NSU Campus Town Hall Recap: Oct. 26, 2020

President Downs graphic

Faculty and staff attended the Campus Town Hall on Monday, where NSU President Dr. Tim Downs reviewed the results of the spring 2020 Campus Climate Survey.

The survey was conducted in April 2020 in accordance with HB 1087, a bill passed in 2019 with the purpose of promoting free speech and intellectual diversity at higher education institutions.

The survey measured 14 factors: perceptions of the institution; visibility; personal attitudes and behaviors; co-curricular environment; perceptions of peers; perception of faculty/staff; perceptions of administration; policies; campus accessibility; campus safety; sexual assault; campus training; overall learning; and overall satisfaction. Northern’s results were compared to the reported average of S.D. Board of Regents institutions, and the average for similar Carnegie institutions. In all 14 factors, Northern was the same or above the BOR and Carnegie averages.

One of the key highlights in the survey results: NSU students reported high overall satisfaction in their college experience. Northern scored 80.7 percent in that factor – higher than the BOR and Carnegie averages.

Downs said this is an affirmation of the great overall student experience at Northern. 

“People are really satisfied with who we are, what we do, how we treat them, how we educate them, how we house them, how we facilitate and develop them as young individuals,” he said.

Regarding intellectual diversity, the findings were also positive.

“Students don’t seem to feel they can’t express a divergent opinion, which is important,” Downs said, telling faculty, “You’re doing a very good job of having a balanced classroom.”

Other highlights include talented and caring faculty and staff, and an accessible campus.

The survey results also showed that there are areas with room for improvement, particularly in:

  • Perceptions of peers (factor 5).
  • Perceptions of administration (7).
  • Campus safety (10) and sexual assault (11)
  • Overall learning (13).

These items will likely be referred to a Strategic Action Team to determine ways to work toward improvement.

Monday’s event included a question-and-answer period, including questions about the survey results. The data presented Monday, which came from the BOR, included student responses only. It’s anticipated that the regents will release faculty and staff data, along with a more complete dataset, in the future.

In terms of response numbers, Downs said one caveat is that the survey was conducted right after courses shifted online in the spring, which might have impacted participation. The hope is to conduct the survey every other year.

Other topics discussed during the question-and-answer period included:

  • Current campus climate: Downs said he agrees that the fact that students can’t always be in class right now or hang out in the dorms impacts the campus climate. But, he said, this is a temporary situation.
  • Mask policy: In terms of developing and implementing a mask policy, Downs said the BOR did that when it established a mask Level 3 policy on campus. At some point there will be a vaccine, Downs said, and campus will migrate back toward a normal lifestyle. “Right now, we’re relying on the CDC and science,” he said.
  • Spring semester: The BOR has approved holding spring semester on campus, including spring break, Downs said. This will require even more messaging to remind students to continue safe habits wherever they are. “Let’s just keep commissioning them to be our partners,” Downs said.
  • Groups not wearing masks: Downs said campus leadership has been informed there’s a group of people from off campus in the Student Center every morning not wearing masks. He said this is not appropriate per BOR policy, and encouraged people to self-police as needed and report these incidents.
  • HyFlex model: HyFlex options will need to continue to be available in the spring, since it’s not expected that the pandemic will be over, said Provost Dr. Michael Wanous. Downs said faculty has responded in an exceptional way; it’s a point of pride for NSU.
  • Diversity education: Downs said Northern is trying to determine how to infuse diversity into the curriculum. It’s a decision to be made by faculty members, working with their department chairs and deans.
  • Student engagement: Downs said he is planning a message encouraging students to stay engaged and attend class when able rather than relying on videos, so that this temporary COVID normal does not become the new normal for student engagement.
  • Summer camps and activities: Downs said these can continue as long as they can be done safely and with masks.

At the end of the town hall, Downs said this has been an exceptionally difficult time, and faculty and staff should be proud. With the Thanksgiving break coming up, he encouraged everyone to take a deep breath.

“I think we’re going to have a lot to give thanks for, beyond the norm,” Downs said. “We’ll finish the semester, then take a bigger deep breath, and then we’ll come back and do it again.”

To view the entire PowerPoint presentation from Monday’s Town Hall, click here.