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University System holds “Ask Me Anything” event for employees

University System holds “Ask Me Anything” event for employees

University System holds “Ask Me Anything” event for employees
October 24
19:51 2020

University System leaders launched the new livestream “Ask Me Anything” event series Thursday, where a panel of experts discussed various topics such as case reporting transparency, more in-person courses, spring athletics and staff cuts. 

Dan Tenney, vice-chancellor and chief financial officer, hosted the event. Chief Communications Officer Paul Corliss moderated the discussion and covered topics including COVID-19 safety, diversity and re-employment opportunities. Faculty and staff were able to submit questions either in advance via email or live with the YouTube livestream’s chat function.

“The last several months have been a challenging time for us all,” Tenney said. “As we work together, faculty and employees [are] all coming together for the good of our students and really helping to change how we do education.”

The event began by addressing the university’s case counter page on its COVID-19 dashboard. An unidentified faculty member asked why the university was not providing “accurate” case totals.   

“One of the things that is very difficult to do is appropriately inform people on the limitations of information,” panelist Steve Maruszewski, vice chancellor for strategic infrastructure, said. “We are completely transparent. There is nothing that we are trying to hide.”

Maruszewski said there is a difference between active and positive cases and how the university handles both, which “leads to the belief that [the university is] not being accurate or forthright.” Some student and faculty health information is protected by medical privacy laws and cannot be disclosed. False-positive cases also cause the dashboard total to change, Maruszewski said.

Corliss then addressed another audience member’s concern regarding university individuals or offices that do not follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines. COVID-19 concern hotlines dedicated to each university institution can be found on the university system homepage.

“It’s really the behavior of our employees that’s going to make us successful or not at the end of the day,” Maruszewski said. “We’ve demonstrated that the right processes will lead to the right conditions, but we all have to abide by them.”

Bob Brown, senior vice president for finance & administration, addressed what the university campuses will look like in the spring. While the Dallas campus will stay predominantly remote, the Denton campus and Health Science Center in Fort Worth will see a 15 percent increase in face-to-face course sections, Brown said. The panelist said many programs require a hands-on learning aspect, whether in a lab or a studio, and the university is concerned with making those sections “meaningful.”

Brown said the university plans on having a full spring season of athletics, including the seasons that were delayed this fall, while following CDC guidelines.

“Those seasons may not look like seasons have in the past,” Brown said. “But we’re going to try. Those student athletes, whose personal protection is our main goal, we want them to be safe.”  

Wanda Boyd, assistant vice chancellor for equity, diversity & inclusion, then discussed the university’s effort to address diversity and equity issues within the institution. Boyd said the university is “creating a foundation that has not been present” by forming advisory groups for each campus. There are also plans to hire a diversity recruiter to address the lack of minority faculty and monitor the university’s affirmative action plan data.

“What we’re trying to really understand is what [does] our current data look like, where are the gaps, and why do we have the gaps,” Boyd said. 

The panel closed by addressing recent staff cuts due to financial loss from the pandemic. Brown reported that in June, 100 positions out of 4,400 were eliminated. While a certain number of those jobs are “just gone,” Brown said he encouraged former university staff to apply to other positions at the university. 

Boyd said there is a hiring preference given to applicants who previously worked for the university. 

“We certainly know that there have been layoffs of some of our folks that, as we return to more on campus, we anticipate some of those coming back,” Tenney said. “Some of [the layoffs] will be a little longer term.”

Featured Image: The UNT letters stand outside the Welcome Center on Sept. 28, 2020. The university held an “Ask Me Anything” forum in an effort to create transparency on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic on campus. Image by John Anderson

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