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Smatresk discusses in-person plans, rising enrollment at Board of Regents meeting

Smatresk discusses in-person plans, rising enrollment at Board of Regents meeting

Smatresk discusses in-person plans, rising enrollment at Board of Regents meeting
August 15
11:35 2021

President Neal Smatresk reaffirmed the university’s commitment to in-person events and classes for the fall semester at the Aug. 12-13 Board of Regents meeting.

“We will be doing everything we know how to still have that full face-to-face experience,” Smatresk said. “We know for a fact that students are coming back to school because they expect in-person classes. They want networking. They want activities. They want events.”

Smatresk’s comments come as the university prepares for its first majority in-person semester since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Aug. 13, Denton County had 6,237 active COVID-19 cases, while Smatresk said there were currently 31 cases at the university at the time of the meeting. Smatresk blamed the new surge in cases on the increasing prevalence of the delta variant. 

As part of precautions against the virus, the university now mandates COVID-19 testing, though individuals with proof of vaccination can opt-out. While university administration will be making adjustments throughout the semester, Smatresk hoped the testing requirement will promote vaccination. He estimated between 80 and 90 percent of university employees are vaccinated. 

Smatresk said while he would be requesting students to wear masks, he cannot require them due to Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning government entities from mandating masks. As the university is a public institution that receives state funding, it falls under the order.

On Aug. 12, the Denton City Council voted 5-2 to enact a new mask mandate. All commercial entities, city-operated buildings and Denton Independent School District K-12 schools and daycares must require face masks to be worn indoors. Denton joins a number of cities, counties and school districts acting in opposition to the governor’s orders. 

“This makes our lives more interesting,” Smatresk said. “We can now choose to defy the governor or defy the Denton City Council. We’re going to find ways to make sure students wear masks in their classes because if they’re vaccinated this will help keep people safe.”  

 During the presentation, Smatresk also spoke on rising enrollment rates. According to the president, enrollment is up three percent from last year and the university is pushing 41,000 students. First-time students grew eight percent and enrollment in graduate programs grew 27 percent. 

Smatresk estimates on-campus residence at 110 percent with the increase in enrollment leading to waiting lists.

“We’re jammed,” Smatresk said. “Keep in mind, we’re taking College Inn offline. We’ve got more demand for residence halls than we’ve ever had, so it might be time for us to go into debt a little bit more, build a new residence hall.”

College Inn has been set for removal since earlier in the year, with talks of demolition first emerging back in February after the longtime dorm closed at the end of the Fall 2020 semester. Repairs were estimated to cost more than the building was worth. The project, projected to cost $2.5 million, will begin next month and is planned to end next June, per information presented at the meeting

Featured Image: UNT President Neal Smatresk listens to an audience member during presidential town hall on Feb. 20, 2020. Image by John Anderson

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Will Tarpley

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