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Further precautions needed on campus

Nick Archuleta, Bismarck

With higher education instructors, researchers, support staff and students returning to campuses, it is more important than ever that every precaution is taken to ensure a safe and healthy restart.

The members of North Dakota United spoke up loudly and clearly this summer with a set of principles for a safe reopening. North Dakota University System and individual campus planning teams did an admirable job developing practices and protocols for safely reopening. Providing mass testing opportunities, developing conventions for social distancing, and having effective and meaningful communications with the campus communities across the state, moved us in the right direction.

However, while everyone wants a return to normality, I am afraid that our campus communities will suffer the same fate as other institutions around the country that, after one or two short weeks, have already closed and instituted online learning. With dozens of known cases at UND and NDSU, these early outbreaks beg the question: What are our protocols to change the mode of instruction and protect students, staff and faculty if there are outbreaks?

Every student deserves the type of college experience that suits them best, and we have an obligation to ensure their safety while on campus. We also understand the ramifications should enrollment decline. After years of being chronically underfunded, the potential decline in enrollment should campuses not open will result in the loss of jobs and negative impacts on our local economies. University campuses are among the largest employers in the communities where they exist and are critical economic drivers.

To say these are unsettled times is an understatement. We will, however, prevail if colleges and universities continue to listen to their campus communities and all of us own our responsibility to each other to keep each other safe and healthy.

(Nick Archuleta is the president of North Dakota United, the state’s largest union of public employees and educators.)

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