Chancellor's Communications 2020
Oct. 14, 2020
We have now reached the midpoint of the semester and I commend everyone for doing a great job in keeping our campus a safe place to learn and work. I am impressed with our COVID-19 Response Team’s work who has spent countless hours on campus COVID-19 safety preparations and plans to ensure we are ready to shift according to our ever-changing environment.
I have two important announcements and urge you to thoroughly read through this information.
Spring 2021 Academic Calendar
We have recently received guidance from the Montana University System on the upcoming
Spring 2021 semester. Key points include: 1) Plan on a largely in-person instructional
approach; 2) Use our scheduled “spring break” as an instructional period; and 3) Be
prepared to transition courses to remote and/or online delivery if necessary.
Following consultation with my Cabinet and faculty, the decision has been made to begin Spring semester classes on the originally published date of January 13, 2021. However, the first three days of classes will ALL take place online. This is to provide a two-week window after New Year’s festivities, to ensure the health and safety of our campus community. Following Martin Luther King Day on Monday, Jan. 18, which is a university holiday, in-person classes will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
No spring break: It is also important to note that there will be no spring break. This decision was made to limit travel during the traditional spring break to keep our community safe and do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Finals week and Spring Commencement: Spring semester finals week will be Monday, April 19 through Thursday, April 22. Commencement remains scheduled for May 1 at this time, but keep in mind that plans can shift to align with our current environment this spring.
An updated Spring 2021 academic calendar will be available on the MSU Billings website
shortly. Thank you for your patience as additional details are currently being discussed
and more information will be available soon.
Fall 2020 Commencement
In light of the recent Health Officer Order from RiverStone Health limiting gatherings, the decision has been made to honor our graduates via a virtual Commencement Celebration instead of the in-person ceremony scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 21. Alumni who graduated in Summer and Fall of 2019 and the Spring and Summer of 2020, including Fall 2020 Graduates and their families and friends, are invited to participate.
We know this is not the optimal format in which we wish to celebrate the successes of our graduates. This is a gut-wrenching decision; however, the COVID-19 safety restrictions lead us, reluctantly, to make it. We are extremely proud of our graduates and will do everything possible within this structure to give our graduates—and their families the recognition they deserve. Details are currently being discussed and more information will be available soon.
Small acts and sacrifices for the common good have kept our community safe and healthy. Thank you for your understanding and for continuing to do your part to keep MSUB a safe place to learn and work.
We are in this together. GO ‘Jackets!
Sept. 25, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
Yesterday, we completed our second COVID-19 Town Hall. We corrected last week’s audio issues and this week seemed to go extremely well. Thanks for your patience.
COVID continues to challenge us with changing information and guidelines at both the national and local levels. I want to thank you all for taking time to catch these important campus updates and new information. If you have suggestions on how we can improve the Town Halls, feel free to share them with me directly or email them to email@example.com.
Going forward, our response team will endeavor to answer questions sent to firstname.lastname@example.org in a timely fashion as they come in. Similar questions that are received will be addressed in the Town Hall. We will ensure that any questions sent to us via email will be kept confidential.
I also want to address a few other items below:
Ordering disinfecting and safety supplies: Each classroom and meeting room on our campuses are equipped with a robust “Cleaning Caddy” which holds disinfecting and safety supplies. Should you notice that these items are running low in a specific room, please email email@example.com to let them know where they need restock. Also, if your department is running low on disinfecting and safety supplies, please complete this ordering form.
MSUB’s Voluntary COVID-19 Self-Reporting Form: Should you test positive for COVID-19, please consider completing our Voluntary COVID-19 Self-Reporting Form. Your responses will assist our COVID-19 Response Team in taking swift and proper action to ensure additional disinfecting and safety protocols are implemented immediately. Since this is a voluntary form, we cannot require you to complete it, but hope that you do if necessary, to help us protect our community. We will ensure confidentiality to the best of our ability; however, we cannot guarantee complete confidentiality due to activities that may need to occur to ensure the health and safety of our campus community.
