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Faculty executive committee considers UNC's online education

Faculty members are up in the air about UNC’s future in online learning.

At a faculty executive committee meeting Monday, the discussion was primarily focused on distance learning and online education.

At the meeting, the committee expressed concern about the University’s future in online learning.

“The world is changing, and we need to be driving the change as opposed to reacting to it,” said Leslie Parise, a committee member.

Jan Boxill, chairwoman of the faculty, said the University is attempting to keep up with a national trend.

“We are trying to make changes with the times,” she said.

Online learning is not a new concept for the University.

In the past, the School of Public Health was deeply invested in distance education, but budget cuts of up to 30 percent in recent years have halted these investments, said Jo Anne Earp, a committee member.

But Parise discussed the need for UNC to embrace distance education and online learning so that the University is not left behind.

“Discussion needs to happen so we aren’t left in the dust,” she said.

Several committee members disagreed.

“We are doing things that can’t be done online,” said Rachel Willis, a professor who attended the meeting.

Willis, as well as other committee members, emphasized the need for interaction in a classroom setting.

“Chapel Hill has been rather reluctant to embrace distance education the way other schools have,” said Steven Bachenheimer, a committee member.

“We are so traditional — our state system is so traditional,” he said.

Some committee members questioned whether new technology with online learning would be a threat to campus faculty jobs.

“These are not small issues,” Willis said. “The biggest thing for this committee to do is to keep their eye on the big picture.”

The committee also discussed how to strengthen state higher education and the Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions’ plans for the UNC system.

Willis said the main goal of the Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions is to strengthen higher education in North Carolina.

Committee members also discussed how to best respond to the topic of the UNC athletic scandals.

Committee members agreed that as an academic institution, UNC has a responsibility to provide those athletes with an academic degree.

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“Those (corrective) processes are clearly being strengthened as we speak,” Willis said.

Members also discussed the need for willingness to reallocate faculty and programs around the University.

Members also discussed changes in the University’s leadership, and the obstacles they pose. Chancellor Holden Thorp announced on Sept. 17 that he will step down in June.

Committee members worried that the biggest issue now for the new chancellor will not be addressing issues like resources for faculty or research growth, but cleaning up recent scandals.

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