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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Let's not do this again

UNC Chancellor, Kevin M. Guskiewicz, speaks during the UNC Board of Trustees full board meeting held at The Carolina Inn using COVID-19 protocols limiting the in-person attendance to 25 and having some participate via Zoom on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. Photo courtesy of Jon Gardiner.

New semester, same irresponsibility. 

After the colossal failures of fall semester, UNC will welcome students back to campus once again — despite alarming trends in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths across the state.

In-person classes won’t begin right away, however. On Thursday, the administration announced that the return to undergraduate in-person instruction will be delayed by three weeks. Classes will still begin on Jan. 19, but will be held remotely until Feb. 8. 

Currently, about 20 percent of classes are scheduled to be held in person, and 31 percent of undergraduates have at least one in-person class. 

But what difference is three weeks going to make? 

Bringing students back to campus for in-person classes is reckless and irresponsible, and it will still be reckless and irresponsible three weeks from now. If current trends continue, we can expect things to be even worse in February. Delaying the inevitable will almost certainly result in another rocky transition to remote learning — for the third semester in a row. 

We’re not the only ones who are concerned. In December, The Daily Tar Heel published an op-ed signed by dozens of faculty members calling for the University to go fully remote for the spring semester.

“We have every reason to expect that the University will — once again — be overwhelmed by infections when classes resume,” they wrote. 

Has the administration learned nothing from its past mistakes? Sure, improvements have been made, including reduced housing occupancy and mandatory asymptomatic evaluation testing. Both measures were successful in keeping COVID-19 case numbers low at peer institutions, such as Duke University, in the fall.

But by all accounts, the circumstances are far more dire now than they were in August, when a premature reopening resulted in an explosion of COVID-19 cases on our own campus. And with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz saying the University has “no intentions” of sending students home, it seems once again the administration is ill-prepared to transition quickly if things go awry. 

And still, an even bigger question remains: can we even trust UNC to successfully pull this off? The relationship between the University and its students is historically fraught. Time after time, the administration has failed us, proving just how unworthy they are of our trust and respect. After all, it’s hard to imagine UNC successfully enforcing its so-called “community standards” when it can’t even prevent a massive drug ring from operating out of fraternity houses just a stone’s throw away from campus.

UNC must be more transparent in its intentions. Are there specific thresholds that determine whether it's safe for in-person instruction? And if so, what are they? How does the University plan to monitor off-campus activity, particularly among Greek organizations? 

Jeopardizing public safety in order to give students a watered-down version of "the Carolina experience" is unconscionable. For many, the Carolina experience is entangled with white supremacy, trauma and institutional betrayal — and it certainly isn't worth dying for.

We refuse to let the administration gamble with our lives again. When the stakes are this high, it’s better to be safe than sorry. UNC should avoid another embarrassment and cancel in-person instruction altogether. 


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