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Thursday December 8th

UNC Faculty Council members express concerns about spring COVID-19 policies

<p>The back entrance of South Building and the Old Well are pictured on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.</p>
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. The back entrance of South Building and the Old Well are pictured on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.

Thus far this semester at UNC, there has been no University-wide mandate for classes to be held online, either temporarily or for the whole semester.

Instead, the University opted to begin the semester as planned and delegate authority to deans to temporarily modify instruction modes for courses.

This decision has caused some tensions for members of the Faculty Council and other leadership bodies who have expressed concerns about UNC administration not gathering enough input from the council and other community members on spring semester plans.

'More voices at the table'

Faculty Chairperson Mimi Chapman, said University administration needed to communicate earlier with the council about COVID-19 policies.

She said in addition to infectious disease experts and administrators, more faculty, University employees and representatives of the student body should be able to give input.

“It’s best when we’re all thinking together,” Chapman said. “That’s why it would be great to have more voices at the table earlier.”

UNC announced the spring 2022 plans in a campus-wide email on Dec. 31. The COVID-19 measures include continued mask usage in public settings and required prior-to-arrival testing for unvaccinated students and students living on campus.

Also on Dec. 31, the Faculty Executive Committee was scheduled to meet specifically to discuss spring semester. But the University announced its plans earlier that morning, and Chapman canceled the meeting.

Chapman said she decided to do so because of the similarity between the semester's COVID-19 policies in the announcement and those previously communicated to the FEC.

“I was afraid there was going to be a change in plan that no one had the chance to hear about,” she said. “When the campus communication came out, it was the same, so at that point I didn’t think there was a need to hold the meeting.”

Although the policies remained the same, Deb Aikat, a Hussman School of Journalism and Media professor and member of the Faculty Council, said he is still concerned about the campus remaining open during the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

He noted the projected numbers of COVID-19 infections listed in a report by UNC epidemiologists, which predicts a high of 1,650 new COVID-19 infections per day in the first two to three weeks of the semester.

“A lot of these decisions are made by people sitting behind their desks, not the ones cleaning bathrooms or engaging with a class of 200 students," Aikat said. "It almost seems like we are praying that these COVID cases will come down suddenly, magically. As much as we believe in prayer and promise, it is not happening. Shouldn’t we all work together to make sure the model doesn’t come true?”

'Things will get better'

In a Jan. 6 campus-wide email, the University said that they are consulting with infectious disease and public health experts to monitor and adjust University operations.

"Based on this guidance and trends nationally and in the state, we acknowledge that there will likely be a high number of positive cases on campus, and we will continue to monitor and adjust operations as necessary," the email said.

Aikat said he is teaching his classes remotely for the first three weeks of the semester. However, he said he understands holding classes fully remotely puts a strain on mental health for students.

“Truth be told, I think our students prefer the on-campus experience," Aikat said.

Faculty, staff and community members will convene for a Campus and Community Advisory Committee meeting on Friday — for the first time since August 2021.

The committee, which started in fall 2020, intends to bring voices from all campus constituencies into conversations about University operations, specifically regarding COVID-19.

Katie Musgrove, chairperson of the Employee Forum, said the CCAC brings to light the experiences of a wide variety of people on campus. 

“Coming to us with various options about how to run things would be more preferable,” Musgrove said. “We’re hearing updates, but having buy-in and input is so valuable.”

Despite the disruption of COVID-19 infections and tensions between the University leaders and senior administration, Chapman said she has hope as the semester progresses.

“I think it’s going to be a rough four weeks and we all need to be patient and giving toward one another,” she said. “Things will get better.”

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