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Faculty reflect on UNC’s reopening plan, discuss steps to rebuild trust

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Chair of the Faculty Mimi Chapman speaks at the Faculty Executive Committee meeting on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. The committee discussed actions that the university could take to prevent another catastrophic reopening in the spring semester.

Members of the Faculty Executive Committee discussed what can be learned from UNC’s reopening plan and what steps must be taken in the spring semester to avoid a future recurrence at Monday's meeting. 

Faculty agreed that, although the Board of Governors gave the authority to welcome students back onto campus, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz had the responsibility of implementing those steps throughout campus. 

“Nobody made UNC appear on 60 Minutes,” Eric Muller, a law professor, said. “The Board of Governors did not do that ... while I wouldn’t expect any kind of apology or acceptance of responsibility for judgments that were not our campus's leadership's — that would be deeply unfair — I don’t think it’s unfair to expect some sense of accountability for those aspects of things that were — at least, to public eyes — rather clearly theirs.”

But there was debate over how the University’s administration should acknowledge its errors.

Some members felt a formal apology should be issued, while others said an apology means nothing without hard evidence of changes going into the spring semester. 

"I do think we have to think — we have to realize that just because we know better, doesn't mean we do better," nursing professor Rumay Alexander said.

Alexander added that restoring trust among UNC’s community will be a result of implementing strict changes. 

“You can’t talk your way out of what you behaved your way into,” she said. 

Regardless, several faculty members noted there is a sense of “mistrust” and “fatigue” on campus after UNC moved undergraduate classes online and reduced housing capacity at residential dorms. 

James Thomas, a professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, said the University must work on three things: being transparent among UNC’s community, consulting with behavioral experts to assess student behavior on campus and focusing on current case projections of where the virus is headed as a way to measure what should be done on campus. 

He said though there were efforts to be transparent, there is room for growth. Some of the examples of transparency he noted were UNC issuing Alert Carolina messages whenever COVID-19 clusters broke out on campus, and implementing the University's COVID-19 dashboard to report case numbers. 

But, he said, UNC backtracked when it went from reporting cases throughout campus on a daily basis to a weekly basis, and stopped issuing the alerts to report clusters.  

Now that 12 clusters have been reported in residential dorms and fraternities, Thomas said there’s still the concern of students hosting off-campus parties or gatherings, and that should be taken into account in deciding whether to reopen campus. 

“One thing we don't want to forget is that, obviously, things went badly with what UNC tried to do,” said Sarah Stroud, a philosophy professor and director of the Parr Center for Ethics. “In principle, there were things that bring value that were being pursued, and we shouldn’t be quick to give up on hoping that we can attain those things of value.”

In order to repair trust throughout campus, several professors said the administration should host discussions with faculty to talk about what the spring semester should look like. 

Journalism and media professor Deb Aikat said he saw over 55 pages of unanswered questions from his colleagues over the summer. He suggested UNC host an open forum among faculty to allow them the opportunity to voice their concerns.

Multiple members support the idea of issuing a collegewide survey to faculty to assess how they want to proceed. 

Chairperson Mimi Chapman proposed a moderated panel discussion among some of the leaders behind UNC’s reopening plans. 

“I hope — respectfully — we do not repeat the same mistakes,” Aikat said. 


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