With less than a month left in the semester, University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis sat down with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to talk about planning for the fall semester, the state of the University budget and the campus building renaming process.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
The Daily Tar Heel: How are you feeling about the progress of the spring semester?
Kevin Guskiewicz: I have been feeling really good about it ... I've been talking about the need to look backwards so that we can learn how to move forwards. We've conducted over 150,000 COVID tests with an overall positivity rate of less than 1 percent across the entire semester, which is incredible. We've had a low number of students in our quarantine and isolation spaces. In fact at one point we were notified that there was not one student living in the quarantine and isolation dorms. And since that time, I think we've had at most a handful at any given time. We've not had a cluster notification in over two months, since Feb. 4. And our frontline workers and essential workers on campus have worked tirelessly to protect us from the virus.
And I could not be happier with the way our students have followed the COVID-19 community standards. We've had very few reports of violations. We're moving quickly to ensure that our community's vaccinated. As of about noon (Thursday) we had vaccinated at our student clinic over 2,700 students in just a little over a week. And I hope that by the end of the day (Friday), it will likely be over 3,200. So I'm very optimistic.
DTH: Will the Carolina Together Testing Program continue into the summer and fall?
KG: Right now we are keeping the current plan for the Carolina Together Testing Program in place through commencement. We will make some decisions here over the next two to three weeks about any modifications to that plan that we might put in place throughout the summer months.
I know that students who have been vaccinated have been asking about the need to continue testing, but we still have more to learn ... It's likely that the Carolina Together Testing Program will be in place for the fall. But it just may look a little different in terms of what's required based on how things evolve over the summer, with regard to the vaccine and the number of students who are here living and learning on campus.
DTH: What is your vision for what the fall semester will look like?
KG: We are planning for in-person, classroom teaching, with safety measures likely still in place. Right now we're sort of in a complicated time on our campus. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we're not at the end of the tunnel yet, but I'm confident that we'll be able to get there ...
It's very likely that we'll resume a normal campus work environment by mid-summer, most likely by mid-July, in advance of the start of the fall semester ... We hope to announce a specific date later in April for the return to normal campus operations. And we continue to consult with the UNC System and our governing boards.
DTH: Some institutions are requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Why isn’t UNC?
KG: We're still working on a plan for that. It's unclear whether a mandate is necessary, or even feasible. There are a lot of issues around a mandate. And so while some institutions — not many, I think it's four or five that we're aware of — have mandated this, I think it's premature to do that. We still have a lot to learn.
DTH: Who would be involved in that decision?
KG: Right now we're asking a lot of questions. It's something that certainly the UNC System would be involved with, whether that mandate would come through them, or from a change in the state law or perhaps autonomy given to the individual campuses — it's just unclear right now.
To address the University's $100 million structural budget deficit, UNC announced in January that it will cut operating funds by 7.5 percent and personnel funds by 1.5 percent in both this fiscal year and the next.
DTH: How are those cuts being implemented? Is there any area of the University that was hit the hardest?
KG: No, this was across the board, to each unit that were given these cuts. But we've given them the autonomy to identify how to manage it. There were eight guiding principles that we've provided aligning with Carolina Next, our strategic plan, in terms of the unit leader setting priorities for what they needed to try to preserve to stay true to their mission. I want to try to protect our people, as best as we can. Fortunately, we've seen very few furloughs. Those unit leaders are still implementing those cuts, but I'm very pleased with the progress they're making.
DTH: What is UNC doing to make sure it doesn’t fall into the structural deficit, again?
KG: We've learned a lot over the last five or six years as we've tried to think about how to address this structural deficit. I think it's a more disciplined approach to spending ... It's recognizing that there are a lot of commitments that are made, and these are recurring dollars. Sometimes what happens is we try to fund things with one-time, non-recurring dollars for recurring needs. And so that's what I mean by really becoming more disciplined with how we're spending, and ultimately funding these initiatives.
DTH: With personnel funding cuts, how is UNC working to stay competitive to other institutions in faculty pay?
KG: Let me be clear, the 1.5 percent is not a reduction in salary of our faculty. In fact, we're hopeful that we'll see salary increases this year for our employees of Carolina, which would include faculty and staff.
... We have the ability to provide increases to compete, and in some cases match those offers from other universities, so I don't believe that this 1.5 percent personnel reduction will affect the ability to retain our faculty.
DTH: Is the HR action pause still in place?
KG: It's still in place. Each week we look at a list of HR actions. In some cases, these are filling vacant positions, sometimes they're requests for new positions, but each unit that puts those forward, they have to stay within their budget, and that budget around personnel is 1.5 percent lower than what it was last year, and it'll be an additional 1.5 percent lower next year. We are very pleased with where our deans and unit leaders are ...
In some cases we are making exceptions when there's a strong case made to make a hire or to provide a top-up to a salary if there are additional duties being asked of an employee to cover some of the responsibilities that perhaps a person would have otherwise held whose position is not being filled. I think we're working toward a more efficient workforce.
DTH: How is the University navigating a hiring freeze with increasing enrollment and a three-percent increase in offers of admission this year?
KG: My goal is that we can grow enrollment over each of the next four years. We just may not be able to grow it at the rate that we had hoped. And this incoming class will be slightly larger than last year's incoming class and hopefully next year's incoming class will be larger than this incoming class. But we have to grow responsibly, sustainably. And there will be a need eventually for additional faculty and likely additional staff to help meet those needs because we don't want to increase enrollment and not provide the quality experience that our students deserve. So it's a balancing act.
DTH: You recently announced a plan for students to submit names for consideration for buildings on campus with removed names. How did you decide to rename buildings through this process?
KG: We just felt that we needed to have input from every constituency possible. That call went out to our students, our faculty, our staff, our alumni, community members. I'm really pleased where we are. I've heard as of (Wednesday) there's been over 1,100 submissions. And so there's a lot of work ahead. But I think we're going to generate a really good list of potential names that could potentially replace those names that have been removed from our buildings.
DTH: The Commission on History, Race and A Way Forward has posted dossiers for multiple building names this year. What is the status of those building names in the removal process?
KG: I'm working closely with Patricia Parker and Jim LeLoudis, who co-chair the History, Race and A Way Forward Commission, and I'm anticipating in the near future receiving a final set of dossiers, or at least final in that's where they are in the process, and at that point, I will consider putting those forward to the committee that would conduct some additional research as needed, and then provide a recommendation back to me regarding potential name removals.
DTH: What is the status of the request to the Town of Chapel Hill that UNC’s Police’s jurisdiction be extended to include off-campus Greek life houses?
KG: This is been under consideration for a while now, and it's still in process. It's an idea that still requires more discussion, both at the level of the Town and within our leadership team here and our Board of Trustees, so it's still in process.
DTH: What motivated this extension request?
KG: We already have an agreement with the Town that provides joint jurisdiction in certain locations that are technically on Town property but they house students, so Granville Towers is an example. So the idea would be that it would just extend that joint jurisdiction to additional properties so that we could improve safety. It always comes back to that, and to provide a safer environment for our students on these properties to have the ability of either police force or both police forces working in collaboration to handle anything that might occur on those properties.
DTH: Would an extension of UNC Police’s jurisdiction also affect students living off-campus, not in Greek housing?
KG: The current idea is that it would strictly be for Greek houses and properties.
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