Before approving the waiver, board members commended UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli for his dedication to preserving normalcy for students as much as possible. The approved proposal will help guarantee the minimum required number of minutes spent in direct instruction to receive federal financial aid is met.
On Sept. 26, UNC Wilmington informed students, faculty and staff the university’s official start date following damage from Hurricane Florence would be Oct. 8, extending the time students have been away from school to nearly four weeks.
In the email to UNCW students and employees, Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli said the university originally hoped to only have a select group of displaced students from two dorms, which sustained significant damage, delay their return beyond Oct. 1.
However, after being made aware of almost 100 off-campus students in need of housing, in addition to employees from the Wilmington area whose houses had been impacted by the hurricane, the university delayed its start date for all students.
“I will be out of school longer than I was in school,” UNCW first-year and Raleigh native Lucy Krueger said.
To accommodate for missed instructional time, the university cancelled fall break and a reading day and pushed back its final exam schedule by one day.
Despite the calendar adjustments, Rich Ogle, senior associate provost for Academic Affairs, said major concerns, such as the length of Thanksgiving break and fall semester and the date of graduation, remain unchanged.
“I think it’s understandable,” Krueger said. “I don’t know how much it’s going to do because we’re getting three days back total for missing four weeks, but they’re doing all they can, I guess.”
Ogle said the UNC system policy mandates institutions have a minimum of 750 minutes of instructional time per credit hour. However, Ogle said UNCW’s policy for mandatory evacuations is to have all course requirements and activities, including online instruction, suspended for the entirety of the evacuation. Ogle said power was not fully restored to the final group of residents in Wilmington until Sept. 21.
“We don’t want students doing work while they’re trying to figure out where to live,” Ogle said.
Students and faculty have lost 550 to 600 minutes since classes were suspended.
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Bill Bolduc, communication studies professor, said he believes the focus in the coming weeks for faculty should be learning outcomes. Bolduc, who is teaching three classes this semester, is aware changes will need to be made to class curriculum.
“When we start again, we’re going to be cramming a 15 week semester into 11 weeks, and that’s a lot that we have to work around,” Bolduc said. “I think a lot of it is going to be up to individual faculty to figure out how do we really get to the heart of what each class is about.”
Academic Affairs also made daily schedule changes and will be increasing all classes by five minutes for the remainder of the semester, Ogle said. He believes the vast majority of faculty will likely assign some out-of-class activities due to the number of missed minutes of instructional time. Ogle said Academic Affairs has been borrowing the model followed by some Texas schools after Hurricane Harvey hit.
“Our guiding principle when developing this plan was to inconvenience faculty and students as little as possible, make the schedule from here on out feel as normal as possible,” Ogle said. “It’s too much to ask to make up 600 minutes in nine weeks of instructional time left over, and so we’re paying attention to the mental health and the well-being of both our faculty and our students by looking for targeted forgiveness of certain minutes.”
Bolduc expressed a similar sentiment, saying faculty are going to have to be "really humane."
"We have to realize that number one, students have just come through something really difficult, and number two, a lot of them are still going to be dealing with it," Bolduc said. "They may be back at school a week from Monday, but their heads might still be at home, or they may have lost all their stuff in the flooding.”
In response to the damage caused by Hurricane Florence, a group of UNCW students began We Wilm Rebuild, an initiative aimed at providing supplies and aid to communities within Wilmington. The university has also created two assistance funds, for both students and faculty, to address the needs of residents and affected individuals.
Despite some pushback, Ogle said the delay in restarting classes was “an intentional decision.”
“When you’re managing an almost 17,000-student university, you have to keep the decisions at the global level,” he said. “We simply had to pay more attention to making sure that students and faculty and staff were as safe and recovered as possible.”