Our planning for the Spring 2021 semester must be guided by a sober and realistic assessment of the pandemic conditions we face.
- Nationally, we are averaging, as of this writing, 174,000 new cases per day, nearly twice the daily average as recently as Nov. 3. (Dr. Anthony Fauci has repeatedly stated that the country needs fewer than 10,000 new cases per day in order to assert "some level of control" over COVID-19.)
- New daily cases are at least three times higher nationally today than they were when UNC classes began on Aug. 10, and the same is true in North Carolina.
- COVID-19 cases on college campuses continue to rise dramatically. Despite more campuses closing and pivoting to online classes, cases on college campuses jumped nationally to 321,000 in the first three weeks of November – just as students were preparing to leave campus for the holidays.
- Evidence suggests that campus cases have caused significant surges in nearby communities.
- Hospitalizations are at an all-time high, both nationally and in North Carolina.
- Despite the very promising recent news about forthcoming vaccines, no vaccine will be widely available before mid-2021.
- One of our national peers, the University of Michigan, recently announced that it would be sharply reducing in-person instruction and residential density for its upcoming Winter term (January to May). “What’s changed is the national context,” noted UM President Mark Schlissel. "The outbreak is blossoming again all over the country, including in our state."
UNC's testing plans for spring are vastly improved, but testing itself is not enough to ensure a safe campus.
- In various meetings with department leaders, administrators have said they want about 20 to 30 percent of classes to be taught in person.
- It was reported at a recent task force meeting that the University's goal is to raise the number of undergraduates living on campus from 1,000 (after the fall "off-ramp" pivot) to 3,000, with many of them sharing suites and bathrooms.
- Monitoring off-campus activities will remain a serious challenge.
As a result, we have every reason to expect that the University will – once again – be overwhelmed by infections when classes resume.
Are Chapel Hill's leaders ready to face that reality when it comes?
Last summer, the administration opened campus despite an urgent advisory from the Orange County Health Department, which they failed to publicize. The provost has already signaled that once students return to campus for spring, there’s no turning back, saying, “Once we get our students back on campus, I don’t believe we have an off-ramp."
Given current conditions and UNC’s track record, the plans for spring are doomed to repeat too many of the failures of the fall. The only ethical decision is to cancel face-to-face instruction (with the exception of classes that demand it, such as clinical experience) and to keep on-campus residency reserved for those who have special circumstances.
Roughly 1,000 undergraduates with special circumstances lived on campus this fall. We were able to accommodate them without spikes and clusters. Let’s not more than triple that number. Similarly, we recognize that there are staff who must continue to work on campus; they should receive ample, high-quality PPE and hazard pay.
The vaccine trial results of recent weeks provide good reasons to hope that we need to endure only one more remote semester. Another semester of remote-only instruction will intensify the University’s financial challenges, and a group of UNC faculty, graduate students and campus workers is charting an alternative path to restoring the institution's fiscal health, one that would not involve any furloughs and layoffs.
We call on UNC administrators to put public health first, to show courageous leadership and to accept the realities that the unchecked coronavirus has created for us all.
Deciding now to go remote for the spring will allow students and their families time to plan for the spring semester. It will also save lives in communities across the state and nation until the pandemic is brought under control.
Deb Aikat, Associate Professor, Hussman School of Journalism and Media
Emily Baragwanath, Associate Professor, Classics
Trude Bennett, Associate Professor Emerita, School of Public Health
Lucia Binotti, Professor, Romance Studies
Karen Booth, Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies
Patricia Bryan, Professor, Law
Kathryn Burns, Professor, History
Kia Caldwell, Professor, African, African American, and Diaspora Studies
Pamela Cooper, Associate Professor, English & Comparative Literature
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Associate Professor, School of Information & Library Science
Elyse Crystall, Teaching Associate Professor, English & Comparative Literature
María DeGuzmán, Eugene H. Falk Distinguished Professor, English & Comparative Literature
Mark Driscoll, Associate Professor, Asian Studies
Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor, Religious Studies
Maxine Eichner, Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor, Law
Arturo Escobar, Professor Emeritus, Anthropology
Sue Estroff, Professor, Social Medicine
Erik Gellman, Associate Professor, History
Don Haggis, Professor, Classics
Elizabeth Havice, Associate Professor, Geography
Glenn Hinson, Associate Professor, American Studies
Serenella Iovino, Professor, Romance Studies
Jerma A. Jackson, Associate Professor, History
Sharon James, Professor, Classics
Kenneth Janken, Professor, African, African American, & Diaspora Studies
Diane Juffras, Professor, School of Government
Mark Katz, John P. Barker Distinguished Professor, Music
Emil’ Keme (K'iche' Maya Nation), Associate Professor, Romance Studies
Scott Kirsch, Professor, Geography
Sherryl Kleinman, Professor Emerita, Sociology
Seth Kotch, Associate Professor, American Studies
Daniel Kreiss, Associate Professor, Hussman School of Media and Journalism
Beth Kurtz-Costes, Professor, Psychology
Michael C. Lambert, Associate Professor, African, African American, and Diaspora Studies
Marc Lange, Theda Perdue Distinguished Professor, Philosophy
Miguel La Serna, Professor, History
Christian C. Lentz, Associate Professor, Geography
Raúl Necochea López, Associate Professor, Social Medicine
Jodi Magness, Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence, Religious Studies
John McGowan, Professor Emeritus, English & Comparative Literature
Terence McIntosh, Associate Professor, History
Ted Mouw, Professor, Sociology
Fred Naiden, Professor, History
Ram Neta, Professor, Philosophy
Don Nonini, Professor, Anthropology
James O’Hara, George L. Paddison Professor of Latin, Classics
Michael Palm, Associate Professor, Communication
Susan Pennybacker, Chalmers W. Poston Distinguished Professor, History
Louis A. Pérez, J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor, History
Tonia Poteat, Assistant Professor, Social Medicine
C.D.C. Reeve, Delta Kappa Epsilon Distinguished Professor, Philosophy
Tom Reinert, Associate Professor, English & Comparative Literature
Annette Rodriguez, Assistant Professor, American Studies
Victoria Rovine, Professor, Art & Art History
Patricia Sawin, Associate Professor, American Studies
Kumi Silva, Associate Professor, Communication
elin o’Hara slavick, Professor, Art
Jay Smith, Professor, History
Sara Smith, Associate Professor, Geography
Lynda Stone, Samuel M. Holton Distinguished Professor, School of Education
Hồng-Ân Truong, Associate Professor, Art
Katherine Turk, Associate Professor, History
Michael Waltman, Associate Professor, Communication
Ellen Welch, Professor, Romance Studies
Rachel Willis, Professor, American Studies
Erika K. Wilson, Associate Professor, Wade Edwards Distinguished Scholar, Law
Megan Winget, Teaching Assistant Professor, School of Information & Library Science
Nadia Yaqub, Professor, Asian Studies
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