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Monday September 20th

Students, faculty advocate for a more equitable Roadmap — and a more equitable UNC

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz discusses free expression and constructive dialogue with Faculty Council members on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.
Buy Photos Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz discusses free expression and constructive dialogue with Faculty Council members on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.

Since Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced UNC’s fall reopening plan in May, University administration has received criticism from faculty, staff and students about the lack of equity in the plan.

Faculty, staff and students have sent recommendations and signed petitions for University leaders to change the reopening plan — many of them advocating for a fully remote semester. 

Though community members across campus have expressed concerns with reopening, classes begin Monday, following the original Roadmap for Fall 2020. The plan includes in-person, hybrid and fully remote classes.

Many of those who recommended changes to the reopening say the University could have started with a better plan if they’d considered more equitable measures from the outset.

Roadmap implementation

According to Guskiewicz’s first communication about the Roadmap for Fall 2020 on May 21, the plan was developed with input from UNC leadership, students, staff and faculty, including health experts.

“In addition, the University has continued to work closely with state and local public health officials, peer institutions and UNC System leadership,” Guskiewicz wrote.

Procedures are made in partnership with UNC System leadership, which includes the Board of Governors. In a Faculty Executive Committee meeting on July 13, Guskiewicz said that any off-ramp decisions before the start of the semester would be made with the UNC System Office.

The Roadmap for Fall 2020 has been continually changing, with weekly updates sent on Thursdays to the UNC community. Since mid-June, Provost Bob Blouin has served as the executive director of the Roadmap for Fall 2020. According to University Communications, Blouin’s roles include managing the creation and implementation of policies “that will enable us to return to on-campus operations.”

As of Aug. 4, other members of the Roadmap Implementation Team are: 

  • Vice Chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management George Battle
  • Associate Provost for Strategy and Special Projects Deborah Clarke
  • Office of the Chancellor Chief of Staff Amy Hertel
  • Director of Emergency Management and Planning Darrell Jeter
  • Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Charles Marshall
  • Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jonathan Sauls
  • Senior Vice Provost for Business Operation Rick Wernoski
  • Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity and Compliance Becci Menghini
  • Vice Chancellor for IT and CIO Michael Barker 
  • Interim Chief Diversity Office Sibby Anderson-Thompkins, according to UNC Media Relations. 

Jonathan Pruitt, former vice chancellor for finance and operations, previously served on the team, before becoming chief operating officer of the UNC System.

The 11-member team, led by Blouin, works in conjunction with other entities on campus to coordinate and update fall reopening plans. But the Roadmap Implementation Team is not a voting body of the University.

Diversity, equity and inclusion recommendations

The UNC Office of Diversity and Inclusion and members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council sent a letter to the Roadmap Implementation Taskforce dated July 23. The letter addressed the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations at UNC and listed seven recommendations for a more equitable decision-making process.

“During the last few months, our advice and recommendations have not been sought in any meaningful way and the times we have initiated discussion, what we have said has gone wholly ignored,” the letter stated.

Gretchen Bellamy, the senior director for education, operations and initiatives and Sibby Anderson Thompkins, interim chief diversity officer and special advisor for equity and inclusion, signed the letter.

The recommendations are the latest in a series of responses to the Roadmap from students, faculty and staff. Previous actions from this month alone include:

  • Speakers at the American Association of University Professors and UE Local 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union’s, virtual town hall highlighted the risk of coronavirus for Black and brown campus workers on July 16.
  • The Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity sent a letter with 10 recommendations to both UNC and UNC System leaders on July 17.
  • UNC housekeepers delivered a petition demanding administration respond to their concerns about students returning to campus on July 22.

Bellamy and Anderson-Thompkins told The Daily Tar Heel their letter was intended to only be sent internally.

“The reason why we wrote this was because it is incredibly important that our colleagues understand that what we will be doing is a culture shift,” Bellamy said. “And this is a really challenging, hard thing.”

The seven recommendations in the letter were: 

  • Including the interim Chief Diversity Officer as a voting member of the Roadmap Implementation team.
  • Briefing the DEI council on COVID-19
  • De-densifying housing and dining halls
  • Ensuring access to courses for students who do not return to campus
  • Strengthening safety and prevention measures for campus — for example, frequent testing and contact tracing for everyone 
  • Changing the Carolina Together website to be more equitable and inclusive 
  • A simulation activity for the implementation team to experience the challenges of students, faculty and staff.

The seventh recommendation parallels a recommendation from the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity called a “Mock-Academic Day,” — during which nine named University leaders would go through an in-person experience on campus, similar to how students will upon reopening.

“We recognize that no one intentionally sets out to create disparities, but often leaders are simply unaware that it is happening or how to avoid it,” the letter stated. “As articulated by UNC Black Faculty, Faculty of Color, and Indigenous Faculty in the Roadmap for Racial Equity (June 22, 2020) and the Commission on Campus Equality & Student Equity Roadmap recommendations (July 18, 2020), there is an urgent need for leadership to adopt more effective strategies to ensure future decision and policymaking are equitable, transparent, and fair.”

In its closing, the letter reads, “We must do better,” and poses questions for the Roadmap Implementation Team to consider. Bellamy and Anderson-Thompkins said these questions are not limited to the reopening plan.

“We are now training and engaging our colleagues in a way that’s very different from what we’ve done in the past in order for not just the Roadmap, but for any decisions like this, we want people to pose certain questions that then lead them to saying: what are the potential harms?” Anderson-Thompkins said. “Who is going to be most impacted by these decisions? How do we engage these communities in advance to ensure that there is no unanticipated harm posed to these communities?”

A statement from UNC Media Relations said the following changes were made since July 23, in response to the letter and the recommendations from the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity:

  • Providing resources for improved internet access for more than 2,100 students on need-based aid 
  • Reducing density in campus housing and extending no-penalty period for housing contract cancellations through Aug. 7  
  • Clarifying the process of distributing CARES Act funds
  • Increasing communication about campus operations and the fall semester experience
  • Clarifying information on the campus health insurance requirement for remote-only students
  • The series of actions from students, faculty and staff to advance the equity of the Roadmap

Anderson-Thompkins is now a part of the Roadmap Implementation Team.

“I appreciate that Sibby Anderson-Thompkins and Gretchen Bellamy reached out with their concerns and recommendations to make the fall planning process more inclusive,” Blouin wrote in a statement through Media Relations. “Their voices are important, and they are correct that Carolina still has a lot of work to do to put the University’s values into action and build the welcoming and inclusive community that we all envision.”

Anderson-Thompkins and Bellamy said they would like equity considerations to become more incorporated in the operational processes of the University now, and moving forward. 

“This is one event, but this is actually how we want everyone thinking about equity,” Anderson-Thompkins said.

@praveenavsoma

university@dailytarheel.com

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