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Tuesday January 18th

BOT: Spring semester will 'most likely' see a delayed start, Guskiewicz says

<p>Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz speaks at the UNC Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.</p>
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Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz speaks at the UNC Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.

Students may not return to classes until mid or late January when the fall semester concludes, rather than the scheduled Jan. 6, 2021 start date, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said at a UNC Board of Trustees meeting Thursday.

“We'll most likely be moving that start date to either Jan. 13 or Jan. 19,” Guskiewicz said. “We'll announce this within the next two weeks after we consult with a number of our campus constituencies.”

Guskiewicz said that decision is a part of an effort to get more students back on campus for the spring semester.

“Our hope is that we will bring students back to live and learn on campus this spring semester,” he said. “We would scale this to provide an on-campus experience for as many students as we can safely accommodate."

Student Body President Reeves Moseley and Graduate and Professional Student Federation President Ryan Collins, who were both present at the meeting, expressed concern for the physical and mental health of students now and going forward, given the challenges of this semester.

“It is crucial to recognize that students are very tired,” Moseley said. “The general feelings across both the undergraduate and graduate populations find that the experience they're receiving this fall is nothing similar to that of what it usually is.”

Shayna Hill, chairperson of the employee forum, said there is a strong need to keep staff safe during the continuation of on-campus work, especially because of all the sacrifices they have made this semester.

“It is more important right now that without delay, we begin to create a plan for this spring to ensure that staff do not continue to get sick,” Hill said. “It is important that staff do not continue to be the only employee population to take pay cuts. It is important that staff are recognized and rewarded for their heroic efforts this summer.”

Mimi Chapman, chairperson of the faculty, said it is also important to consider policies that will encourage faculty retention in the long term. 

“As we move toward the spring semester, I would ask that you support us in designing a plan that is right for the Chapel Hill campus and community, and a solution that is right for the long term — not one that simply solves a problem right now, only to create other problems down the road,” Chapman said.

At the Thursday meeting, the Board approved amendments to UNC’s policies on promotion and tenure. The Task Force on Future Promotion and Tenure Policies and Practices presented 49 recommendations in its report — one of which was the elimination of the 18-month rule.

The 18-month rule is “the requirement that a faculty member be at the University for 18 months before they can be promoted," Anne Fox, an associate University counsel, said. The amendment eliminating the policy was approved unanimously.

However, some UNC employees are facing furloughs due to the University’s potential $300 million revenue loss during this fiscal year. This loss comes as a result of the pandemic and pre-existing structural issues, Nate Knuffman, the interim vice chancellor for finance and operations, said.

In response to the deficit, UNC has implemented short-term initiatives to reduce spending, including reduced hours of operation, delayed capital projects and employee furloughs, Knuffman said. There is also a suspension in place on filling vacant positions, he said.

Becci Menghini, vice chancellor for human resources and equal opportunity and compliance, said the furloughs only apply to permanent, full or part-time employees, not temporary workers or faculty.

Menghini said a more long-term solution to reduce the workforce could be an early retirement program for faculty, especially because retirements are currently exceeding new hires. But UNC does not currently have the authority to implement this, she said.

“36.5 percent of our employees at UNC-Chapel Hill are eligible to retire in the next five years, and we anticipate that an early retirement option, which would be voluntary, would be well utilized,” Menghini said.

The Board expressed a willingness to tackle these budget issues.

“It's time to rip off the band-aid," Trustee Chuck Duckett said. "Let's figure out where we are and fix this thing instead of just coasting it down the road as they say."

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