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Sunday September 26th

Editorial: UNC administration has plenty of its own 'publicity stunts'

Sophomore Lamar Richards was elected UNC's 2021-2022 student body president on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, defeating his opponent, junior Keshav Javvadi. Photo courtesy of Hanna Wondmagegn.
Buy Photos Sophomore Lamar Richards was elected UNC's 2021-2022 student body president on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, defeating his opponent, junior Keshav Javvadi. Photo courtesy of Hanna Wondmagegn.

Last week, Student Body President Lamar Richards called an emergency meeting of the Campus Presidents’ Council to discuss the threat of COVID-19 on the student body and the University's safety policies.

In a press release, Undergraduate Student Government Communications said several members of University leadership would attend the emergency meeting.

“Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Provost Bob Blouin, Chief Diversity Officer Leah Cox, Director of Campus Health Services Ken Pittman and Dr. Amir Barzin, Director and Lead Physician, Carolina Together Testing Program, will be present,” the press release said. 

At the meeting, where student leadership urged the need for more comprehensive COVID-19 policies, the chancellor and provost were not in attendance. A University spokesperson later called the meeting a “publicity stunt,” and Guskiewicz said that Richards misrepresented the meeting to generate publicity rather than produce “meaningful dialogue.”

But meaningful dialogue was an outcome of the meeting. Students asked for a vaccine mandate and discussed more expansive masking requirements and testing policies that include vaccinated students.

It seems as if any criticisms of the administration from students can be brushed aside as “publicity stunts,” and go unaddressed by University leaders.

To make it easier for University leadership to discern what qualifies as a publicity stunt, here’s a list of examples:

  • Sending out videos encouraging students to get vaccinated with the student body president, but not attending meetings with student government leaders asking for a vaccine requirement.
  • Snapping photos of hundreds of students at the Old Well on the first day of class, but not showing up to an emergency meeting to address campus health.
  • Conflating the sacrifices of 9/11 responses to the "sacrifice" of students returning to campus amid a pandemic. The campus pandemic situation, however, is perpetuated by the University and its refusal to do more than bare minimum testing and mask requirements.

Let us be clear — UNC has done the bare minimum.

The University follows the UNC System's mandate, which only requires testing for unvaccinated students, and recently, UNC moved to require testing twice a week for unvaccinated students. Vaccinations are not required — although several other public universities have proven it is possible to mandate them.

Policies like these create the illusion of safety and efficacy without making any sweeping, impactful decisions.

When the chancellor and school administration ignore their responsibility to address COVID-19 concerns, it’s not just student leaders who are enraged, but the student body they represent. It’s not just professors at risk when they face lecture halls with hundreds of students, but it’s also the staff that work hard every day to ensure the campus is safe and clean.

We can’t avoid going to classes. Dining hall staff can’t avoid the hundreds of students they serve daily. Housekeeping can’t avoid the students they come in contact with throughout campus. Professors can’t choose to go online without seeking special approval.

But the campus leadership has demonstrated that they can avoid these tough conversations.

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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