April 21, 2020

Dear Members of the Montana University System Family:

It is safe to say that I have never been prouder to serve the Montana University System. The bravery, resilience and patience shown by our students and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of extraordinary. Now, because of our efforts as a university system coupled with the diligence of citizens across our state, we are in a position to work with health experts to start considering how we can safely and enthusiastically welcome students back to our campuses for a healthy fall semester.

This will be an important step for our students and our campuses, but also for the state – the 13 campuses and 45,000 students of the Montana University System will be engines that drive the relaunch of Montana’s economy in 2020 and beyond.

To design our approach to the fall semester, I am announcing the formation of the MUS Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force. The task force will combine established public health protocols and knowledge of our unique campuses to develop strategies across our operational areas, from student housing to athletics and everything in between. Strategies will account for the fact that our operational areas are best described as a complex ecosystem – every area is connected to, and sensitive to, changes in another area.

Though the task force may not aim to recreate “business as usual,” we expect that our “new normal” will recognize the challenges of COVID-19 while also capitalizing on opportunities to adopt durable innovations that will make academic and campus life better than it has ever been for our students and employees. Throughout its work, the task force will promote three key principles: safety, learning and community.

The task force members are drawn from across MUS campuses, including some of our brightest and most influential leaders in the areas of academic affairs and student success. The group itself will be limited in size in order to promote meaningful dialogue and agile thinking. As the task force develops preliminary recommendations, ideas will be vetted through substantial and timely outreach to three critical groups:

  • Campus CEOs, the MUS Board of Regents, and statewide leaders
  • Public health authorities at the federal, state and local level
  • Campus implementation teams (residential life, health, registrars, facilities, athletics, etc.)

The MUS Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force will be chaired by MUS Deputy Commissioner Brock Tessman. He will report directly to me and the MUS Board of Regents. The task force will begin work this week and meet over the next few weeks to develop initial guidance. As conditions evolve, the task force will meet periodically throughout the spring and summer to adjust its guidance as needed.

MUS Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force Membership:

  • Melinda Arnold, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, MSU – Billings
  • Sandy Bauman, Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs, Helena College
  • Carina Beck, Director, Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success, Montana State University
  • Les Cook, Chancellor, Montana Technological University
  • Leanne Frost, Director, General Studies Division, Great Falls College
  • Stephanie Gray, Dean, Gallatin College Montana State University
  • Jon Harbor, Executive Vice President and Provost, University of Montana
  • Nicole Hazelbaker, Dean of Students, University of Montana – Western
  • Dave Krueger, Dean, College of Technical Sciences, Montana State University – Northern
  • Bob Mokwa, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost, Montana State University
  • Brock Tessman (chair), ARSA Deputy Commissioner, Montana University System
  • Steve Thompson, Director of Campus Recreation, University of Montana

Crystine Miller and Rebecca Power will staff the task force from their positions at the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education. I am grateful to this entire team, and the larger group they will be relying upon, for agreeing to serve. Designing a careful, but adjustable plan for a Healthy Fall 2020 will be an immense undertaking, but this is the kind of challenge the Montana University System will always embrace and conquer.



Clayton T. Christian
Commissioner of Higher Education