UNT System holds town hall on the university’s COVID-19 response

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UNT Virtual Town Hall

Article Originally Published by Brooke Colombo on North Texas Daily

The UNT System held a virtual town hall Tuesday where each president gave faculty and staff updated information on the system’s COVID-19 responses and how the community can ensure their physical and mental health.

UNT President Neal Smatresk said the university launched an emergency relief fund and has delayed payment deadlines until the end of the semester to aid students who are financially struggling.

“We know that there’s going to be a huge economic strain on them to be able to make tuition payments and other types of financial obligations that they have,” Smatresk said. “I have contributed to [the fund] personally. We’re doing what we can to make sure that our students know that we’re caring for them.”

Smatresk said the university will soon make the fund available on their website for those who wish to contribute.

Smatresk also said housing costs are being reimbursed upon move out, dining vouchers will be available, commencement ceremonies are postponed to August and summer classes will be primarily online.

“We know that there were a lot of students who have interrupted their residence hall and dining experiences here on campus,” Smatresk said. “We’ll postpone commencement till August. If the situation hasn’t resolved [by then], we’ll roll it into our fall graduation ceremonies, which will mean we extend from three to four days, or maybe five. That’s okay because we think every kid deserves a chance to cross the stage.”

UNT Dallas and UNT Health Science Center have followed similar protocols to the UNT’s Denton campus by closing campus and moving classes online.

Students who were in the residence hall at UNTD and do not have other housing options are currently staying in a nearby hotel. UNT has also offered those UNTD students the opportunity to stay in its residence halls in Denton.

“I think there’s a sense of real solidarity,” UNTD President Bob Mong said. “Almost a billion students worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, are now learning remotely from early grades to secondary to post-secondary so we’re part of something much bigger. While there are very difficult times, we’re all in this together.”

UNTHSC President Michael Williams said transitioning online has posed its challenges, as some students are required to work at hospitals the university partners with.

“Some of our students were asked not to come back for rotations right now,” Williams said. “One health system wanted our pharmacy students to continue because the workforce was very important for them. It varies from point to point but our team’s been working hard to make sure our students graduate.”

Williams is also a licensed physician who has practiced anesthesiology and critical care medicine for over 20 years. He gave advice on how people should handle the pandemic.

“Anxiety and depression is something we’ve got to pay a lot of attention to, and anxiety and depression in our teams,” Williams said. “I really want to come forward with a message of hope and a message of trying to lessen the fear: This will end. And it may become a virus we deal with every year but we will have a vaccine and we’ll have other treatments for it.”

Mong said UNTD is reaching out to the North Texas community to help those in need.

“We reached out to our community and the North Texas Food Bank will be on campus for two and a half hours next Tuesday morning, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. to hand out food to students, staff and faculty if they need it,” Mong said. “We’ve invited the community so our partnership mentality towards the community is also in play right now.”

Smatresk said the university is providing virtual advising for students, faculty and staff in need of mental health support.

“I believe that this disruption signals a true change in the American higher education front,” Smatresk said. “Given the severity of the circumstances we have, that’s the silver lining that we’re looking for.”

Featured Image: UNT President Neal Smatresk holds a presidential town hall in February, in March the town halls are now being live streamed due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Denton County. Image by John Anderson

Source: North Texas Daily