MSU President's Column for Traill County Tribune

March 21, 2020

Extraordinary times require exceptional measures and a team effort

The coronavirus (COVID-19) situation continues to evolve rapidly. Our president’s cabinet members and emergency manager are in constant communication about how we can best protect the health and wellness of the campus community and take proactive steps to help minimize the spread of this very serious illness.

Governor Burgum has mandated the closure of all public K-12 schools across North Dakota and the CDC has issued further guidance stressing the importance of social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. To that end, Mayville State University began a change in the way it operates starting at the close of business on March 17. Although we have not closed the university, we have asked many Mayville State employees to begin working from home, rather than coming to the workplace.

Backing up a few days, on Thursday, March 12, we announced that all classes will be offered online March 14 through April 5. Students are on spring break this week, March 16-20, so classes are not in session. Students have been asked not to return to campus after spring break, but rather to engage in their classes virtually from their homes starting on March 23. The plan as it stands is to resume face-to-face classes on April 6, pending further assessment. Residence halls will re-open April 5. In the meantime, we are accommodating those students who are not able to leave by letting them stay in the residence halls and offering limited dining services options.

The logic behind going online with classes for a two-week period relates to the incubation period of the coronavirus. If they are going to, symptoms should present within a two-week period after exposure. Allowing our students to be away from campus during that two-week period following spring break will hopefully mean they will be well and not contagious when they return to campus. Social distancing is one of the main ways in which to prevent spread of the illness and having students attend classes from their homes keeps them from gathering in groups of ten or more, which is now the guideline suggested by the Centers for Disease Control.

Mayville State University has a long-standing honorable reputation for being “The School of Personal Service,” and how we deal with the coronavirus pandemic will reinforce this legacy. Our decision to offer classes online during these extraordinary times will strengthen our commitment to assuring that students have the best possible experiences.

You may know Jack Turnbull, a former Comet men’s basketball player who has been an assistant coach for the team this year. Jack, who is from Australia, has been student teaching this semester. In order to accommodate his need to get home before that became impossible due to enforcement of travel restrictions, the Division of Teacher Education has been working closely with Jack. He was able to go home, but will miss the final few days of his student teaching assignment in the United States. The Division is making special accommodations so that Jack may finish his student teaching experience in Australia.

Faculty member Scott Parker will use Skype or Zoom technology to visit Jack’s classroom in Australia virtually to complete the last official observation and evaluation. Jack will continue to complete lesson plans and reflections and will wrap up the remaining student teaching requirements at a distance, ensuring that he can earn his degree at the end of the semester. This situation demonstrates personal service at its best, and I know it is just one of many ways in which our faculty and staff are helping students who find themselves in extenuating circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic. It makes me Comet Proud when we go to great lengths to be certain our students can succeed.

These are extraordinary times that require exceptional measures and a team effort of everyone working together for the good of the whole. With the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff as top priorities, we are committed to fulfilling our mission by ensuring students are able to meet their educational requirements and faculty are able to continue their research and scholarship. All campus facilities continue to operate, but in some cases in a limited way.

Some of these limited services affect community members. These decisions are not made lightly, but with safety and well-being as priorities. We have elected to close the Wellness Center and the swimming pool. The Child Development Programs are offering their normal childcare services at all sites, except at Central Valley Public School and Hillsboro Public School. However, Head Start and Early Head Start program options are closed. The Central Valley and Hillsboro school sites are closed due to the governor’s mandate to close K-12 public schools. Also, the NAIA has canceled all spring sports, which includes baseball and softball for Mayville State.

Again, as you know, this is a very fluid situation. Things change sometimes from hour to hour, but know that Mayville State University is committed to ensuring that students can complete their courses and get the support they need as we navigate this situation. We are in unprecedented territory and we are making our best efforts to keep our campus community safe. We can’t wait for the return of our outstanding faculty, wonderful staff, and extraordinary student body members who call Mayville State home. I can’t help but relate this to the holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Our daily activities are changed, but we will make the best of the situation, and we will return to normal before long.