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Dean hosts town hall, announces second semester plans

University of New Hampshire (UNH) President James Dean announced the official cancellation of spring break, but promised there would be a couple of extra days off built into the calendar during the upcoming spring semester. 

President Dean and other members of UNH faculty held a virtual town hall on Zoom on Oct. 13 during which they answered questions from the UNH community and additionally gave an overview about the spring semester and what spring classes would look like. To view the recording of President Dean’s remarks, you can go to the media section of the UNH website. Dean said he believes UNH has a good chance to make it to the end of the in-person fall semester Nov. 20. 

“I will say many people were skeptical of our ability to pull this off and I do want to emphasize how proud I am of the university community’s efforts to make this work. Faculty, students and staff have all stepped up to show our determination and to show our resilience,” Dean said. He also thanked the town of Durham and Town Administrator Todd Selig for their support this semester. 

In regards to spring break, Dean said “Our plan is to begin classes on February 1st, which is one week later than had originally been scheduled. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to eliminate spring break, as it’s just too risky to send everyone away and then one week bring everybody back. We are planning to schedule a couple of small breaks during the semester and will be publishing the final schedule soon.” 

Dean also announced that the university is currently making plans to hold the spring graduation ceremony for the class of 2021 at Wildcat Stadium in May with reduced seating and social distancing. They are also planning to hold separate commencement ceremonies for students who graduated in the spring of 2020 when UNH wasn’t able to hold any ceremonies. Dean said they will be sending more information about this to both classes in the near future. 

“It does look like we may be able to compete in some winter sports,” Dean said, after he mentioned that he has talked to athletic staff, athletic conference commissioners and fellow university presidents about the possibility of winter sports. He continued, “This will of course depend on our ability to keep our student athletes safe, both in practice and during any competitions with other teams.” He also mentioned that visiting competitors would be subject to the same strict testing requirements as UNH students. Dean also said they will be making announcements soon on the possibility that football might be played in the spring. 

The town hall then shifted to housing over winter break, as Senior Vice Provost for Student Life Kenneth Holmes confirmed that UNH students can submit a request to housing to remain in their apartments or dorms over winter break and students can leave their belongings in their rooms if they want to. Holmes said that students must request and notify the housing office by Oct. 23 regarding remaining on campus during the break. He also asked students to reach out to him about any ideas for activities next semester as the university is currently working on safe activity ideas for the spring semester. Holmes additionally said for spring semester “the move in process will be very similar to the fall except not as extensive,” as students will have to pick time slots and days on which to move in.  

Senior Vice Provost for Research, Economic Engagement, and Outreach Marian McCord confirmed that UNH will be offering testing for those who remain on campus in the time period between Thanksgiving and the start of the new semester. She said, “there may be a short break [in testing] over the Christmas holidays, we haven’t determined the schedule for the lab during that time yet.” She said they haven’t worked out details for the lab schedule for next semester yet. She said students will be tested twice the week of Nov. 16 before leaving campus, or they will continue testing if they remain on campus during the break. 

McCord additionally discussed UNH’s monitoring of student testing and said that if a student is not handing in their tests twice a week on the days they are supposed to they will get a 24-hour warning on their Wildcat Pass before it is made invalid if they don’t complete their testing. She also said that they publish all their data on the UNH coronavirus (COVID-19) dashboard on the university website. Dean then added that UNH updates the dashboard every day.  

President Dean additionally discussed some of the financial challenges UNH is facing. “The costs of testing, cleaning, protective equipment and lost revenue from the shortened semester run into the tens of billions of dollars. We have instituted the COVID enhanced retirement program and many faculty and staff have actually signed up for this. Our most recent figures are that 201 staff and 44 faculty have requested early retirement. You may also know that our senior leadership team has taken pay cuts in order to reduce expenses.”  

Dean then discussed the need for UNH to hire more professors and that UNH is looking to reduce expenses in other places as well. He also said there will probably be some reimbursement for possible fees that haven’t been used, but he doesn’t know exactly what those will be at this time. Dean additionally promised to make sure UNH was hiring a diverse staff. He said he is currently working with the Chief Diversity Officer Nadine Petty to do this along with creating a new system to address racism and bias incidents at UNH and increase diversity in staff, faculty and students. 

In response to concerns lately about a UNH professor posing as a woman of color on Twitter, Dean said, “to repeat something we’ve previously announced, the faculty member is currently on leave and not in the classroom.” He continued that UNH takes situations like this seriously and has launched an investigation into the matter. 

With spring semester approaching, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Wayne Jones said that UNH has now implemented a new system of tags on classes when they register that will tell them whether the class is in-person, a hybrid or online. He also said that enrollment of new students has gone down under 1%. However, while the number of people in undergraduate studies has slightly decreased, there has been an increase in the number of students going into master’s programs at UNH. Jones also mentioned that UNH had a lot of early interest so anyone thinking of applying to UNH should do so early. He also explained that UNH faculty will have more resources open to them next semester and there will be more training for professors to use online and hybrid learning tools. Jones said across all UNH campuses about 65% to 70% of classes have some level of face to face modality to them, and this will likely remain the same in the spring as long as the coronavirus case levels remain the same. President Dean also mentioned there are two committees dedicated to working on improvements to online and hybrid learning for the spring semester.   

President Dean also encouraged UNH community members to get their flu shots as soon as possible. He mentioned that he has already gotten his and explained that there will be flu clinics available for students soon. He also mentioned that he believes the likelihood of getting a vaccine for COVID-19 during the spring semester is low so UNH will continue with its current modes of operations for the upcoming semester. 

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