U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-New Hampshire, was welcomed to Durham on Tuesday afternoon as part of a roundtable with senior leadership of the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The event took place in the courtyard of UNH’s Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics and focused on the fall semester reopening plans in preparation for the UNH student body to return to campus next week.
Pappas, whose congressional district includes UNH, was joined in the event by the senior leaders of UNH: President James Dean, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Administration Christopher Clement, Senior Vice Provost for Research, Economic Engagement and Outreach Marian McCord and UNH Chief of Police Paul Dean. They started the roundtable off by discussing the pre-arrival testing process, as well as the required testing at the Whittemore Center this week.
In preparing for nearly 16,000 undergraduate students to return to Durham, UNH has had to increase spending significantly in order to ensure a safe campus for students in the fall. These costs include personal protective equipment, coronavirus (COVID-19) tests and an increase in spending on cleaning procedures and staff.
Pappas, who has been focused on confronting COVID-19 in the Granite State and supporting small businesses and affordable COVID-19 coverage, expressed concern about the potential for a loss in revenue that many higher education institutions are having to face.
“I can’t help but think of the cost of this as tremendous,” said Pappas.
President Dean explained that the costs that are being incurred to assure the health, safety and well-being of students. This concern in revenue stems from the recent Huron financial report that was conducted and the announcement from UNH in April that there was a loss of approximately $30 million due to refunds to students.
“At the same time as we have our COVID issues, we are trying to handle our current costs,” said President Dean.
Pappas was also interested in hearing of UNH’s plans for contact tracing and how that would work on such a large campus.
“Contact tracing will be primarily done through DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services],” said Chief Dean. He explained that the university and Health and Wellness will be aware of positive cases before the state is, due to UNH being able to operate a lab internally, however, all results will still be reported to the DHHS.
In addition to contact tracing, Pappas also asked President Dean what the status of UNH international students currently is and if they can attend this semester in-person.
“Many of them have been with us since March,” said President Dean, citing the initial shutdown of campus which resulted in students being sent home to learn remotely for the remainder of the spring semester.
“For new students, it’s definitely going to be a challenge,” he continued. According to the CDC, foreign nationals who have been in Iran, China, the European Schengen area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and Brazil in the last 14 days may not enter the United States. There can be specific exceptions, but it is unclear if international students are one of them.
The senior leaders of UNH have found it important to watch and learn from other schools around the country that have already began their fall semesters – many of which were in person and have had to quickly pivot to online classes due to outbreaks on campus. It has been important for them to keep in mind, especially in terms of the effect on student life and organizations.
“We’ve created a plan that’s amazingly flexible but safe for students,” Chief Dean explained to Pappas. “We will hold those accountable who do not follow policy,” he continued. Chief Dean pointed out that holding students accountable is not meant to scare students, but rather it is meant to keep students and the UNH community safe.
These measures to keep students safe and healthy include “hospital-grade cleaning” according to Clement, as well as owing it to having such a strong relationship with the town of Durham.
“I think Todd Selig and his team are exceptional, and they’re doing a great job,” said President Dean.
McCord also emphasized the importance of research on campus to Pappas and how it has slowed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the increase in spending on COVID-19 prevention measures, research on campus has had its own drawbacks, and McCord hopes to see money put back into it without it taking away from next year’s budget.
Pappas supported the flexibility in funding and also understood the importance of research, as UNH is the Granite State’s flagship research university.
In terms of state-wide federal COVID-19 efforts, Pappas said “A lot of people are turning to us who have never had to reach out to a federal office before.”
In an interview with The New Hampshire, Pappas said in order for students to achieve success in the university’s reopening plans “We all have a role to play. These reopening plans are well-developed, and it was very significant that a testing lab has been set up in a very short amount of time that can allow students to be tested twice a week.”
“We all have to maintain social distancing, wear a mask, wash our hands in order for everyone to be safe around us. There’s a great deal of personal responsibility.”
As for the upcoming state election on Sept. 8, Pappas hopes to engage youth voters in the time of the pandemic.
“This is the opportunity for young voters to step forward and let us know what they believe and to be a part of our democratic process and I’m hoping that the strong turnout that we saw in the 2018 midterms elections will get even stronger in 2020. There’s so much at stake in our future in terms of the economic opportunities that are available, what our healthcare system looks like, whether we can address climate change. The less young people are fully engaged in taking part in that conversation, they are not going to realize the changes that they could do.”