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NMU board hears COVID-19 update, passes measures

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson talked about various measures the university is taking during the COVID-19 outbreak at a special Tuesday meeting of the NMU Board of Trustees.

“It is a minute-by-minute change,” Erickson said.

One of those changes was the board meeting virtually via Zoom instead of in person.

“This is a time of a thousand details,” Erickson said. “Our entire team is really working through a whole series of ‘What ifs?’ or ‘This is the particular situation I’m in.'”

He said NMU has about 80% of students living in on-campus apartments, with roughly 40% of students in residence halls still living there. However, Erickson said it is believed that the current 40% figure will drop to about a third.

“If anything, though, I’ve received phone calls from parents I talked to directly that are so appreciative that we have kept our dorms open,” Erickson said.

The board unanimously OK’d a residence hall credit for those who check-out early.

The credit is for $820, and carries over remaining NMU Dining Dollars to the next semester for students living in the residence halls with the dining plan. The credit will be for students who check out of their rooms by 5 p.m. on April 3.

The amount of credit may be adjusted to reflect appropriate offsets for students receiving certain institutional aid and outstanding account balances.

Students may forgo the credit and opt to remain in the residence halls through the rest of the semester, which ends on May 2.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order on Monday to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Erickson said students are managing well, but acknowledged some things have changed.

For instance, a new grading option that can be determined at the end of the semester — satisfactory, unsatisfactory — will be available for students to explore with faculty members, he said.

“Our faculty and staff are really reaching out to make sure that our students are able to be as successful as possible,” Erickson said.

On Northern Michigan University’s update page at www.nmu.edu/covid, the issue of students losing off-campus jobs has been addressed. For immediate food and hygiene items, Northern is allowing the NMU Food Pantry on the first floor of Gries Hall to remain open during its normal hours of 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. All items are free.

NMU also encouraged students to consider filing for unemployment to see if they are eligible, since the state of Michigan has relaxed some of its eligibility requirements for employment and underemployment benefits. The Healthy Michigan Plan offers health insurance options for Michigan residents as well.

The board also unanimously approved an associate degree program in indoor agriculture as part of the College of Technology and Occupational Sciences.

Trustee Alexis Hart, chairperson of the Academic Affairs Committee that met earlier Tuesday afternoon, explained the three-year pilot program.

“I think it’s a very exciting program,” Hart said. “It is going to be one of the first known programs of its kind and it will also parlay itself very well into some of the existing programs that we have right now, such as, for example, medicinal plant chemistry.”

In a separate announcement, NMU said the program will prepare students for careers with medicinal plants and agricultural food production as well as the indoor growing system industry. It also will allow them to grow plants year-round in northern climates to address potential food insecurity issues.

“This is the first program we know of that focuses equally on both plant growth and the indoor growing environment,” said Evan Lucas, an NMU construction management professor, in a news release.

Lucas co-authored the proposal with biology professor Donna Becker and Seaborg Center consultant Kim Smith Kolasa.

Students will learn about associated growing and environmental infrastructure systems, which include hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics. They also will delve into other aspects of indoor agriculture: facility maintenance, space design and construction, climate-control systems, plant biology, chemical and nutritional makeup of plants, and basic business and accounting practices.

“We think there’s huge potential for students coming out of this who might want to pursue a career in the agriculture industry,” Becker said in the news release. “Tumultuous weather patterns caused by climate change and the increasing global population amplify the need to look beyond traditional outdoor agriculture for more efficient and sustainable farming options.”

The new associate degree, whose program will be in the Jacobetti Complex, will complement and ladder into existing bachelor’s degrees such as medicinal plant chemistry, botany and business.

Lucas said the future plan is to add a bachelor’s degree in indoor agriculture, which would include more research on the efficiency of plant growth within different settings, culinary collaboration, business and property development, and additional plant growth courses focusing on both production and business.

The board also unanimously approved a motion reaffirming a series of initiatives, which the board passed in December, that represent a $5 million investment.

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