Get your flu shot: It is important to get your flu shot every year, but especially this year as we are in the midst of a pandemic. I encourage everyone to get the flu shot to minimize your risk of contracting the flu and COVID-19 simultaneously, as this could become a serious health issue. The flu shot is at no cost to employees through our MUS insurance if you use an in-network pharmacy. Employees covered by the MUS plan can also receive a free flu shot during the WellCheck event October 27-29 in the Glacier Room between the hours of 6:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Remember to bring your insurance card.
Our students can receive a flu shot through our Student Health Services for $20 cash, check, or it can be billed to their student account. Have them contact Student Health Services at 657-2153 to schedule an appointment. We are also working to get a student flu shot clinic on campus. More information will be forthcoming.
I understand that this is a stressful and challenging time for us all. It is vital that we take time to prioritize our wellness every day and nurture our mental health. It is very easy for our emotions to be heightened, as the future of the pandemic is uncertain.
I encourage everyone to work together, now more than ever on solutions for improving our campus health and safety. We need to continue to think and act as an orchestra, each of us different, but necessary to the symphony that is a successful fall semester. It is also important to treat everyone with kindness and speak and act with grace and humanity toward each other.
We are in this together, and together we will do great things.
Stay safe and well,
August 24, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
The University of North Carolina, Notre Dame, University of Wyoming, and Michigan State University have experienced spikes in COVID-19, some extreme enough to prompt an early transition to remote-only instruction. What can we do to preserve on-campus classes at MSUB? Please know that even small things each of us can do will provide large benefits for the entire campus community.
One of the best things each of us can do to help slow the spread of the virus is to step up our health and safety practices. The facts are clear: If more people consistently wear face coverings, practice proper social distancing and hand hygiene, and stay home when sick, the incidence of cases and the likelihood of a spike will be reduced.
It is great to see the widespread use of face coverings on campus, particularly inside buildings, but even outdoors. I commend all of you for protecting our community by following these simple, yet effective health and safety practices. Since these practices are relatively new to us, observing social distancing while conversing with friends and colleagues can be difficult and it is natural to forget to stay six feet apart. Do not be offended if someone reminds you to keep the distance and mask-up and please do not hesitate to remind others–pointing to your own mask is a good gentle reminder. We are our brothers and sisters’ keepers in this endeavor.
If you find yourself positive for COVID-19, I ask that you notify us immediately through our Voluntary COVID-19 Self-Reporting Form. Your responses will assist our COVID-19 Response Team in taking swift and proper action to ensure additional disinfecting and safety protocols are implemented immediately. Since this is a voluntary form, we cannot require you to complete it, but hope that you do if necessary, to help us protect our community. We will ensure confidentiality to the best of our ability; however, we cannot guarantee complete confidentiality due to activities that may need to occur to ensure the health and safety of our campus community.
It has been exciting for me to see students and faculty on our campus bringing with them the same eagerness and excitement that accompanies the beginning of every academic year. I understand that many of us are also arriving with some anxiety and uncertainty but maintaining our community of learners on campus is where we want to be.
We will win or lose this challenge by how we conduct ourselves. When off campus, let us practice social distancing, wear our face coverings, avoid large gatherings, and keep our hands clean. We can set an example for the larger community. Also, remember to do a daily self-check for COVID-19 symptoms, and, if sick, stay home and seek appropriate care.
It is easy to protect ourselves, our neighbors, and our loved ones with these relatively small gestures. Consider postponing that party or gathering until a time in the future when we can come together again with less risk and less uncertainty. This will not last forever.
Small acts and small sacrifices for the common good now will help us stay where we want to be in the coming months: here on campus and in person. I am counting on all of you to do your part.
We’re in it together. GO 'JACKETS!
July 23, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
It is with a heavy heart that I deliver this news to you. Recent serious health events have led me to make a difficult decision to step down from my position as MSUB Chancellor, effective Aug. 4. I am deeply saddened to leave MSUB under these circumstances. We have accomplished a lot since I came on board, but I look forward to seeing the university continue to grow.
A transition plan for my position will be developed by the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, in coordination with Montana State University, which provides administrative oversight to the campus.
