'We will not be going back to normal': Faculty Council looks ahead
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 Faculty Council held its final meeting of the academic year Friday via Zoom. Topics of discussion included COVID-19, remote learning, a recent statement from the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, changes in leadership and updates from the task force on promotion and tenure.
Mimi Chapman was introduced as the new faculty chairperson-elect during the meeting.
Interim faculty chairperson Lloyd Kramer opened the meeting by addressing the unusual circumstances under which they were meeting.
“As people in every community and organization are now saying, we are living truly in uncharted waters,” Kramer said. “We’re all struggling to balance our professional and personal lives in a precarious balance as we float in our little houseboats on these choppy waters.”
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said that while plans are constantly changing, University officials and infectious disease experts are meeting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to discuss how COVID-19 will affect operations going forward.
While Guskiewicz still hopes to have students on campus in the fall, he said research is starting to suggest that the traditional schedule will need to be altered.
“If we were to start up in the fall, which we’re all certainly hoping for that, we realize that we will not be going back to normal,” Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin said. “None of our infectious disease, virology, public health experts are telling us that we’re going to be able to go back in the fall, even if things look favorable, and consider conducting business as usual.”
The biggest concern is large gatherings, such as new-student convocation and large introductory classes, Guskiewicz said. He said these may need to be held alternatively in the fall.
“We think we’re going to have a much clearer picture by the end of May,” Guskiewicz said. “And certainly by mid-to-late June, I think we’ll have a better picture of what August could look like. So if it was looking as if it was going to be risky to open back up and bring people back all at one time in mid-August, it could be that we’re looking at a delayed start.”
Guskiewicz said there are currently five to six scenarios being considered for the fall.
He also stressed the importance of UNC Hospitals and the student research currently being conducted. Blouin added that the University's responsibility continues to grow, as a Microsoft Academic ranking recently named UNC the highest U.S. research university for coronavirus research.
Guskiewicz said he has been in contact with the governor’s office to share the findings of student research.
Additionally, he said economics students are consulting with the state government to set up a plan to restart the economy after the COVID-19 crisis passes.
In the meantime, Guskiewicz said he has been dropping in on Zoom classes and increasing communication with students both on and off-campus.
The Student Care Hub and weekly video messages are some of the ways Guskiewicz is trying to keep the Carolina community connected, he said, especially as the end of the school year draws near and senior week traditions cannot be carried out.
Blouin said the University is more concerned than ever with students’ mental health given the added stresses of COVID-19.
“So please continue to be thoughtful, reflective, compassionate towards our students as they try to continue out the semester and plan for their future,” Blouin said.
Guskiewicz and Blouin also addressed the budget shortfalls due to COVID-19 but shared that there are currently no specific plans in place. While there will be no official hiring freeze, they said they are instructing departments to only fill essential positions at this time.
Guskiewicz said he has received several individual emails from graduate students expressing their concerns about a loss of funding and opportunities this summer due to COVID-19 and social distancing practices.
The Graduate and Professional Student Federation recently released a statement including their concerns and a list of demands on behalf of the graduate population.
Guskiewicz said he found their demands to be reasonable, and that he and Blouin responded to the GPSF on Friday.
Kramer also said the faculty shares the concerns of the graduate students.
Though they did not specify actions going forward, Guskiewicz and Blouin emphasized UNC’s dedication to its student body in these challenging times, including graduate and professional students.
Task force on promotion and tenure
The UNC Task Force on Future Promotion and Tenure Policies and Practices presented two resolutions, both of which passed. Voting was conducted using Poll Everywhere.
The first resolution was to do away with the current 18-month rule for awarding tenure. Previously, faculty could not be offered tenure within the first 18 months of their employment at the University. The second was for the council to back the task force’s suggestions going forward.
Additionally, the council decided to postpone a scheduled update on a new data science program due to the current health crisis.
The session was closed to the public after the attendants sent Kramer off with a unified “hip, hip, hooray,” since handshakes and clapping were impossible over Zoom.