There has been constant discussion about UNC’s true intentions over the return of students to campus. Some believe the University was trying to bring back a sense of normalcy. Others think it was a ploy solely to gain tuition money.
This was a major topic of conversation at UNC’s Faculty Executive Committee special meeting on Monday. Committee members discussed the recent reports of COVID-19 clusters within UNC’s residence halls and off-campus Greek life housing.
About 15 minutes before the meeting began, the University announced that undergraduate courses would be held remotely starting Wednesday.
UNC law professor Eric Muller questioned the University’s original Roadmap for Fall 2020 plan.
“It was reasonable to expect that our campus would, in some way, be a microcosm of the country and the larger sets of challenges that we’re having,” Muller said. “It was interesting to me because that just seems inconsistent with the assumptions that our roadmap was built on in the sense of really expecting a very strong culture of compliance.”
The Roadmap was launched in the last week of May, and students did not begin returning to campus until the beginning of August. Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said the clusters were due to off-campus social events.
"I’m really proud of what we put in place in the infrastructure of the classrooms and the dining halls and the Student Union and so much," he said. "So we will continue to learn from this."
Provost Bob Blouin responded to Muller’s concerns about the roadmap.
“I don’t apologize for trying,” Blouin said, “for giving this campus the opportunity to return to its mission on behalf of the interest of the people in North Carolina. I really do believe that if all the earlier assumptions would have played through that we would have had a very good shot of making this work.”
Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman asked what the University is measuring as a marker for success in terms of de-densifying the campus moving forward.
“What I would use as a target is a desire to ensure that we can put people as they are able into single rooms with appropriate use of our residence halls, having a lower bathroom to resident ratio,” said Jonathan Sauls, associate vice chancellor for student affairs.
Sauls said that he hopes to decrease on-campus student population to about 2,000 students.
“So, we may well look to close some of our quarter-style housing on the north side of campus,” he said. “That’s in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent of our total potential occupancy.”
Members also discussed the University’s decision to implement remote instruction for the remainder of the semester. The message announcing UNC's remote undergraduate instruction came about an hour before this semester’s tuition cancellation deadline.
This timing did not go unnoticed.
In the emailed message, University administrators said the decision to shift all classes to online formats was done an effort to reach the target of a de-densified population of students on campus in order to uphold safety.
The uproar on social media regarding the timing of the decision and the tuition cancellation deadline was brought up in the meeting.
“We will work with that deadline,” Guskiewicz said. “We were notified of that yesterday, and we won’t hold to that deadline.”
Some members also expressed concerns about sending students away from campus and potentially infecting their families and friends back home.
“Might we consider going above and beyond the CDC baseline recommendation and make testing available for any student having come here on our recommendation, and make that available to them so that they can know they are going home safe?” Muller asked.
Ken Pittman, executive director of UNC Campus Health, said that doing so could give students a "false sense of security" — a sentiment echoed earlier when the University announced it would not test all students returning to campus in the fall.
“The obvious thing is that whenever you do any kind of a mass-testing program and you obtain negative results, you have obtained negative results for that day,” he said. “And that really has nothing to do with whether or not you’re in an infectious period."
In the email sent Monday, Guskiewicz and Blouin said the University will de-densify on-campus housing, but the University has not issued a specific plan at the time of publication.
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