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Letter: Commencing towards a safer future

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As you all know, the State Board of Higher Education recently moved toward reopening the state’s 11 public colleges and universities this fall. The North Dakota University System and our campuses have worked diligently to ensure that our spring semester continued unabated, but with the health, safety and well being of our students, faculty and staff in mind. That will remain our unified priority as we continue to move through unprecedented times.

We’d like to thank our staff and faculty for proving so adaptive and versatile during this time. Your quick work ensured that our more than 45,000 students could continue receiving the education they signed up for when you moved nearly 11,000 courses online. As we move forward, know that common sense and patience will remain valuable traits for us all.

We’d also like to thank those same 45,000 students for choosing an NDUS institution to begin with. Please know that the SBHE and NDUS are looking into every possibility and option to maintain your access to quality education, as well as giving you a safe place in which to pursue it successfully.

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Thank you as well to the leadership of Gov. Burgum and the actions of his team. Responding swiftly to changing conditions of this pandemic is a task that requires all our efforts: unified, collaborative and innovative. We remain confident that in forming a united front, the ND Smart Restart will help our NDUS Smart Restart create a safe environment for the entirety of our campus communities.
Thank you to the campuses for their work in deciding on what form their commencement ceremonies take. These events are monumental milestones in our young adults’ lives, and we know that a tremendous amount of decision-making went into these events – whether they were moved to become more virtual or postponed until later in the year. Our graduating students look forward to these final moments of their college years, so thank you for making sure they can still have these memories even in unprecedented historic times.

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Again, we cannot stress enough how much work is being undertaken to anticipate and mitigate any potential risks in resuming on-campus operations. Just as is the case when we aren’t free to learn if we are hungry, we aren’t free to teach, learn or resume regular activities if we are constantly worried about viral transmission. Even now, we’re working with health care officials, contact tracing specialists and economists to understand and manage the risks this COVID-19 pandemic present. We know it will require us to be anticipatory, adaptable and prudent.

The eight criteria that were put in place as determinants for responding to this crisis are: widespread rapid testing; robust contract tracing; targeted, effective quarantine; protections for vulnerable populations; sufficient health care capacity; adequate PPE availability; new standard operating procedures; and preparing for resurgence of the viral outbreak.

Armed with those criteria and the best workforce in the state, NDUS aims to return to some semblance of regular instruction and campus life. But, until a vaccine is proven, effective and available, we’ll all have to be very careful. We may not know what the future will hold, but we do know that the only way to get through any further challenges will be by working together. We will remain unified toward the goal of continuing to offer opportunities for student success while also taking great care to do it safely, and in the most health-focused way possible.

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