I will miss MSUB terribly. We have incredible students, staff, and faculty who truly care about moving MSUB in the right direction and it has been an honor to work with everyone. I will especially miss our students. One perk of my job was to get to know them and learn of their unique backgrounds and stories. Our students are what makes MSUB such an incredible institution.
July 16, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
Yesterday, Governor Bullock released a directive providing mandatory use of face coverings in certain settings in Montana counties currently experiencing four or more active COVID-19 cases. Please note, however, that the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) has state autonomy to provide the MUS system with specific guidance to its campuses to ensure the needs of the system are met.
To that end, we have just today received guidelines from OCHE pursuant to last week’s recommendation from the MUS Healthy Fall Task Force for MUS campuses, to develop face covering requirement practices. This new guidance provides MSUB with the framework needed to now develop our own campus-specific face covering practices and protocols. The MUS campuses mask protocols will be complimentary to the Governor’s directive. Moreover, MSUB’s Back to Business Taskforce is convening tomorrow (Friday) to begin the process of developing a comprehensive face covering protocol that meets the needs of the MSUB community.
Although we strongly encourage all students, employees, and visitors on campus to wear face coverings today, details regarding the specifics of the new protocol will not be in place for a few weeks. Rest assured that MSUB’s revised face covering protocol will be available to campus no later than August 1, 2020. For now, please refer to the mask-wearing protocol we currently have in place in our Back to Business Fall 2020 Action Plan.
Mask-wearing is strongly encouraged for all students, faculty, and staff while on campus, even when social distancing is possible. In situations and circumstances where social distancing is not possible, mask-wearing is expected. This is subject to change pending the forthcoming mask-wearing guidance from the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) and subsequent Board of Regents action.
All members and visitors of the university and City College campus will be expected to implement and monitor their own health and safety behaviors which requires the cooperation of all.
Thank you for your support of our campus community health and well being.
July 10, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
I hope you had a nice July 4th weekend and were able to enjoy the outdoors in our beautiful state. I am truly in awe of the beautiful landscape Montana has to offer.
On Wednesday, July 15, we will be releasing our Back-to-Business Plan. This plan will outline the health and safety protocols we are currently implementing and plan to implement on campus for when our students return to campus this fall. The plan is comprehensive and provides detail for each area of university campus and City College. I want to thank everyone who took the time to provide feedback on our plan. There were lots of great suggestions, many of which have been incorporated into our plan.
This past Wednesday, the Montana University System’s Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force reconvened to discuss a face mask requirement for all the state’s campuses. The Task Force expressed support for a mask policy that emphasizes a culture of community health and education to the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, who will subsequently work on policy details and an implementation plan. MSU Billings will follow that guidance as soon as it is available. Please know we will do everything in our power to keep our students, faculty, and staff as safe as possible on campus.
Additionally, we are planning to hold the University Update on Thursday, August 13 at 10 a.m. in Petro Theatre. To maintain proper social distancing, we will block off every third seat, and have those who wish to attend in person RSVP via a link in the email invite which will be sent out soon. We will also live stream the event so everyone can listen in. This link will also be sent out prior to the event.
I know many of us are waiting for the final announcement from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) on the status of fall sports. The CEO board and athletic directors of the GNAC met in a joint video conference yesterday to evaluate the status of fall sports impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They will continue to monitor state, provincial, and local health guidelines, and expect to make a decision on the status of fall sports on July 17. I will relay the final decision once we know.
As a reminder, please refer to our COVID-19 Central webpage for the latest campus updates and information. For any larger announcements, I will communicate with campus directly through email. Thank you again for working with us to make MSUB a safe place for people to work and learn. I wish you and your families good health and a restful summer. I look very much forward to seeing you again this fall.
June 26, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
In light of the recent announcement regarding the positive campus COVID-19 case, I wanted to touch base with you to make sure you know where to find information for campus and general COVID-19 information so that you can educate yourself and know how to help us protect our campus community.
It is important for everyone to know that MSU Billings has a strong working relationship with Riverstone Health, which is our city and Yellowstone County health department. We have been and continue to be in close communications with them regarding COVID-19 and continue to support the monitoring, testing, tracing efforts, advised quarantines, and isolation protocols. Riverstone Health conducts all contact tracing for our county, as necessary, as required by Montana law.
