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University leaders, community members address fall updates at faculty meeting

Interim Chief Diversity Officer Sibby Anderson-Thompkins presents the five-year change process for institutional change regarding diversity, equity and inclusion at the virtual Faculty Executive meeting on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

The Faculty Executive Committee held its first official meeting for the 2020-2021 school year Monday to discuss updates to UNC's fall reopening plans and community standards, COVID-19 testing, athletics and diversity and equity initiatives.

Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman presented summary data from a survey of incoming and returning students about their instruction preferences. Chapman, who received the data on Sunday, said 89 percent of surveyed new students prefer a face-to-face or hybrid model, and nine percent are choosing Carolina Away. Of the responses from continuing students, almost 78 percent preferred face-to-face or hybrid instruction types. 

The information had been requested from Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, and the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost. Incoming and returning students were asked to convey their instruction preferences by June 30 but could continually update their responses.

Chancellor’s updates

At the beginning of the meeting, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz presented updates on fall reopening plans. Committee members were then given time to ask questions about the given updates. 

Guskiewicz called North Carolina’s current situation with COVID-19 “concerning.”

“It’s not where we had hoped that we would be,” Guskiewicz said. “At this point we’re awaiting some guidance from the governor’s office later this week to see what may be next with regard to the phases.”

Regarding the recent federal guidelines restricting remote instruction for international students, Guskiewicz said the University signed a letter on July 13 with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and other member institutions, calling on Congress to urge the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw the guidance and restore institutional flexibility. 

The policy has since been rescinded, as announced July 14 at a hearing for the case filed by Harvard University and MIT asking courts to bar the guidance.

Guskiewicz also said the University’s testing protocol allowed for athletics activities to be suspended after 37 positive cases were reported among UNC student-athletes, coaches and Carolina Athletics staff last week.

“We’ll continue to learn from these clusters of cases,” Guskiewicz said. “We work closely with the Orange County Health Department, and I think got to the right place in this regard.”

Fall instruction

Nearly 56 percent of courses are scheduled to be taught in person, and the remainder is scheduled to be taught online, with some offering an in-person component, Guskiewicz said.

University leaders are still working on instruction types and off-ramps for the fall semester. Guskiewicz said a primary concern was whether or not the University had the supplies to carry out necessary COVID-19 testing.

Some metrics that the University plans to look at in off-ramp considerations include the number of positive cases, rates of increase and testing access. Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin said the University is working with UNC Health Care and Campus Health to ensure proper access to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

“It’s a question that Bob and I are asking our leaders at UNC Health Care and Campus Health, if we have the supply chain necessary, such that we can manage this in August as needed,” Guskiewicz said. 

Guskiewicz said an attestation document for the campus community would be released online soon.

“This will be an acknowledgment of the standards, that they’ve read the community standards and agree to adhere to them,” Guskiewicz said.

Blouin said the attestation document is not intended to be a waiver or to absolve the University of responsibility.

“We really moved away from this being legally advised or a document that had legal ramifications, versus a document that was really asking them to attest to their commitment to our community standards and their awareness of the fact that we’re doing a lot of work to make sure that this is a safe place for them to be, but that there is some risk that we cannot control,” Blouin said.

Guskiewicz said any potential off-ramp decisions before the start of the semester will be made in partnership with the UNC System Office, based on guidance from the Office of the Governor and the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. For decisions regarding athletics programs, Guskiewicz said the chancellors and presidents of ACC-member schools would receive updated guidance on July 22.

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Student concerns

Guskiewicz and Blouin said they have been meeting with different groups of students, receiving feedback on community standards for reopening, the attestation document and current off-ramp considerations.

“We’re taking their feedback very seriously,” Guskiewicz said.

In recent months, students, staff and faculty have expressed concerns with the enforcement of community standards, particularly about off-campus parties and Greek life. Jonathan Sauls, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, said the University is working closely with the Greek community regarding community standards.

