PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — No formal vote was recorded, but the state Board of Regents who govern South Dakota’s public higher-education system declared Friday that the eight state campuses would start offering university courses face to face to students again for the 2020 fall semester.
Janelle Toman, the regents’ director of communications, issued the announcement shortly after the regents met and spent two hours in a closed-circuit private session and then held a public discussion with the university presidents in a public teleconference.
“After the meeting concluded, Board President John Bastian called me. We developed a statement that I then issued on his behalf,” Toman told KELOLAND News.
Because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the regents initially extended spring break through March 20 and moved all classes temporarily online.
Toman said Friday that no formal votes were taken for those decisions, either.
Dakota State University president Jose-Marie Griffiths told the regents Friday she expected enrollment this fall could be down 15 to 20 percent. She said it would be helpful if the South Dakota board made a definitive statement about the fall plan.
Griffiths explained that “a large number of international students” won’t be able to return to the United States because visa processing was at a standstill.
Students who weren’t comfortable with the online experience this spring might opt to take a gap year, she continued, and many high school seniors who graduate this month seemed “very concerned” about finances and uncertain about committing to a four-year environment.
Griffiths noted that other public-university systems elsewhere in the nation have “more and more” been announcing they’ll hold on-campus classes this fall. She said South Dakota needed to, too. “And that would be to the benefit of the students and staffs and the institutions generally,” she said.
“Sounds like it makes a lot of sense,” regent Kevin Schieffer of Sioux Falls replied.
Northern State University President Tim Downs said his campus in Aberdeen and others have been working on best practices for the new COVID-19 environment, including procedures for quarantining students who feel ill. “That will be one of the ‘new-normal’ factors we’ll be charged with as universities,” Downs said.
South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn said he and the other public-campus presidents are “very concerned” about the financial effects on their universities. Dunn said he visits the Brookings campus nightly with his wife. He described it as a “very lonely” place these days.
University of South Dakota President Sheila Gestring said administrators and faculty have been considering many possible changes for the Vermillion campus, such as whether clear-plastic shields are needed at the fronts of classrooms.
“I think the six of us have never worked more closely and it’s been wonderful as we have worked through this pandemic,” Gestring said about the work of the presidents.
The regents also oversee Black Hills State University at Spearfish, BHSU-Rapid City, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology at Rapid City, USD Community College for Sioux Falls, and two specialty campuses for K-12 students, the state School for the Blind and Visually Impaired at Aberdeen and the state School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls.
Bastian, a retired state circuit judge from Belle Fourche, praised the “Herculean” efforts of the campus presidents. He noted they had been meeting once a month before the pandemic but have been gathering by teleconference more often since, and lately twice per week.