In the instance earlier this week, individuals who were in “close contact”’ with the
COVID-19 positive person were notified and are at home in quarantine.
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “close contact” is defined as:
- Being within approx. six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before illness onset, until the time the patient is isolated.
- Having direct contact with infectious secretion of a COVID-19 case—such as being coughed on or sneezed on.
It is also important that we protect the identity and privacy of individuals who test positive for COVID-19. HIPPA laws prohibit anyone from divulging personal details to anyone—media or other members of campus—anyone.
Additionally, we are required by the federal Clery Act to notify our campus community of any instances where the health and safety of our campus is compromised. Therefore, we sent out an Emergency Notification about the positive COVID-19 case. It is important that we remain in compliance and keep our community informed.
- Back to Business/COVID-19 Webpage: Since March, we have had an up-to-date webpage with information about campus changes and resources directly linking to our national, state, and local health officials. We recently added a section where you can find MSUB-branded downloadable and printable COVID-19 signage for you to post in your areas on campus. As things change on campus, please refer to this page often for the latest updates and information.
- Back to Business Action Plan: As you saw earlier, I sent out our MSUB Back to Business Action Plan draft for campus community comment. We value your input and want to ensure you have the chance to provide any constructive feedback you may have with regards to our plan. Please refer to my earlier email to access the plan draft and for instructions on where to send your feedback to. We anticipate the plan will be finalized and distributed mid-July.
We have also implemented and are currently working to implement many safety measures as outlined in our plan draft, such as installation of plexiglass in outward-facing workstations, rearranging workspaces to allow for safe social distancing, provided departments with cleaning caddies, and have installed hand sanitizing stations around campus. Our Facilities Services department also follows CDC-recommended cleaning and sanitizing practices.
We also strongly encourage wearing cloth masks in areas where social distancing (six feet) cannot be properly maintained and while we can cannot mandate it, we support those who wish to wear masks at all times. Please know we are working diligently to ensure MSU Billings is a safe place for staff and faculty to come to work and for students to learn. I appreciate the hard work many of you have put into this effort.
Earlier today, our Chief of University Police and Student Health Services Director witnessed a cyclist involved automobile accident and was immediately on scene taking care of the injured community member. Within minutes, our University Police, Billings Police, and emergency services were on scene working in concert to manage the situation. It is teamwork like this that will get us through these unnerving and difficult times.
I know these are trying times. Now more than ever it is important to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy. Get outside and enjoy our beautiful state safely. I am headed out to enjoy the Stillwater trail in Nye this weekend. Take care of yourselves and your families.
Let us work together to keep our campus community safe. Thank you for your understanding
June 26, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
As many of you know, our Back to Business Task Force has been working hard over these past few months to ensure that we have a solid COVID-19 health and safety plan in place in order to safely welcome our students back to campus this fall.
We have completed our Back to Business Action Plan draft and are welcoming input from our campus community. Our plan is based off of the Montana University System’s Fall 2020 Healthy Task Force Blueprint, which was released earlier this month.
Should you have any recommendations or input with regard to our plan, please submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Monday, June 29 at 12:00 p.m. As a member of our MSUB community, we value your input and look forward to reading your comments.
June 25, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
Evelyn Noennig, who has been my executive assistant for the past two years will be retiring at the end of this month. Evelyn has done a fantastic job managing my busy schedule and keeping the Chancellor’s office running smoothly. She will be greatly missed.
Since we are facing uncertainty pertaining to enrollment and our budget, I have decided to pause the search for a new executive assistant. In the interim, Rita Rabe Meduna, currently working in the Chancellor’s office and Alisa Batchelor, currently working in the Office of International Studies, will be taking on the executive assistant duties in my office. I am confident they will both do an excellent job.
Please join me in wishing Evelyn well in her retirement and join me in congratulating Alisa and Rita in their new roles. I am fortunate to work with such great people who are dedicated to our university and look forward to working with Rita and Alisa.
