopening campus during a global pandemic. Until a vaccine or effective therapeutics are realized, we must continue to take steps to keep each other safe, especially those who are at greatest risk of the most damaging effects of COVID-19. The actions of distancing, face coverings, good hygiene, and testing will allow us to enjoy a sense of community while still reducing the spread of the virus. Please take the steps to keep others safe, as you might have no idea you are infected and spreading the virus.
Let me touch on two of these actions, starting with face coverings. There is no better way to show concern for the well-being of others than to keep your distance and to cover your face. Face coverings are now required when you are in UND campus facilities interacting with others and when representing UND off-campus in an official capacity. While attending UND-sponsored athletic events at sites like the Alerus Center and the Ralph, you will follow guidelines set by the facility management, yet we strongly encourage you to sustain that sense of concern towards others and continue to wear face coverings and keep your distance. When you are away from others, whether in your residence hall room or your office, you do not need to wear a face covering. We have posted detailed information about face coverings on our UND COVID-19 blog.
The second action is testing. Josh Wynne, in his role as our state’s chief health strategist, has been working with the Governor’s staff to establish a state-sponsored voluntary testing program for students, faculty, and staff. As we bring back more than 15,000 persons to campus in a short period of time, testing broadly and frequently will be essential as we care for those infected and as we determine the local trajectory of the virus. This process began in earnest on Tuesday, with a voluntary testing event that collected samples from 1,000 individuals from our campus community. Many thanks to UND staff members, our local health department, the Grand Forks Fire Departments, the Salvation Army, our state health department, and the North Dakota National Guard for making this happen. Being a leader in action is a hallmark of the University of North Dakota, and let’s do our very best to take care of each other during this pandemic.
In my June 8th letter to the campus, I highlighted an upcoming task force on diversity and inclusion, and we are working with the leaders of the University Senate, Staff Senate, and Student Government to build the task force and define its charter. Thank you to those who have sent emails with recommendations. I have read them all and will pass along your ideas to the task force.
There are steps we can take to ensure that everyone feels welcome and included in our community. In February, UND approved a land acknowledgement statement that underscores UND’s foundational commitment to serving the First Nations of North Dakota and the members of our Indigenous community. June is a month with a number of national cultural celebrations, including Juneteenth (see Governor Burgum’s proclamation), which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, and Pride Month, which recognizes historic contributions of members of our LGBTQ+ community and honors the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City. Being a stronger community relies on knowing our peers, and I look forward to learning more about the individuals and groups that our campus comprises.
Kathy and I look forward to seeing you on campus – please be sure to introduce yourself as you see us out and about, especially if we appear to be lost!
Please watch my June 12 video.
UND has been actively preparing for our community of faculty, students and staff to return for the Fall Semester. As we have gone through this pandemic, we have seen the struggles as well as the power of working together. By moving to remote learning and work, respecting guidelines for physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and following other recommendations by the CDC and others, we successfully navigated the first wave of COVID. We will need that same level of vigilance and empathy for others when we come together again this fall.
Our pandemic response team has been meeting daily since mid-March to ensure UND is ready with precautions for the safety, health and general well-being of our entire campus community. I am grateful for the dedication of this group. They have been working from several guiding principles as they do their work and help us make the appropriate decisions for the benefit of all. They are:
- First and foremost, consider the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff;
- Ensure that our educational and scholarly experiences remain focused on excellence;
- Sustain a sense of community founded on principles of respect and empathy;
- Promote collaboration on campus, while recognizing key differences among our units;
- Respond sensibly to changing conditions of the pandemic.
With these principles in mind, our team is prioritizing four main areas in our preparations: Teaching and Learning, Working, Meeting & Socializing, and Housing & Dining. Teams from each area have been developing detailed plans to mitigate the risk of spread.
Beyond the mitigation efforts, we are developing robust and aggressive testing capacities and providing spaces for self-quarantining to effectively respond to potential outbreaks on campus. We also have implemented a three-level “Healthy Hawks” reference guide for you to know, at a glance, the behaviors we expect to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our community safe.
When we open in the fall, we anticipate being at Level 3, which means we will be offering a hybrid of in-person and remote/online learning. Public gatherings will have restrictions and require approval for groups of more than 50 people. For the safety and well-being of all, but particularly for those at high risk,we must observe physical distancing guidelines and wear face coverings. For more details on where and when face coverings will be required, please refer to our updated COVID response blog.
We will see visible signs of change, with plexiglass barriers in work areas with high person-to-person interaction, increased cleaning of spaces, hand sanitizer dispensers across the campus, “in and out doors” in buildings to promote safer pedestrian traffic flow, and a reduced capacity of our classrooms. Many offices on campus will be less densely populated, as supervisors will determine work schedules that blend office work with remote work.
Residence halls will be open, and our housing staff has developed a comprehensive plan that assigns each resident a private room to give them personal space to physical distance. Dining services will be open, following ND Smart Restart guidelines for seating and room capacity.
More details will be shared in the coming weeks as we finalize our plans in preparation for staff to return to campus Aug. 1, and students during Welcome Weekend. I encourage you to read this week’s edition of UND Today, which has in-depth stories on our fall preparations for the classroom and other important student support elements, including housing, dining, and student health services, and within our other campus facilities.
Though our campus may look a little different this fall as we protect our community from COVID-19, UND remains committed to fostering a safe and welcoming environment of high-quality learning, discovery and engagement.
As I type this letter, I have a range of emotions: excitement for becoming part of the UND community, outrage over yet another national example of an injustice for a member of the Black community, concern about the state of race relations on campus, and hope for a stronger future for UND and its members.
