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Faculty Senate hold meeting through Zoom, discussing coronavirus, student retention and technology accessibility 

Faculty Senate hold meeting through Zoom, discussing coronavirus, student retention and technology accessibility 

Faculty Senate hold meeting through Zoom, discussing coronavirus, student retention and technology accessibility 
March 19
15:34 2020

The Faculty Senate held its March meeting through Zoom Video Conferencing where President Neal Smatresk and other administrators presented information to faculty on the university’s COVID-19 plans and addressed their concerns.

Smatresk briefed the senate on various subjects and said recruiting events and summer orientation will be virtual unless the pandemic is over by then, construction projects will likely be delayed and the university has still not made a decision on in-person graduation.

“Our first concern is always for the health and security of the campus and our second concern is that our students graduate on time and aren’t penalized in any way for the disruptions that we’re experiencing,” Smatresk said. 

Beyond the university’s first two priorities, Smatresk said administrators have concerns about the future of the university, especially when it comes to international students and retention.

“Our biggest concern is that we will see a dearth of international students next year, and that we may have a problem with retention,” Smatresk said. “Students are getting their education online and they might decide that they can do that anywhere.”

Smatresk said another concern of administrators is how COVID-19 will impact the university’s budget.

“Across the state, higher education institutions have serious concerns of major budget shortfalls in the coming year,” Smatresk said. “We might need to address some of those within this budget here. We don’t really know. This is such a dynamic situation.”

While the university has not officially announced whether it will give any compensation for housing, dining or transportation, Smatresk said he is wary of it.

“I will be candid with you: if we were to [give refunds] the cost would be extraordinary,” Smatresk said. “So we’re trying to figure out other ways we can manage to both [incentivize] students to return, as well as offer some credit for those who didn’t get to utilize their full services that they paid for.”

Provost Jennifer Cowley also gave updated information on students’ ability to access technology and software, like Adobe Creative Cloud.  Seven hundred laptops will be available for students to check out on a first-come-first-serve basis.

“We’re working through the numerous software issues and our IT staff have been very focused on trying to look at every contract we have and how we can help support our faculty,” Cowley said. “The biggest need has been around Adobe Creative Cloud. We’ve been able to work out an arrangement with Adobe to provide access to our students, but we’re in line with other universities to get the software available to our students. We just ask for your patience as we try to wait for Adobe to get to us.”

In addition, Cowley said the library will remain open for students to alternatively access computers and software. The fate of other facilities, like the Pohl Recreation Center, is still uncertain. 

“I suspect that that facility will not be staying open for long,” Smatresk said. 

Cowley also said the university has reviewed 7,698 course plans and approved most of them. Students will receive more details about their courses via email Thursday.

With 73 participants and many more meetings and class sessions to come, some faculty members questioned whether Zoom can sustain the demand. 

“Zoom in teams and other web tools are experiencing some strife, all over the world, so we need to be patient,” Adam Fein, the vice president for digital strategy and innovation said. “I think this senate meeting is a great example of how you can use it well with a large group.”

While there is still uncertainty around how the university will handle the rest of the semester and possibly summer, Smatresk said he feels confident.

“I feel like our brand is showing our resilience, our caring nature and our creativity are coming to the [forefront],” Smatresk said. “I think that in this seriously disrupted time, we will actually emerge stronger, with more technical agility and we’ll be able to do better at moving us forward as a 21st-century institution of higher education.”

Featured Image: UNT President Neal Smatresk speaks during the presidential town hall on Feb. 26, 2020. Image by John Anderson

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Brooke Colombo

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