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Monday November 29th

UNC faculty asked for rolled back reopening — then took their own off-ramp

<p>(From left) Faculty Governance University Program Specialist Helena Knego, Chairperson Lloyd Kramer, UNC Police Chief David Perry and Joy Renner convene in South Building for a Faculty Executive Committee meeting to discuss campus safety measures in the wake of Perry's appointment as chief on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. Perry emphasizes a need for the police to build a rapport with the community.</p>
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(From left) Faculty Governance University Program Specialist Helena Knego, Chairperson Lloyd Kramer, UNC Police Chief David Perry and Joy Renner convene in South Building for a Faculty Executive Committee meeting to discuss campus safety measures in the wake of Perry's appointment as chief on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. Perry emphasizes a need for the police to build a rapport with the community.

This is the second article in a series unpacking these documents, and what insights they offer on the fall reopening plans. The first part was about how the administration was warned about potential outbreaks in May.

Although UNC reopened campus in the fall semester, many people were vocal over the summer with their opposition of the decision — with one group of faculty and campus workers even suing the University to guarantee safe workplace conditions. 

Records indicate that in May, faculty members directly contacted UNC administration to express specific concerns about reopening campus, like the need for widespread testing, proper personal protective equipment and procedures for determining class format. 

Now in August, some faculty members say their concerns were not adequately addressed and that the reopening process lacked transparency.

'The off-ramp has already been taken'

Kenneth Janken offered to personally produce masks and protective equipment for the returning students, faculty and staff using the UNC Makerspace in a May email to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

Janken, an adjunct professor in the African, African American and Diaspora Studies department, has taught at UNC for 30 years and has a daughter who’s a senior at the University.

In an August interview, Janken said he was not suggesting to literally produce all of UNC’s gear.

But his point, he said, was that equipment was not widely available in May due to failure in the country’s leadership, and he did not think the University could rely on the economy to produce the necessary gear.

“If the University was going to insist that we be in person — that we ought to do something to protect ourselves,” Janken said. "I was so ticked off. And I still am. I’m even more ticked off now than I was.”

The University provided masks and other PPE to faculty and students as part of the roadmap to the fall semester.

Tom Linden is director of the residential M.A. program in UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and like Janken, he also contacted University administration with concerns in May.

In an interview on Aug. 12, Linden said he stands by both of his messages — one with the subject line “Concern about need for a mask directive on campus,” and another with several concerns about the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

“This train should have made the switch to a different track some time ago,” Linden said in the interview on Aug. 12 — before UNC’s remote-only decision for undergraduate classes.

“I think eventually we’re going to take this so-called off-ramp,” Linden said, “but in fact the off-ramp has already been taken, in my opinion, by professors within the institution who recognize that holding in-person classes at this time is not prudent, possibly unsafe and represents a risk to the health of students, faculty and staff.”

Janken is one of those professors.

He is teaching two remote courses this semester, but he said he was planning to teach in-person as late as July. 

“It became increasingly clear to me that that would be a bad idea,” Janken said.

Janken said the assumptions on which the Roadmap were based, when it was written in May, proved not to be true.

Both faculty and deans of schools within the University have reported a fair amount of freedom in determining the mode of instruction of their courses — with some faculty choosing to pivot in the summer or during the first week of the semester.

Though the University did not have an official procedure for determining the mode of instruction for each class, Kate Maroney, a spokesperson for UNC, said in an email that the University made flexibility a priority for faculty and students and continuously worked to reduce density in classrooms and on campus. She said the University has offered support for faculty members interested in offering their courses in any of the three formats.  

“This has been a collaborative process with deans, department chairs and faculty with constant updates,” Maroney said.

Questions remaining

Ahead of a May 20 faculty webinar hosted by the chancellor and provost, which 4,000 faculty members attended, the administration sent a survey to faculty with open-response questions about concerns and questions for the fall.

When the Office of the Chancellor interpreted the survey results, it grouped them into the following categories:

  • Academic procedures
  • Employee support
  • Finance and operations
  • Risk management and safety procedures
  • Student support
  • Timing
  • And transparency and communication. 

Maroney said on Aug. 17 that the goal of the survey was to learn what topics should be added to the Carolina Together website, where the University has posted reopening plans and announcements.

“This was just one of the many ways Chancellor Guskiewicz and Provost Blouin sought the feedback of the University community in developing the Roadmap for Fall 2020,” Maroney said in the statement.

But a 55-page document of questions remains unanswered for Deb Aikat, an elected member of the Faculty Executive Committee and 25-year Hussman faculty member.

“There was no clear answer,” Aikat said. “It makes me sad because obviously we want to be in a situation where we want to do things that would help all of us, but it was not done.”

Aikat says he compiled the document from three sources: a list of questions that faculty colleagues had shared with UNC leaders, questions from Faculty Executive Committee members to UNC leaders and questions that campus colleagues posted via the Zoom chat feature during three FEC meetings — on May 11, June 15 and June 22  — and the June 19 community conversation.

After the June 22 meeting, Aikat shared with his FEC colleagues the 55-page document of “unanswered questions” that he says UNC leaders had not addressed or ignored, despite repeated questions from campus colleagues.

“Whenever a student or faculty asked a question, they were set aside,” Aikat said. “Why?"

These questions will be addressed alongside the answers the University provided in the next part of this series.

university@dailytarheel.com

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