As the end of the fall semester approaches, University editor Maddie Ellis spoke with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz about decisions for the spring semester, the recent Employee Forum report and the enforcement of community guidelines.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
The Daily Tar Heel: How are you feeling as spring semester planning continues on?
Kevin Guskiewicz: I'm cautiously optimistic. We'd built a strong and detailed plan for our fall semester, and we learned a lot after implementing them, and we're going to do some things differently in the spring and we've shared that with the campus community. We'll have increased modes of instruction, increased testing, there will be limited on-campus housing, more than the 1,500 that we have right now, it'll be in the neighborhood of about 3,500. We're continuing to work with our off-campus residents, and I feel much better about where we are in that regard.
DTH: Will plans for the spring semester be finalized before the end of the semester?
KG: What we decided is that we want to provide updates in real time as they're happening. Ideally yes, we would have had all this information three weeks ago to provide the students, but we just felt we needed more input on a lot of this stuff. I'm really pleased with how we came to a decision regarding the breaks ... I think we got to the right place and I think as best I can tell students, there are many who are disappointed we are not going to have a full spring break, but I think they'll like the way in which we made it clustered, allowing for a few four-day weekends.
I've heard loud and clear that our students need some breaks and some mental health and wellness days to help them succeed.
DTH: Is the testing program at the Union going to continue into the spring?
KG: So that'll be one type of testing, that's a saliva-based test that has worked well and we will continue to likely use it. I know the Roadmap Implementation Team is finalizing some of this so I want to be careful not to assume too much, but we're going to still provide that as an option.
But my understanding is that the laboratory that we are standing up on campus for re-entry testing and for regular serial testing throughout the semester, and there'll be more details provided on that, it will likely be a combination of either saliva-based testing or nasal — mid-nasal testing, so it's not the deep nasal pharyngeal testing that I know a lot of students, we've heard they're not excited about getting in that line.
But this testing will be efficient, and we'll have a number of stations set up around campus for the testing to take place to make it as convenient as possible. And I hope we'll have more details provided before the students are registering for classes around Nov. 30.
DTH: Have the community guidelines set out in the fall changed at all or will they change for the spring semester?
KG: I know we're reviewing and likely going to make some modifications to that around off-campus activities and gatherings. And we're also still waiting to see what the governor's ordinances will be at that time and so there will have to be some room for modifications to it, as we get closer to early-to-mid-January. But I think for the most part they will be consistent with what we had in place to start the fall semester.
DTH: What are some considerations or changes that will go into the University's enforcement goals?
KG: We have looked at a number of universities with regard to that to see if there are more stricter enforcements that we should put in place. And I think everything's on the table as we're moving forward. We recognize that we weren't able to deter some of that activity in the way that we wish we could have in the start of the fall semester.
So, we're still in conversations with the Town, and also with Student Affairs working closely with Greek life, and other off-campus housing, owners of some of the large off-campus apartment complexes, so that we can really truly work together as a community.
DTH: There have been student-led petitions around the pass/fail deadline on Nov. 17. Is there any move within University administration to change the pass/fail deadline?
KG: We understand the stress that students were under, and that (the pass/fail option) would provide them with an opportunity to take a class pass/fail.
But I think there was a sense that the additional time was not necessary as it was back in the spring semester, given that faculty had been teaching more online and were doing a good job and getting better at remote teaching, students had adapted to that style of instruction, and that they wanted to provide the pass/fail but keep the date prior to final exams.
DTH: How is the University looking to address the concerns in the Employee Forum report?
KG: I appreciate receiving feedback from Carolina's employees who were performing their jobs under stressful and difficult circumstances and protecting the safety of our people, and their jobs will continue to be a top priority. I understand that the decision to start the semester as we did and then the pivot fairly quickly was disappointing to many, and I'm sorry for the disappointment that many of our employees and our students felt.
I'm a leader who's going to always lead with cautious optimism, and I'm not going to apologize for sounding positive about the opportunities in front of us. I've said repeatedly that with every challenge that we're faced with, there are opportunities on the other side of that challenge, and it is our job as a leading global public research university to be bold and to go out and and latch on to those opportunities to move us forward to try to help society. What great leading research universities do is that they help society adapt during challenging times. And so, that's the way I will continue to lead. Having said that, I do understand that people want to have input and I will continue to listen to that input, so that we can move forward in a positive way.
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