The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday January 20th

UNC faculty governance talked COVID-19, UNC governance, mental health in 2021

For every conflict the University has faced in 2021, faculty members on the Faculty Council and Faculty Executive Committee have weighed in on how UNC should navigate these challenges.

Faculty governance has paid attention to the UNC's COVID-19 policies, monetary issues, community mental health and academic freedom. 

Here's a look at some of the issues they've discussed: 

COVID-19 policies

Throughout the year, faculty governance has evaluated and raised concerns about UNC's pandemic response.

At an April meeting, the Faculty Council discussed the UNC System’s decision not to require vaccinations for returning students. Conversations focused on a potential vaccine mandate resurfaced in the fall semester. 

At an August meeting, the FEC also shared their concerns with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin that communications surrounding plans for reopening campus were unclear. 

The meeting was the first time the FEC had met since about 500 faculty members signed a petition to move classes online for the first four-to-six weeks of the fall semester. 

Jill Moore, current secretary of the faculty, said she expects the pandemic to continue to be at the forefront of faculty governance conversations.

"We're going to be continuing to look at the pandemic and how it's affected our entire community, faculty, students and staff, and what it means for operations going forward,” she said. “The faculty has a keen interest in all of that and will want to continue to have a voice in it.”

At the Faculty Council’s Nov. 5 meeting, Guskiewicz said he expects the spring semester at UNC to begin fully in person with at least one scheduled wellness day.

Budget

The University’s budget was a frequent topic of conversation among faculty governance.

Chief Financial Officer and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Operations Nate Knuffman presented a plan to balance the University budget to the Faculty Council in March. 

Knuffman announced UNC schools and departments will face a 1.5 percent cut to personnel funds and a 7.5 percent cut to operational funds in the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years. 

Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian Elaine L. Westbrooks announced in October that University Libraries will  face a total $5 million budget cuts over the two fiscal years

“And the library budget getting cut is very ominous because, in many ways, we use the library, you use the library, I use the library — everybody uses the library," said Deb Aikat, associate professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. 

Mental health

The Faculty Executive Committee held a meeting in October to discuss the University’s response to the mental health crisis on campus. 

“Our Faculty Council and Faculty Executive Committee is trying to urge our chancellor and the UNC leaders to have significant days in Spring 2022 when we could have mental health days,” Aikat said.

The committee also discussed how the University could broaden and strengthen its mental health support. It considered solutions like increasing the number of counselors who are representative of the student body and training faculty, staff and teaching assistants to hear student distress and respond appropriately. 

Academic freedom

Faculty governance also encountered issues related to academic freedom this year. 

In July, the Faculty Council held an emergency meeting to discuss fears that the Board of Trustees, Board of Governors and others were planning to remove Kevin Guskiewicz from his role as UNC’s chancellor.

Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman called the meeting in response to rumors that those at the highest level of system governance were considering removing the chancellor. 

The council passed a resolution affirming their confidence in Guskiewicz and emphasizing the need for faculty to be considered when it comes to leadership.

“A change in leadership at this time would be deeply destabilizing to the state, the people we serve, and the UNC system. We emphatically oppose it because it does not follow the principles of shared governance, consultation, and established means of leadership change,” the resolution said.

Aikat and 12 others abstained during that resolution vote. He said other matters concerning faculty of color — as well as Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure application — did not receive as much attention or swift response. 

In May, the UNC Board of Trustees initially failed to approve the tenure of Nikole Hannah-Jones as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. 

Chapman wrote a letter in June urging the UNC community members to speak up on the issue and advocate for voices with expertise to make decisions on faculty scholarship. 

“You only have to agree that faculty voices must govern the tenure process for academic integrity to have meaning,” she wrote.

University leadership

At the Nov. 29 FEC meeting, the committee discussed concerns over heavy BOT involvement in the provost decision. Current Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin will step down in December

Prior to the meeting, Chapman wrote an op-ed that published in The Daily Tar Heel.

"Based on the information that is being relayed to me by multiple sources, our trustees and the UNC System are dictating [the chancellor's] choices to the point that he really has none to make," she said. "As has happened before, some will call these 'rumors' and say I deal in conspiracies. They are not rumors, and I deal only in the truth."

@emilyorland

@claire_tynan

university@dailytarheel.com

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