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Editorial: UNC's coronavirus response — the good, the bad and the ugly

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz makes opening remarks ahead of the awards at the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Lecture and Award Ceremony on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. "We must continue to confront our history so we can learn from that history, fuel from the learnings and move forward together," he said.

The spread of COVID-19 has dramatically shifted the course of the spring 2020 semester. In the face of change and uncertainty, the University has taken many steps to address the coronavirus pandemic, and the Editorial Board is here to weigh in on these decisions. 

The good:

  1. The emergency grading option. On Friday, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced in a campus-wide email that students can declare spring 2020 courses as pass/fail until Aug. 7. Such courses will still count toward major continuation and graduation requirements.

    Additionally, students who are unable to complete their work due to coronavirus-related hardships will receive a grade of "CV," rather than an Incomplete. These students will have three more months to complete their work than they would for an Incomplete.

    This policy change gives all students the agency to manage the next couple of months as adults, and determine what’s best for themselves, their mental health and their loved ones. It also allows professors and teaching assistants a similar level of flexibility, as many of them are having to make enormous professional and personal changes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 
  2. Accommodations for work-study students. Many students are still responsible for rent, groceries and other expenses amid the coronavirus pandemic, so the continuation of their work-study jobs is important. According to the Work-Study Office, students will be allowed to continue their work-study remotely if possible. If a student’s work-study does not lend itself to remote work, the Work-Study Office will make arrangements for alternative funding for the remainder of the term.
  3. Campus Health, as well as Counseling and Psychological Services, will remain open. Many students rely on Campus Health as their primary care provider and may not be able to afford to go to the doctor back home. Thankfully, the University announced that Campus Health will remain open during this period of reduced campus operations.

    Additionally, CAPS is open for in-person therapy or medication management. Students can also access CAPS through its 24/7 hotline, and therapists have been trained to conduct HIPAA-compliant teletherapy sessions via Zoom, so students can get the help they need as they adopt social distancing measures that have the potential to negatively impact their mental health.

The bad: 

  1. The level of communication we’ve received from the University. Updates from the administration regarding COVID-19 have been vague at best. Though Saturday’s Alert Carolina message informed us that members of the UNC community have tested positive for COVID-19, it left out essential details such as when, where and how many. We need timely, thorough updates from the University in order to avoid the spread of misinformation and make informed decisions regarding our own health and safety.
  2. Lack of clarity on refunds. Though on-campus housing and dining are closed to the vast majority of students, a decision has yet to be made regarding potential refunds of these fees. These decisions will be made by the UNC System after April 1, according to an announcement from Guskiewicz.

    The Editorial Board calls on the UNC System to prorate these services and issue refunds to students who were forced to leave campus due to COVID-19. Students who paid these fees could lose thousands of dollars on services they only used for half of a semester — universities should not pocket this money at the expense of students and families who may already be struggling to make ends meet right now.

The ugly

  1. Carolina Housing laying off its Resident Advisors. On Tuesday, the University announced it would close residence halls to all residents for the remainder of the academic year with few exceptions. RAs were later notified their effective date of termination would be April 1, leaving them without a job and without on-campus housing. These student employees, who will not be paid the remaining portion of their stipend, now face undue financial hardship as they scramble to find a sublease or return to their permanent residence. 

Deciding what is best for tens of thousands of people is never easy — especially when navigating an unprecedented situation that changes daily. Nonetheless, the Editorial Board urges the University to make decisions with the community's best interests in mind, and avoid placing further financial or emotional hardships on its students and employees in this tumultuous time.

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