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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: We all saw this coming

clusterfuck (n) : a complex and utterly disordered and mismanaged situation


Signs promoting social distancing and safety at the Die-In Protest on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020 as Jennifer Standish, a UNC graduate student in the Department of History, speaks outside of South Building on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The protest called for UNC to transition to fully remote classes for the Fall 2020 semester after a letter of caution sent to Chancellor Guskiewicz by the Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart.

We’re only a week into the semester and four COVID-19 clusters have already surfaced on and around campus. 

Two COVID-19 clusters — one at Granville Towers and one at Ehringhaus Residence Hall — were reported Friday. On Saturday, UNC confirmed reports of a third cluster at the Sigma Nu fraternity house, and a fourth, at Hinton James Residence Hall, was reported Sunday.

In the messages, UNC clarified that a “cluster” is five or more cases deemed "close proximity in location," as defined by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. 

We all saw this coming. In his fall semester welcome message, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote, “As always, remember that it is our shared responsibility to keep each other safe. Every person you walk by on campus will be counting on you to diligently work to prevent the spread of the virus.” 

But University leadership should have expected students, many of whom are now living on their own for the first time, to be reckless. Reports of parties throughout the weekend come as no surprise. Though these students are not faultless, it was the University’s responsibility to disincentivize such gatherings by reconsidering its plans to operate in-person earlier on.

The administration continues to prove they have no shame, and the bar for basic decency keeps getting lower.

They chose to ignore the Orange County Health Department, which recommended that the University restrict on-campus housing to at-risk students and implement online-only instruction for the first five weeks of the semester. They chose to ignore the guidance of the CDC, which placed the University’s housing plan in the "highest-risk" category.

Even faculty — though many of them continued to teach classes in-person — saw it coming. 

Now, as we prepare for a second week of classes, many questions remain unanswered. What factors will trigger the so-called off-ramps, and what will they look like? How many positive cases will it take for the University to realize the danger they’ve put us in? 

Particularly concerning is the fact that the University has refused to disclose any additional information, including the official number of positive cases, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. 

But, don't we have a right to know? There is a significant difference between five positive cases and, say, 20 — and the potential for exposure extends far beyond those identified through contact tracing. Furthermore, many have expressed doubt as to whether FERPA actually prevents the University from disclosing case numbers. According to guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education, schools may release information regarding COVID-19 as long as “a student’s identity is not personally identifiable.”

But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that UNC has used FERPA as an excuse to withhold relevant information from the campus community. For years, UNC refused to release disciplinary records of students found responsible for sexual assault on campus. Only after a long, expensive legal battle and a ruling from the North Carolina Supreme Court did the University finally turn over the information. 

The Editorial Board recognizes that the decision to transition away from in-person classes is one that ultimately lies with the Board of Governors — not the administration. However, Guskiewicz, Provost Bob Blouin and the rest of the administration are far too eager to attribute blame to parties other than themselves. Matters are rarely as complex as UNC makes them seem. The chancellor of a public university with a multi-billion dollar endowment is hardly powerless — not now, not ever. 

We’re angry — and we’re scared. We’re tired of the gaslighting, tired of the secrecy, tired of being treated like cash cows by a University with such blatant disregard for our lives. 

UNC is often recognized for the ambition demonstrated by its students and faculty, and the administration’s insistence to maintain an on-campus presence amid a pandemic can definitely fall under that.

One thing’s for sure — this roadmap leads straight to hell.


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