If you have a chance, stop by the Chancellor’s office early next week to wish Evelyn well.
June 19, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
Juneteenth (June 19) is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the historical significance of this date and I would like to explain why this is a date we should all celebrate. The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1,1863 officially ended slavery by declaring that more than three million slaves living in the Confederate states were now free. It was not until two and a half years later, that this news, of the enslaved being declared free and the Civil War officially ending, was delivered to the people of Texas by Union soldiers on June 19, 1865.
It is important to take time to honor this key milestone in our nation’s history. Many of the founding American colleges and universities have historic ties to the slave trade—slaves were used to build many of these higher education institutions. Our university was not built by slaves, but as a university community, we must recognize and honor these moments in history.
We must never forget the struggles that our African and African American people have faced. Juneteenth is an opportunity to appreciate the progress made and contributions of African Americans to our society, as we spend time reflecting, with a sense of pride, honor, and renewal.
This commemoration is a day of peace and liberty for all. Although COVID-19 will not allow us to gather, please share in celebration and take time to educate yourselves about this important historical moment. Together we can overcome all obstacles in our path.
June 4, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
As Yellowjackets, we believe in creating an environment where students and employees from diverse backgrounds can succeed and where every individual is seen, valued, and able to thrive. I would also like to remind everyone that our 2018 mission statement embodies this message: Montana State University Billings delivers a transformative education that empowers students from diverse backgrounds to succeed.
Our resilience and community spirit have been tried recently with a series of disturbing acts of racism violently directed at members of the black community across our nation. Unfortunately, we live in a world where discrimination is also directed at other races, genders, religions, etc.
The response understandably has been anger and fierce opposition toward those who have betrayed their charge of upholding the law and protecting people by abusing their power and committing these heinous crimes of violence. Members of our own community feel these tragedies on a very personal level and are not “all right.” We hope justice will prevail against those culpable of such heinous acts.
The hurt and pain of these recent events reverberates throughout communities across our country, including our Yellowjacket community, and it is understandable that all eyes turn toward local police departments for answers. We are proud to stand alongside our University Police Department and their record of professionalism. They embody values of Service, Excellence, Respect, Accountability, and Integrity and value the dignity of every member of our campus community and the neighboring communities they serve. The level of safety and protection they provide 24/7 to our university community, and the level of respect they demonstrate in the daily situations they encounter speaks volumes. I want each and every one of you to know that we will continue to work hard to ensure our students, faculty, and staff have a safe and inclusive place to study and work, and we will fight to maintain this every day. Those who abuse this trust will be held accountable.
Without question, 2020 has not been the year any of us wanted it to be. We have seen political dysfunction, a global pandemic, economic distress, racial tension, and much anxiety. In facing these struggles and uncertainties, we need people who can think creatively, develop workable solutions, and solve difficult problems. As Yellowjackets, when we are tested, we do not shy away. When we are challenged, we do not fade into the background and shrink from our responsibilities. When we see injustice, we will not condone it and we will take a stand.
Moving forward, we will be exploring additional ways our campus community can continue to foster a culture of respect and equity that allows everyone to work and study without fear. More information will be forthcoming.
June 1, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
The Montana University System Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force has been working over the past six weeks to develop a blueprint to guide colleges and universities as we develop plans for a safe return to campus life this fall.
The Task Force released its comprehensive handbook of guidelines today. While our MSU Billings Back to Business Task Force is already well into our preparations for fall semester, the new handbook provides us with system-level recommendations and protocols to guide our work.
You are welcome to review the handbook, which is posted on the Montana University System (MUS) website. However, please keep in mind that the handbook is a high-level blueprint on which we will base planning specific to MSU Billings.
While the handbook does not offer specific details on MSU Billings, it demonstrates the intensive, high-level planning that is underway to facilitate a safe return to campus and our other MUS campuses.
As noted in the handbook, the guidance released today is the result of extensive research and discussion, with feedback solicited from experts across the MUS as well as a broader population of employees, students and administrators across the system. The guidelines have been crafted with, and reviewed by, officials from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
As the planning process continues at the campus level, we will provide you with more detailed information as it becomes available.