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With the fall semester well underway, many are already wondering what the spring semester will entail. 

University desk reporter Kate Carroll talks to Host Evely Forte about the planning process the University is implementing for the upcoming semester and how it differs from the preparation that took place for the fall. 

Episode transcribed by Greta Travaglia:

Kate Carroll: The biggest challenge that we saw in the fall and that we will also have to look at when we're looking at the spring is dealing with things that are sort of out of the University's control in a sense.

Evely Forte: I'm Evely Forte from The Daily Tar Heel, and this is Heel Talk. With the fall semester well underway, many students are already wondering what the spring semester will entail. Last week, Kevin Guskewicz announced in a message to the campus community that planning for the spring semester is already underway. 

In his message, he announced the creation of the campus and community advisory committee, which will be made up of students, faculty, staff, and members of the Chapel Hill community to incorporate diverse perspectives in the planning process for the next semester. University desk reporter Kate Carroll reported on this planning process and how it differs from the preparation implemented for the fall semester. And she's here with us today. Welcome, Kate.

KC: Hello, thank you for having me.

EF: So Kate, you spoke to Provost Bob Blouin and, and Ethan Phillips, an undergraduate student on the advisory committee about their perspectives on the whole planning process. And so from these conversations, what is your understanding of the role the advisory committee is going to play this semester in helping to plan for the spring?

KC: Right. So there's been sort of a restructuring of how the University is looking at planning a semester following this fall semester. And things that went well, and things that didn't go so well. So now we're looking at a team that is really made up of three committees. 

There's one committee that's more operational and looking at those sides of how things would really just work like in the grid of things. Then there's one committee that is focused on the public health side of things and contains a lot of medical experts and public health experts. And then third, we have this new campus and community advisory committee, which is made up of students, faculty, community members and university leaders. And so this advisory committee is supposed to be playing a pretty major role and looking at how we will approach the spring with the goal of really bringing in like a new set of diverse perspectives, that has a number of voices that weren't really heard when we were looking at the fall planning process. 

EF: So aside from the creation of this advisory committee that you spoke about, now, Kate, do you have a sense as to how the university is planning differently for the spring semester than it did for the fall?

KC: Right. So we do have this new committee and this sort of new three committee structure. But another big change is that when we were looking at the fall, the University didn't have complete control over the question of whether or not we were going back in the first place. So the entire North Carolina public school system of all North Carolina public universities had made that decision that we would move towards re-entry in person in some capacity. So now when we're looking at the spring, we have this new question of whether or not we will even return to in person in the first place. So that's sort of a whole new set of questions and a new set of decisions that this committee has to look at.

EF: So Kate, I want to ask you about some of the major challenges that university leaders face in planning for the spring semester. But first, a word from our sponsor. This podcast episode is sponsored by UNC Summer School. 

UNC Summer School is here to help you achieve your goals and reduce your stress along the way. With over 500 courses offered, you can finish required credits, build your GPA, and take classes to make space during the school year. So, if you are ever stressed about your schedule or future plans, remember, there is always UNC Summer School. Go to to learn more.

EF: And as far as planning for the spring semester, from your reporting, do you have a sense as to what some of the major challenges are this time around?

KC: Yeah, so in both of the conversations that I had, I was able to pick up on a few big concerns that leaders are having. So the Provost was discussing with me that the biggest challenge that we saw in the fall and we will also have to look at when we're looking at the spring is dealing with things that are sort of out of the University's control in a sense.

Provost Bob Blouin: But the contact tracing data and just our collective experience, show the following, that we had very good success on those things that we had control over. So basically, the plan worked extraordinarily well, for those things that we had control over. 

KC: Where things started to crumble a little bit is when things were happening outside of the campus or off campus, and there were gatherings that transmission was at a much higher rate. And at that point, the University felt that they didn't have the same level of control that they had in on campus settings. 

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BB: The other thing, I think that we learned that because of the density of the dorms, and the dynamics that just naturally take place, the velocity of the spread of the infection was very difficult to manage. And so those are all things that we observed. And we would need to mitigate if we were to attempt to to bring campus back together, like we tried in the in this in the fall, but do it in a more successful way.

KC: And then one other area that Ethan Phillips echoed, as the challenge would be the sort of idea of maintaining a balance between really getting back that flourishing academic environment that we all love at Carolina, and we've really lost at the hands of this pandemic, but also balancing that with health concerns and following public health guidelines. And doing our part to contain the spread of this virus. 

EF: And now I want to talk a little bit about timeline. Do we have a sense, Kate, as far as what the timeline will look like for the advisory committee and for the other committees involved in drafting the Spring 2021 Roadmap Plan before it's implemented?

KC: So when I was speaking with Ethan, he expressed that in terms of what is going to be discussed, the students at least that are involved on this committee have heard just about the same as what has been communicated with everyone else in the Carolina Community. So that's looking a little fuzzy right now, we're not exactly sure when we'll be hearing things. But the Provost also said that they would be working to increase communication with students and the Carolina Community about what's going on, whether that's through email, but he's also looking to improve communication through other platforms that, you know, students are very apt to use, for example, social media.

EF: And so Kate, I'm curious to know, from a reporting standpoint, what are some of the biggest questions you feel the university has yet to answer as we continue to move forward? and progress, you know, within this semester, and approaching the next?

KC: Yeah, so again, it goes back to that idea of everything being really uncertain right now. So even for us waiting on things like a potential vaccine, there's so many questions to be asked like within the medical world that leave a really big impact on how the University plans to move forward. So really, because so much is dependent on outside forces. There's a lot of big questions that the University really needs to focus on in that way.

EF: Yeah, I think that is so true, Kate, and those are questions that we will keep in mind as we continue to cover the news of the University moving forward. But yeah, so thank you so much, Kate, for your time and for sharing your reporting.

KC: Of course, thank you for having me again.

EF: Our City and State desk has a new eight week podcast called Before You Vote. Here's a preview.

Sonia Rao: Voting is complicated, especially for college students who are often first time voters or have just moved to a new county or state. Voting during a pandemic is even more complicated. I'm Sonia Rao, the City and State editor for The Daily Tar Heel. Welcome to Before You Vote, where we'll be breaking down what you need to know about voting every Tuesday for the next eight weeks.

EF: We hope you'll listen to this podcast as well if you're planning to vote this year. That's it for this week's episode of Heel Talk. This episode is hosted by Evely Forte and produced by Praveena Somasundaram, our supervising producers, our University desk editor Maddie Ellis, Digital Managing Editor Will Melfi, an editor in chief Anna Pogaracic. Stay safe everyone. I'll see you next week. So if you enjoyed today's episode, please consider subscribing rating and reviewing the episode and sharing it with someone that you think would enjoy it too. I'll see you next time.

Episode hosted by Evely Forte and produced by Praveena Somasundaram. Supervising producers are University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis, Digital Managing Editor Will Melfi and Editor-in-Chief Anna Pogarcic.