During a June 8 meeting of the Faculty Executive Committee, Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases and associate vice chancellor for global health, was answering a question about potential off-ramps when he appeared to refer to UNC’s reopening plan as an “experiment.”
Though he only managed to get out half of the word before stopping himself, the numerous graduate student workers implicitly understood what Cohen may have meant: students were to serve as the guinea pigs in the UNC System’s experiment to see if a university could prevent transmission of a deadly virus by taking few meaningful steps to prevent it.
More importantly, the UNC administration staged a bevy of meetings over the course of the summer to consistently state that it was already prepared to shirk blame in the case of this experiment’s failure. If the experiment succeeded — against all odds — credit would go to UNC’s administration. If it failed, the consequences would fall to the students, and the University would not be obligated to be financially accountable to those students (and issue refunds) because of so-called individual failures.
Even though UNC said it would accept cancellation requests for student housing “with no penalty,” the lack of clarification from the University on the issue, as well as the Board of Governors’ refusal to grant tuition decreases and refunds in the event that universities go remote-only in the fall, indicates that administrative fees for services that students are no longer able to use will not be refunded. In deploying a strategy that relied on coercive and misleading tactics, the administration thought they could get away with the experiment, whatever its consequences and no matter how many people were endangered, with the goal being to secure housing and tuition monies.
If parents, workers and students themselves had not consistently denounced this reopening plan from the start, UNC might still be lying to us right now about campus being safe. Since the start of the semester, we have relied on social media and self-reporting from students and workers to denounce the dangerous living conditions on campus. With the end of on-campus activity, the administration spin team is blaming student partying — not the reopening plan — for the almost daily emergence of COVID-19 clusters reported in the residence halls, even though many UNC community members and medical professionals across the country predicted months ago that this would happen.