UNC has four different Greek councils: Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council, Greek Alliance Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council. Two of these councils have houses that are privately owned and not on University property, Sauls said.

“We have secured commitments from both our IFC chapters and also Panhellenic, the ones who are housed,” Sauls said. “They are going to engage in virtual recruitment for the fall semester. Normally, they are the councils who would recruit in person during the beginning of the fall semester.”

Sauls said the University is also working with these chapters and their house corporations to make house-specific plans for health and safety upon returning to Chapel Hill. He said that everyone, from students to faculty and staff, would have to follow the community standards to participate in keeping campus safe.

“We will all need to hold one another accountable for the process of ensuring that we don’t get complacent about the observation of the social distancing requirements,” Sauls said.

Rising sophomore Greear Webb spoke in the meeting about the lack of student input into reopening decisions. Webb serves on the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity and is co-chairperson of the Black Student Movement’s Political Action Committee.

He said students should be directly included in reopening decisions, and emphasized that no students have been on the committees implementing the Roadmap.

“When the metaphorical trigger is being pulled, there are not students in the room, and that’s a bit concerning,” Webb said.

Webb also questioned reopening when COVID-19 cases in North Carolina continue to rise.

“The cases have only increased, so why do we feel so confident that we can protect students and that college students will wear a mask, period, now?” Webb said.

Jalyn Howard, chief of staff of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, said though he does not support reopening, some graduate students must return to campus for their research. He also said graduate students had expressed concerns about grading accommodations and finances.

“If we were to go to remote (instruction) in the middle of the semester, what would that financial implication and refund look like for the students?” Howard said.

Howard said it was important to hold the correct people accountable once the potential health and safety consequences of reopening are evident.  

“I don’t want that to fall on the back of the students at the end of the day; I want that to fall back on all of those who are responsible,” Howard said.

Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said if student-athletes do not wish to return to campus, their scholarships would be protected, but also said that he believes many of them do want to return.

“If you’re looking for anecdotal information, I can tell you that the vast majority of the student-athletes do want to come back because their participation in sport is part of their education experience,” Cunningham said.

Diversity and equity updates

Interim Chief Diversity Officer Sibby Anderson-Thompkins and Chief of Staff in the Office of the Chancellor Amy Hertel presented diversity and equity plans for the University.

Anderson-Thompkins and Hertel serve as co-captains of the University's Strategic Initiative 1, called “Build Our Community Together,” the first initiative of Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good. Carolina Next is a comprehensive plan for University operations, including eight specific initiatives to "create change at Carolina for the greater good."

The first strategic initiative was modified to reflect changes to UNC’s operations after COVID-19. Hertel presented three different objectives within the first initiative, which has a mission to create a “more diverse, equitable and inclusive community.”

On June 22, professors Kia Caldwell and Sharon Holland presented a Roadmap to Racial Equity to the Faculty Executive Committee. Hertel said some elements from this roadmap were embedded in the strategic initiative and that this equity work would continue to evolve.

“We want to make sure we can inform each other’s work and bring this into the strategic work and efforts of the University and all the good people engaged in this work,” Hertel said.

Anderson-Thompkins spoke about the changes to infrastructure that could improve diversity and inclusion at UNC.

“One of the things we have done is create this campuswide diversity, equity and inclusion council that will serve as an advisory group and recommending body to the chief diversity officer, but also each person serves as a lead DEI officer for their school or college,” Anderson-Thompkins said.

In addition to the creation of this council, the five-year institutional change process for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) presented by Anderson-Thompkins included the following:

  • Deliberation and discussion of frameworks, change process and action steps
  • Development of DEI strategic plans on a campus and school/division level 
  • Intensive evolving implementation that creates leadership commitment, accountability, capacity building and investments
  • Leads to significant institutional change on a structural and systemic level 

The Faculty Executive Committee will continue discussing equity on campus as the long-term strategic initiatives efforts are continued. The committee will also host another community-wide conversation on July 24. The next Faculty Executive Committee meeting will be held on July 27.