Campus Town Hall Recap: April 7, 2021

President Downs graphic

Campus Town Hall Power Point Presentation

NSU President Dr. Tim Downs and Provost Dr. Michael Wanous held a Campus Town Hall on April 7, providing updates from the recent S.D. Board of Regents meeting and general campus updates.

Downs said the BOR meeting, which was held at Northern, went well.

“They really see the momentum of Northern, and they see that we’re going great places and we’re much more than sustainable,” Downs said. “We’re on a trajectory, moving up.”

This year, NSU faculty and staff have managed a campus during a pandemic, but they’ve also done things to change and improve. That includes finalizing a new strategic planning process, revising and developing academic programs, and nearing completion of the Educational Impact Campaign. The campaign has raised over $60 million to date, which does not include over $5 million in additional scholarships.

In terms of COVID-19, the expectation is that campus will be back to normal this fall, though it’s unclear as to when masks may no longer be required. Downs said everyone on campus has done a great job. Northern is grateful to the South Dakota Department of Health, Avera and Sanford for their assistance and support.

Enrollment Trends

Though Northern lost some students due to the pandemic, headcount did not shrink; in fact, Northern was the only BOR institution that saw a growth in headcount this year.

Enrollment trends for fall 2021 are looking very positive. Undergraduate applications are up 29 percent from this time last year; on-campus visits remain popular; FAFSA submissions for fall are up 4 percent; and Graduate Studies continues to field steady inquiries and applications.

This academic year has taken a lot of grit, resilience and creativity, Downs said, but campus can get closer to normal this fall.

“We’re poised to have a great summer and fall,” he said.

HLC Review

Wanous said Northern is in the middle of the HLC four-year review, and he thanked those on the NSU HLC Team, particularly team leaders Erin Fouberg, Lysbeth Benkert-Rasmussen, Lynn Klundt and Brenda Mammenga.

Northern’s Shared Governance Taskforce is working on transitioning away from COHE, he said, converting documents into NSU-specific policies and procedures. The task force has worked on a faculty workload policy and faculty salary increase formula revision. Now, a faculty standards document is in process.

Wanous also gave an update on the academic space utilization analysis. Along with using BOR data, faculty assigned letter grades to all their classrooms, so now, each room has a Classroom GPA. Some classrooms were taken offline/repurposed, including Barnett Center 059 A/B, and JFAC 106, which will become a student art gallery. IT and the E-learning Center are moving to the third floor of MJ-Tech Center, with space on the second floor becoming new academic spaces, and the first floor becoming the home of the Student Success Center.

Academic Program Development

There has been a lot of academic program development at Northern, including the new M.S.Ed. in Special Education with a specialization in Visual Impairment, B.S. in Biochemistry, Native and Indigenous Studies minor, Honors Law Opportunity Program with USD Knudson School of Law, and undergraduate certificates in Germans from Russia Studies and TESOL.

Wanous expressed appreciation for all faculty members who have worked on these programs. As a tuition-dependent institution, Northern’s revenue comes from tuition.

“The only way for us to grow is to grow enrollment,” he said. “All of these new programs are making this possible.”

One trend is programs with an accelerated option, including the M.S. in Accounting Analytics, M.S. Banking and Financial Services, M.S.Ed. in Special Education, and M.S.Ed. in Instructional Design in E-Learning. This allows students to start working on a master’s degree while finishing their undergrad, providing students an incredible opportunity while helping grow enrollment.

Audience Questions

Drs. Downs and Wanous answered questions submitted beforehand, asked in-person or via Zoom, including the following topics:

  • Feedback on combining the schools of Education and Business: Wanous said data has yet to be collected, however, he has received feedback through monthly conversations with the Faculty Senate chair. Northern was in a situation where it had to close a budget gap, he said, and it was preferable to eliminate an administrative position rather than two faculty positions.
  • Student-athlete mask-wearing: Downs said students, faculty and staff have been compliant, and if not, it’s everyone’s responsibility to speak up. While there have been a few isolated incidents of student-athletes not in compliance, those students have been spoken to by coaches and have corrected the behavior.
  • Concerns that LGBTQIA+ students, faculty and staff are not supported: Wanous said the Diversity Action Pillar Team has already determined that better diversity training is needed on campus. A diversity development program is being purchased and will be available for Senior Cabinet and the Diversity Action Pillar Team. Downs said, from a philosophical perspective, there is zero tolerance for disrespectful behavior toward LGBTQIA+ students, faculty and staff. “They’re all treated with respect, period. That’s my expectation.”
  • Mask mandate comment: Responding to a comment that campus has suffered due to the mask mandate and the virus is no more harmful than the flu, Downs pointed out that the state loses about 40-50 people each year to the flu, while so far, nearly 2,000 have died from COVID-19. Also, cases of flu have gone down, likely because of masks. Regardless, the mandate will remain until further notice.
  • Plans to invest in faculty: Downs said Northern is constantly looking at how we can upgrade and support people and programs on campus; if there’s a dire need, faculty should go to their department head and ask.
  • Homecoming terminology: Downs said it’s a work in progress. The Homecoming Committee is trying to figure out how to manage homecoming this year; the term “homecoming” will likely be used along with the traditional term as well.
  • Continuing public health mindfulness: Downs said creating a health-minded mindset on campus is a great idea and should be pursued further.
  • HyFlex options in the fall: Wanous said this is something the Academic Task Force is considering, though Downs said Northern is a face-to-face institution, and students could be missing out on the student engagement experience; that this is a great topic of discussion for the academic sector to pursue.
  • Team teaching for education methods courses: Wanous suggested this idea be taken to the teacher education department chair or dean for discussion.
  • EAB Platform: Wanous said a taskforce is working on this implementation, and it’s a pretty amazing platform that includes an academic support app for students.
  • Foundation future: Downs said there will be a search to replace the retiring president, and in the meantime an interim president will be announced. In terms of the relationship between the foundation and the university, Northern sets the agenda for the university’s goals, and his job is to talk to the Foundation to let them know how the Foundation can support the University to meet those goals.
  • NFE salaries: Those salaries are determined by comparison to the CUPA-HR dataset, but it all depends on how much money the state allocates. This year the number discussed was 2.4 percent, but the funds allocated for NFE salaries do not guarantee everyone a 2.4 percent increase, with annual performance and salary survey data (using CUPA data) being used as determining factors for salary enhancements.