Shayna Hill, committee co-chairperson and chairperson of the Employee Forum, presented five options, including the current schedule, outlining different start dates and changes to spring break.
The current plan calls for classes to begin on Jan. 6. But, the committee is weighing new options in light of Chancellor Guskiewicz’s comments in last Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting about pushing back the semester’s start date.
These new options call for the spring semester to begin the following weeks with possible start dates including Jan. 11, Jan. 13 and even as late as Jan. 19.
Chris McClure, executive vice president of the UNC System Office, said pushing back the start day will allow the University more time to properly plan for the semester ahead.
“Moving it back a couple weeks gives us that much more time to do the planning and the assessments we need to do,” McClure said. “That is the reason for moving the date back somewhat.”
The committee also discussed what spring break would look like if students were to return to campus.
Some options allow for a regular spring break, while others plan for smaller breaks throughout the semester. Some faculty expressed concern that a full spring break will cause students to bring back the virus upon returning to campus. For this reason, some were in favor of having smaller day breaks rather than a full week-long break.
But student committee members said having observed outcry from students, a full spring break is a necessity to allow students time to recharge and relax.
Lamar Richards, a committee member and undergraduate student, said student academic performance and mental wellness should be considered before the committee recommends any scheduling options.
“I’m hearing from my peers that mentally they’re suffering right now without any breaks,” Richards said. “We need to know more information about how students are doing academically and how they’re doing mentally.”
Ethan Phillips, another undergraduate student on the committee, echoed Richard’s concerns, saying that single- or couple-day breaks aren’t enough time for students to mentally have a break from school.
He also said he disagreed with the notion that students only want a full spring break to party and ultimately bring the virus back.
“I’d like to sort of problematize the idea that this is only because students would like to take a vacation or travel or bring back COVID,” Phillips said. “Students are having real concerns over anxiety, stress and dealing with the pressures of this semester.”
Other members of the faculty said when a plan is decided upon, it’s important that it doesn’t see sudden changes like it did in the fall semester.
Sharon Holland, chairperson of the American Studies department, said making changes within a semester is stressful for both students and faculty.
“If we’re looking at this schedule, pick one and then pivot in two or three weeks, that would be really devastating,” Holland said. “If we pick a plan and decide that we’re not going to pivot this time, then we need mandatory testing. We need real infrastructure to support moving in this direction.”
Though the committee did not reach a consensus about which option or options to recommend to the chancellor, members said they are hoping to solidify those decisions within the next week.
McClure said the chancellor wants to have this information by next Wednesday.
“This is the decision that has a lot of dominoes,” McClure said. “This is one of the earliest decisions we have to make moving into the spring. As much information as we can get over the next week, to then come back and have these conversations, the better.”