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'Wheels are already kind of turning': UNC community reflects on spring semester plans

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Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced the formation of the new Campus and Community Advisory Committee in a formal notice on Sept. 15. Selected by Guskiewicz, this group of faculty, staff, students and community members will give feedback as spring reopening plans develop.

This committee is a new and centralized component of the reopening planning process that didn't exist in the fall.

In the eight weeks since fall semester began, the University shifted classes fully online, de-densified residence halls, paused classes and alerted the campus community of 12 COVID-19 clusters on or around campus.

UNC leadership first announced the Carolina Roadmap for Fall 2020 in late May. Community members reacted to University decisions over the summer through social media, formal recommendations and written statements. 

“Clearly, there’s more that we can do to get greater input as we think about the spring plans and that’s really what we’re here to begin to do today,” Guskiewicz said in the committee’s first meeting on Sept. 22.

But even with this new committee and more direct input from different campus constituencies, the final decisions fall under the jurisdiction of the chancellor and his leadership team, UNC’s Board of Trustees and the UNC System, according to the formal notice.

Vice Chancellor of Communications Joel Curran said in a statement that the new advisory committee aims to "ensure that as many voices as possible are heard" and provide critical feedback. But some still feel that it won’t be enough to change decisions.

‘The wheels are already kind of turning’

Sophomore Lamar Richards is one of three undergraduate students serving on the committee. But when Guskiewicz reached out to Richards to serve on the committee, his answer wasn’t an immediate “yes.”

Richards, who is the chairperson of the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity, spoke with some of his team members about whether or not serving on the committee would be beneficial.

The commission focuses on racial justice at UNC through various initiatives. In July, the commission sent a letter to the Roadmap Implementation Taskforce and University leadership with 10 recommendations to make UNC’s reopening plan more equitable. Several of these recommendations were not followed in their entirety before fall classes began. 

The 11-member Roadmap Implementation Taskforce, led by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin, was the primary operational group working to coordinate fall reopening plans.

Despite this, Richards said he felt an obligation as a campus leader to serve on the Campus and Community Advisory Committee and advocate for UNC students to develop a better reopening plan for the upcoming semester.

This semester, University leaders have defined advisory groups, specifically the new committee and content experts, to work with them in developing spring plans.

“I think that, Carolina being one of the top public universities in the country, we have not really tapped into the creativity and the scholarship that we so boldly boast about all the time,” Richards said.

In its inaugural meeting, the committee heard from Guskiewicz about conversations regarding the start date for the spring semester. In a BOT meeting last Thursday, Guskiewicz said the start date would "most likely" be pushed to either Jan. 13 or 19.

“So what we're finding is, some things it seems like already in place, as unfortunate as it may be,” Richards said. “The wheels are already kind of turning on some things.”

UNC law students Ryan Collins and Maian Adams also serve on the committee. Both are on the Executive Committee of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation. Collins, who serves as president of GPSF, said representing his constituents is important because graduate and professional students are not only affected by the University’s plans for coursework, but also plans for teaching, research and allocation of funding.

“So at the end of day, it’s, 'Are my constituents getting the support and resources they need to be successful as people and as professionals?'” Collins said.

Seeking input before decisions 

Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman said she and the other two co-chairpersons of the committee — Employee Forum Chairperson Shayna Hill and Student Body President Reeves Moseley — were asked to provide recommendations to Guskiewicz for other potential committee members. Chapman was asked to send recommendations of faculty members. Some were selected, and others were Guskiewicz’s selection.

“One thing that I think, this is my impression, that both the provost and the chancellor have learned is that there is a very intense need and desire for people to feel like they are able to give input before a decision is made,” she said.

Though campus groups function as they have over the last few months and can still communicate with University leadership, the committee provides representation of many different groups in one central body. The committee’s meetings and recommendations to UNC leaders will be communicated publicly, making it “a lot harder for those recommendations to be overlooked," Chapman said. 

“It's also a little more centralized so that you don't have this group sending one set of recommendations, this group sending another set of recommendations,” Chapman said.

But, Richards said, the process for these recommendations and how they’ll be factored into spring planning isn’t completely clear yet.

“There's very little guidance right now, very little instruction and very little vision if I’m being honest, for this committee,” Richards said. “I think that many of the committee members share my sentiments in that it’s unclear right now what our charge is. If we’re going to advise on spring, nothing should be off-limits, including but not limited to the start date and all of these things.”

‘No real plan in place’

Tracy Harter has been a housekeeper at UNC for about 12 years. She is also a member of the UE Local 150, the union for North Carolina’s public service workers.

Harter and other workers at UNC have been advocating for their safety and job security for months, including through multiple protests, town halls and petitions. From the campus employees community, Guskiewicz selected Hill and housekeeping crew leader James Holman.

Given the potential of advocacy to yield results, Harter emphasized the need to have adequate representation on the new committee.

“We need to be the one to pick somebody who we want on the advisory committee,” she said.

Harter said the UE Local 150 should have been given the option to have representatives they selected on the committee.

“I’m just dumbfounded,” she said. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because of some of the other sketchy things that they have done. It’s like they do something that’s great, amazing and they’ve met some of our demands. But then they do things out of left field that’s sketchy.”

Curran said in the statement that feedback from the committee will help inform UNC's plans moving forward. 

Looking back at UNC's failed fall reopening, Harter hopes for improvement in the spring planning process. 

“The way they handled things made it seem like they were making everything up as they went along, that there was no real plan in place,” Harter said.

The committee will continue to meet weekly, at least until the end of October. Going forward, Chapman said the committee’s upcoming meetings will be offered in a webinar format with functionality for community members to ask questions.

@praveenavsoma

university@dailytarheel.com

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