My first video message to the campus on Monday focused on George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, and how we, as a nation, grieve for his family and friends. His death, following numerous cases just like this, has ignited protests across the nation, highlighting racial disparity and tensions within our country. There has been an outcry for justice and a desire for a sense of community and healing.
On Tuesday, I received messages from across our community regarding several campus incidents that happened during the spring semester. Whether it was two student-athletes in a video singing a song that repeatedly uses the n-word or a group of students shouting a racist phrase in their Grand Forks neighborhood, these behaviors are inconsistent with our institutional values.
As your new President, I must be clear in stating my goal for a campus that rejects racism and discrimination. This is the goal for our entire leadership team—our Vice Presidents, Athletic Director, Deans, unit and elected leaders. We acknowledge the pain and weight that racism, bias, and inequity places on our students, faculty, and staff of color. We face daunting work to heighten equity and improve representation on campus. What gives us hope, however, is that universities have a long history of catalyzing change and promoting growth. Let’s capitalize on the incredible expertise of our faculty and staff so UND can be that place.
The most important step we can take now is to chart a course for moving forward as a community. You will undoubtedly have great ideas, and I encourage you to share them with campus leaders. You can expect us to listen, act, and communicate. We will immediately:
- Schedule listening sessions with our student, faculty, and staff. This will begin with members of our campus affinity groups, as their perspectives are particularly important in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and recent campus events.
- Establish a special university task force on race, gender, and diversity with a bold charter to identify process, practices, and everyday actions that lead to equitable outcomes. With broad representation, this task force will identify gaps in our ability to solve issues of racism and discrimination, specify data needs that will pinpoint how and where it impacts our campus, and promote actions we need to take individually and as a community.
- Commit to communicate openly about the progress of this task force and about incidents of racism and discrimination on and off campus, constrained only by what the law prevents us from sharing.
Our campus must be a forum for ideas, providing the opportunity for our members to grow as learners and citizens. As a public university, we have a First Amendment responsibility to protect free speech, no matter how offensive it is. Yet, we must collectively speak up against bias and confront hatred. As individuals, we must educate ourselves and hold our peers and others accountable for their words and actions. We must listen empathetically to those who are being impacted and protect those who feel unsafe. We must have dialogue and action on the toughest issues we face as a campus, city, state, and nation. We must do so immediately and forever, and this work must not fall solely on people of color.
If, like many, you are at a loss for where to begin, let me suggest you start by reading Claude Steele’s book, Whistling Vivaldi. It will help you build a sense of empathy for others who have had an entirely different life experience simply due to the color of their skin, their gender identity, or their sexuality. In addition, our Teaching Transformation & Development Academy (TTaDA) will host book groups on a variety of issues relating to diversity, bias, and racism. We will give you the book, and all you need to do is show up with an open mind.
We must strive to become one campus with a sense of belonging for all. Let’s start now.
First Day Letter
It is with great pride and excitement that I step into the role as the 13th President of the University of North Dakota. Since last December, when the State Board of Higher Education announced their decision, Kathy and I have been eager to become part of the campus and the local area. This day has finally arrived – though it is a “virtual arrival” for now – and the final transition from President Wynne has happened. We plan to arrive physically in Grand Forks the week of June 22, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic delayed our move and keeps us in Colorado a bit longer.
I must start by thanking Josh Wynne for his leadership and enthusiasm as our president for the last year. His passion for the people of UND is unmatched. As a fitting end to his tenure, President Wynne was awarded the Gordon Henry Award by our Student Government, recognizing one who has gone above and beyond in their service to the student body. On a personal level, Josh and Susan have been incredibly welcoming to us, and I will cherish the mentorship and advice he has given me over the last five months.
On this first day as President, I’m filled with sadness at the recent tragedies in our own community and in our neighboring state of Minnesota. On Tuesday, we will honor the life and sacrifice of Officer Cody Holte of the Grand Forks Police Department, whose tragic death last week came in the line of duty. His wife, Amanda, is a recent UND graduate, and our hearts go out to her and the Holte family. Earlier in the week, we watched in horror at the senseless and racially unjust death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We grieve with Mr. Floyd’s family and with our students who call Minneapolis and St. Paul home. Both events impact us deeply and highlight the continuing need to uphold the values of diversity, inclusion, and equity to build a just community. I pledge my commitment to open dialogue and action on the toughest issues we face as a nation and state for the benefit of all members of our community.
We also face the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus. In response to the pandemic, I have had the chance to work closely with President Wynne, our Executive Council, and other campus leaders to develop plans for our response. Let me assure you that this team is focused on your health and safety, on delivering programs rooted in excellence, and on sustaining a strong sense of community across our campus. We will soon release our plan for our UND Smart Restart and the return of campus activity for the fall semester.
Over the last four months, the professionalism and optimism I have seen across our campus community convince me that we will overcome challenges together and come out stronger on the other side. Your character, commitment, and spirit are the reasons I am excited to join the UND team. I am honored to serve as your President. Together, we are One UND.
President’s Reading List
These are many books that have impacted the way I view the world and our role as educators. Some authors share perspectives that I had not heard, but that changed me in some important way. I encourage you to continue reading works that offer different views of the world and expose you to knowledge and ideas that might be outside your normal area of study.
- The Innovators, Walter Isaacson
- Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman + The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis
- Whistling Vivaldi, Claude Steele
- The One World School House, Salman Khan
- What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain
- Mindset, Carol Dweck
- Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
- The Indigenous People’s History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (recommended to me by UND Professor Beth Klemetsrud)