MSU President's Column for Traill County Tribune

November 7, 2020

Life and times of an administrative team during the pandemic

Since about February our Mayville State administrative team has invested an enormous amount of time and effort into the coronavirus pandemic and its related issues. Those making the decisions want so desperately to be able to proceed with life as normal and to allow people to have the experiences they have worked so hard to achieve and/or that just plain make their lives better. The facts are that we can’t do everything today like we did prior to the pandemic. This virus is extremely contagious and the people making administrative decisions need to keep health and safety as the top priority, which is what we have done.

The decision to move to all remote course delivery last spring was not easy. We know that our students who study on campus truly value the opportunity to be in the classroom in person and to enjoy the treasured college experience that comes with being on campus and working closely with their faculty and staff.

We were determined to be able to safely return to on-campus instruction for the fall semester while balancing safety. Working together with campus administrators, task forces were assembled. Task force membership represents a cross section of students, faculty, and staff. These groups have invested an extreme amount of time and effort into the preparing for the fall semester, and their efforts are ongoing.

From an athletics standpoint, administrative decisions have been needed in abundance. There are decisions made at various levels, the NAIA, the North Star Athletic Association, and also on the local campus level. The ultimate goal is to give students an opportunity to continue to play the sports they love while keeping them safe and healthy.

Over the past week, life as an administrator has been especially intense. As the result of very high participation in an Oct. 27 mass testing event held at Mayville State, several positive COVID-19 cases were identified. When there is high participation, the number of positive cases is going to be high as well. We as Mayville State administrators found ourselves in a situation of needing to find places where up to 25 students who live on campus could isolate. That issue was compounded by the need for places in which the people who were identified as close contacts to these individuals and others can quarantine for 14 days. 

The options for available housing are very limited. While we had identified places where students could quarantine and isolate on campus even before the fall semester began, the results of the Oct. 27 testing event left us needing more space than we had readily available on campus. Our residence halls are close to capacity this semester, reflecting the enrollment success of having the largest freshman class we’ve had in about six years.

We as administrators pulled up our boot straps and went to work. We had discussed the possibility of renting rooms at the Mayville Hometown Inn for this purpose early on in the semester. The owners there were extremely helpful and open to the possibility. Unfortunately, when we needed the space last week, there weren’t rooms available for the long term. We could get a night here or there, but not for several days in a row.

We moved on to Plan B and checked into the possibility of available rental properties around the community. In the end, it was determined that this would not provide the best situation for our students.

Throughout, we were assessing the possibilities on campus. Various scenarios were considered before landing on what we think is the best possible solution for taking good care of our students, setting up an isolation area for those with positive COVID-19 cases in the campus Wellness Center. Students moved in Saturday evening, Oct. 31. Cots and living space are set up in the gymnasium. Study areas have been established and students have access to the Wellness Center weight room. Televisions have been installed as have extra routers that ensure good internet connectivity so that students may participate in classes. There is access to showers and restroom facilities. We have safety considerations covered. Meals are being delivered, and wellness checks are being conducted.

While at first glance, it may seem a little harsh, we really feel that we have come to the best possible solution under extenuating circumstances. A bonus in this situation is related to mental health concerns. We know that being isolated is very hard on mental health. In this situation, those involved are around others and there is opportunity for socialization. One student stated their gratitude for this. For her, being alone in isolation was not good. Others have since let us know they are happy with the current accommodations.

Again with the safety of students and employees leading the way, we made the decision as an administrative team to ask students to stay-in-place from Monday, Nov. 2 through Sunday, Nov. 8. Classes are being offered online only during this time period and non-essential staff have been asked to work remotely. Essential services such as dining services and custodial services continue to be offered and essential offices are open with limited staffing.

The rationale behind this decision is to allow time for those in isolation as a result of the Oct. 27 testing event to recover and close contacts to complete or be close to completing their quarantining requirement. In addition, the results of a testing event held the week of Nov. 2 should become available. Taking a step back during this week allows us to know that we are providing the safest possible environment for all involved. We will resume in-person class meetings and full campus operations on Monday, Nov. 9 at 8 a.m.

Our administrative team of Steve Bensen, Dr. Tami Such, Dr. Andrew Pflipsen, Ryan Hall, and Beth Swenson, working together with me as president, have the best interests of all in mind. There is an extremely high volume of work and decision-making going on. This is a group that truly cares about our students and employees and will go to all lengths to make sure people are safe and healthy while keeping the best interests of the university as a whole in mind. The administrative team is extremely grateful to our faculty, staff, and students who are doing yeoman’s work to keep the entire campus community safe. This is a team effort and we are Comet Proud of all involved!