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Tuesday October 19th

'High level of anxiety': Faculty Executive Committee on safety and communication concerns

The Faculty Executive Committee met via Zoom on Friday, Aug. 30.
Buy Photos The Faculty Executive Committee met via Zoom on Friday, Aug. 30.

UNC Faculty Executive Committee members met Monday for the first time since classes started to discuss COVID-19 safety, faculty communication concerns and faculty governance. 

The meeting is also the first time the FEC has met since 500 UNC faculty and staff members signed a petition directed at University administration to move classes online for the first four to six weeks in an open letter titled “The Risks are too High.” 

What’s new? 

  • Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced: "We're thrilled to welcome the largest and more diverse class ever at convocation." 
    • According to Guskiewicz, UNC’s first-year class comes from 96 North Carolina counties, 46 states and 98 countries. Additionally, 19 percent of the class is composed of first-generation college students. 
  • There have been no cases of fraudulent vaccine card submission to the University, and according to Guskiewicz, "Any student that we find has uploaded a fraudulent vaccination card will be suspended."
  • The previous $50 fee charged to students who receive COVID-19 tests at Campus Health on weekends has been waived to increase testing accessibility for students, Guskiewicz said. 

Communication concerns

Professors on the FEC expressed concerns to Guskiewicz and Provost Bob Blouin regarding the communication they have received about what to do if someone in a class tests positive, contact tracing measures and potential off-ramp plans. 

  • According to Blouin, deans and department chairs are in charge of developing the protocol for how to deal with changing class modes due to COVID-19 infections. 
    • Journalism and Media Professor Deb Aikat said that many faculty members are confused about how to go about shifting class modes and what approval is necessary to make accommodations for illness. 
    • "There's a high level of anxiety and fear as all of us are going back to campus and teaching in-person classes,” Aikat said. “And that anxiety and fear is shared by the students, faculty and staff alike." 
  • Blouin said in order to permanently shift a class mode from in-person, faculty members must get approved by the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office. 
    • FEC members brought up that current requests from faculty to adjust classes are not being met by the EOC office within the ideal time frame of three to seven days. 
  • Chairperson Mimi Chapman brought up faculty concerns over the lack of an off-ramp plan. 
    • The University does not plan to send students home or move to fully remote classes. 
    • According to Medical Director of the Family Medicine Center Dr. Amir Barzin, the University is monitoring several factors in making health and safety decisions:
      • Rise in case load
      • Cases that are connected
      • Whether or not there is an epidemiological link between cases
      • Isolation capacity
    • There is currently not a specific point set for when these criteria would lead to an offramp. “We have been advised by our experts — some of the best in the world — to not have a threshold on any of these,” Guskiewicz said.

Thomas Jefferson award conversation 

Each year, one faculty member is presented with the Thomas Jefferson award. The award includes a monetary prize and is being presented at the Faculty Council meeting on Friday, Sep. 3. 

  • The award is given to “‘that member of the academic community who through personal influence and performance of duty in teaching, writing and scholarship has best exemplified the ideals and objectives of Thomas Jefferson,’ whose complex legacy includes the values of democracy, public service and the pursuit of knowledge.”
  • Chapman addressed concerns about the name of the award given a history of racism associated with Thomas Jefferson. 
  • According to Chapman, faculty leaders decided to continue with the award under the current name this year and acknowledge the controversy associated with the name. 
    • Moving forward, Chapman said FEC may pursue additional discussions about the award’s name and potential changes. 

In closing

Members of the FEC closed with a brief conversation into the possibility of changing the structure of faculty governance and plan to continue the conversation at their next meeting on Sep. 27. 


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