The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday January 20th

Editorial: Reviewing UNC's policies of the fall semester

The front entrance to the South Building is pictured on Nov. 17, 2021.
Buy Photos The front entrance to the South Building is pictured on Nov. 17, 2021.

We are finally near the end of many students’ first semester on campus, following a virtual year induced by COVID-19.

This fall has not been without hurdles as students — and the University — grappled with a return to on-campus living and in-person learning. The administration is in a crucial situation where its policies are especially important to students and have been known to disappoint the campus community in the past.

It’s time to look back and evaluate how well UNC responded to the challenges it faced this year:

The ongoing pandemic

While COVID-19 is not unique to this semester, it is the first time the University had to accommodate a full return to campus during the ongoing pandemic. UNC’s policies, however, did not reflect the urgency needed to manage this.

Students returned to campus with no vaccine mandate in place, although other public and private universities across the country have proven the feasibility of one. Classrooms were filled to pre-COVID numbers while professors who wished to teach online required approval from their departments. 

Long testing lines for unvaccinated and asymptomatic students stretched across the Pit and COVID-19 clusters emerged in residence halls within weeks of move-in.

Even now, as cases on campus remain low, the University has skated by doing the bare minimum to protect students.

Institutionalized racism

In the wake of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ declining of UNC's delayed tenured offer to join the faculty, the University has done little to show that it values its faculty of color. A predominately white administration and Board of Trustees has remained too silent on issues of racial injustice, while student leaders call for systemic changes to how UNC handles issues of racism.

This includes:

  • Hiring and retaining Black and Indigenous faculty and other faculty of color,
  • Ensuring that students of color are represented in the administration and in support services,
  • Eliminating law enforcement from campus as they have repeatedly targeted Black students and
  • Accelerating the renaming of campus buildings named after white supremacists.

Retaining faculty of color

As tenure-track faculty leave the University for other institutions, UNC has done little to improve working conditions for professors. 

In the wake of the Hannah-Jones' tenure debacle, UNC also lost several prominent faculty of color including Kia Caldwell, former professor of African, African American and diaspora studies, Malinda Maynor Lowery, former director of the Center for the Study of the American South, and Sibby Anderson-Thompkins, former chancellor for equity and inclusion and interim chief diversity officer.

Going forward, we need to demand that UNC not only value the labor of professors — especially those from underrepresented communities — across departments, but also increase the research, development and leadership opportunities that make UNC appealing for prospective hires.

Mental health

Student wellness has not been prioritized by UNC, and this semester clearly reflects that. As students mourned the loss of their peers, the University sent messages referring them to CAPS — symbolic gestures directing them to a resource not well-equipped to meet mental health demand on campus.

This semester, there have been no sweeping, structural changes to how mental health is handled. Meanwhile, CAPS counselors generally only provide only short-term care and referrals to off-campus and often costly long-term counselors.

When it comes to mental health, students have been left in the dark.

When it comes to fostering safe and healthy routines amid the pandemic, UNC has done little to aid the process.

When it comes to antiracism, UNC has proven that it does not value the voices of Black students and faculty.

When it comes to retaining professors, the University has failed to create a sustainable teaching and working environment.

UNC’s policies have fallen short, showing that students and faculty are not a priority for the administration.

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that CAPS had a waitlist for students. There has not been a waitlist in place since October. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

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