The University has a daunting task ahead as it starts the planning process for the spring semester, even as we continue to reflect on the failures made in the fall. Despite months of planning and millions of dollars of investment in prevention strategies, we found ourselves taking an off-ramp after just one week.
Among the many criticisms leveled against University leadership was the lack of input from key constituencies in the decision-making process. In response, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz commissioned the Campus and Community Advisory Committee, a group of students, faculty, staff and community members who meet weekly to reflect on the fall semester and advise University leadership on key considerations for spring.
As the six student representatives on this 26-member committee, we have the significant responsibility of representing UNC’s 30,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. This is no small task, given the immense diversity of academic, personal, social and socioeconomic needs of our student body, as well as vast differences in pedagogical needs of hundreds of academic programs. One thing on which we agree, however, is that students must be kept centered in the planning process.
First and foremost, the University must protect the health and well-being of all students. Many students have and will continue to demand that we remain in remote-only instruction through the spring semester or until a vaccine is widely available. Others argue that a return to campus is critical for their academic success and mental health. We express no opinion on that threshold question here, but we agree on this much: any attempt to return to in-person instruction must be accompanied by a robust, mandatory testing program.
Student health and well-being, however, is about more than just preventing the spread of the virus; it requires addressing mental health, as well as the physical and psychological effects of increased anxiety, academic pressure and social isolation. Students need time to rest and recuperate throughout the semester, to unplug from Zoom long enough to remember and appreciate the physical world around them. We need a break.