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Faculty Executive Committee discusses spring return-to-campus concerns at UNC

FEC meeting 12.23.jpg
The Faculty Executive Committee held a special meeting on Dec. 23, 2021 to discuss return-to-campus concerns.

The University has no plans to delay the spring semester as of now, Provost Bob Blouin said at a UNC Faculty Executive Committee special meeting Thursday.

Any changes to spring semester operations will be announced by Jan. 3, he said.

The FEC also discussed concerns about the return to campus amid the rapidly spreading omicron COVID-19 variant, masking protocols and the potential for a vaccine mandate.

What’s new?

  • Faculty Chairperson Mimi Chapman opened the discussion, asking if the University still doesn’t have authority from the UNC System to make decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccination and booster mandates.
    • Blouin said other than the federal vaccine mandate for University employees — which is currently being challenged in court system — UNC doesn’t have the authority to mandate vaccines and boosters.
    • Marty Kotis III, a trustee on the UNC Board of Trustees, wrote in the comments section of the meeting that the University has to get permission from the North Carolina Commission for Public Health, not the UNC System, in order to mandate COVID-19 vaccination.
    • Secretary of the Faculty Jill Moore said some UNC System faculty sent the Commission a rule-making petition for a vaccine mandate on Oct. 27. The Commission is required to take action on the petition within 120 days of receiving it.
      • “(The rule-making petition) was submitted at the end of October by about 250+ UNC System faculty members, mostly from Appalachian, but some from our campus,” Moore said. “... They will have to take some action of either granting the rule-making petition or denying it.”
  • The University released updated information on COVID-19 protocols for the spring semester on Wednesday.
    • At the FEC meeting, Blouin said UNC will release additional COVID-19 guidance by Jan. 3, including details on testing modifications and vaccinations.
      • He said the University is consulting their infectious disease experts, who are in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and colleagues in South Africa and Denmark to inform University operation plans for the spring semester.
      • “We’re trying to preserve a high-quality residential experience for our students,” Blouin said. “And to whatever extent we can do that and preserve that, that is our goal, that is our mission. We feel our students deserve that to the best of our ability while still keeping them safe.”
  • Although most undergraduate students will return to classes on Jan. 10, some professional schools at UNC have an earlier start date of Jan. 5. This has raised some concern from professional school faculty about finalized guidelines being released on Jan. 3.
    • FEC member Eric Muller, a professor in UNC’s School of Law, asked if instructors in the school will be allowed to start the semester with a week of remote instruction, due to this discrepancy. 
      • “As of right now, individual schools don’t have that discretion to go remote,” Blouin said.
    • In accordance with guidelines set in place last semester, instructors are allowed to submit individual requests to teach remotely. 
      • “I believe we will be carrying forward the accommodations that were made for the fall into the spring,” Blouin said.
  • Other concerns from faculty and meeting attendees included masking, gathering and social distancing guidelines.
    • The University will continue to require masks indoors. Blouin said this has been a problem for some indoor sporting events, specifically basketball games.
      • “There were expressions of concern at some of the early basketball games in which people observed that there was a large percentage of our community at the game that was not wearing masks,” Blouin said. “We did launch a series of public relations campaigns ... and as I understand it, the complaints have been much reduced and the sense of compliance within the arena is much higher. Obviously not an easy environment to hold people accountable.”
    • Chapman asked if the University is considering imposing gathering limits for basketball and other games.
      • Dr. Amir Barzin, medical director at UNC Health Virtual Care Services, said the University relies on guidance from the state to make decisions on gathering limits.
        • “At this point, there isn’t a recommendation from the state to limit gathering sizes and to put any of those measures in place,” Barzin said.

What’s next?

  • Barzin said the University is planning to collect students' booster vaccination status with a process via ConnectCarolina, similar to the fall semester.
  • The next general FEC meeting will be held virtually on Jan. 10, 2022.


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