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UNC student commission resolution: ‘All courses must be offered virtually'

Commission Screenshot.png

Screenshot from the virtually held Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity meeting regarding UNC's fall reopening on Thursday, July 16, 2020.

The Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity unanimously passed a resolution Thursday at its last meeting of the summer calling for a remote semester and reduced student population on campus. The commission also heard updates on its requests since its earlier meeting in July, including a clarification on grading for the fall.

“As we dialogue with undergraduate students throughout our most marginalized Carolina communities, there is a consistent consensus from both our peers and residents of the town of Chapel Hill — they are scared, fearful and distrustful,” the resolution states. 

The resolution was addressed to University leaders, including Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and newly appointed UNC System President Peter Hans. 

“We write to further urge you to proactively dialogue with the UNC system and the UNC Board of Governors for more longitude in making the right decision for our community: All courses must be offered virtually and our campus must significantly reduce the amount of students living on-campus this upcoming semester,” the statement reads.

The Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity is the latest group of student leaders calling for full remote instruction this fall. 

For students who require on-campus housing, such as international students, college athletes and students in environments “unconducive to academic success,” the commission requests these students have access to housing. But to make housing less dense, the commission states the greater student population should be required to “interact with UNC in a remote capacity.”  

Here's the full resolution:

Chairperson Lamar Richards cited three types of hurdles facing the UNC community that led to the commission’s resolution: academic, financial and community. 

Academic hurdles include concerns from students who fear returning to campus, but whose coursework is offered in person. Financial hurdles include worries about on-campus jobs and internship opportunities, and community hurdles include the concerns of local residents, such as those expressed at the Chapel Hill Town Council meeting on July 29.

Students rely on the resources offered to them on campus. But since resources are already fractured, such as library access, on-campus life cannot proceed as normal, Richards said. 

“Everything is pointing to a very atypical Carolina experience,” Richards told The Daily Tar Heel. “The only way we can make sure that everyone is safe, and everyone has access to an equitable education experience, is by offering all courses virtually and de-densifiying our dorms.” 

Richards said part of the resolution is to give students a voice and demand more transparency from the administration in its decision-making. 

“We would like a more concrete, transparent and frequent line of communication and line of dialogue with University leadership,” Richards said.

Changes in the last two weeks

At its previous meeting on July 16, the commission passed a series of recommendations for fall 2020, including:

  • More transparent and equitable accountability measures.
  • A program to provide equitable internet access.
  • Application-only on campus housing so it is only provided for those who need it.
  • An online option for all courses. 
  • A revised grading policy. 

This latest resolution expresses disappointment in the lack of a response from the University on the previously issued recommendations and “in the way our senior leadership has chosen to communicate with its most valuable stakeholders: students.” 

“In all, we made several other recommendations that the University leadership was not willing to meet us on,” Richards said. “We have not received official word back from them.”

Some of the initial recommendations that have been implemented include waiving the insurance mandate for remote students and working toward an internet accessibility program. 

Katie Cartmell, associate director for retention for Academic Eligibility and Outreach, said her department is considering these policies. 

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“Like you, we’ve been looking into at, what are those processes that are standing in students way,” Cartmell said. 

Cartmell also said she is preparing recommendations to go before University officials. 

Commission members asked if the pass/fail policy applied in the spring will roll over in the fall at the meeting Thursday. 

“I can provide an update that students should expect to be graded in the fall,” Cartmell said. 

At Thursday's meeting, Chancellor Fellow Nicholas Sengstaken provided an update on the internet accessibility program, saying funding for internet access will be available based on financial need. 

“This is a program designed in equity not equality,” Sengstaken said.

Another recommendation from the previous meeting included an academic forgiveness policy, such as the ability to retroactively remove a grade from a student’s GPA, or allowing a student to retake a course and preventing the previous course grade from affecting GPA.

At the meeting, the commission also announced its partnership with the UNC System Association of Student Governments to host a town hall addressing campus reopening on Aug. 3 at 6 p.m., with representation from all 17 campuses in the system.

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