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UNC Faculty Executive Committee discusses spring pass/fail options

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DTH Screenshot. Mimi Chapman, the current chair of the faculty, speaks at the faculty executive meeting on Jan 10, 2022.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise with UNC's return to campus, the Faculty Executive Committee discussed pass/fail grading for the semester — an issue Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz asked Faculty Chairperson Mimi Chapman to bring to the committee's meeting on Monday.

The committee also conferred on changes to campus testing and student isolation protocols.

What’s new?

  • "This is not necessarily a decision-making moment, but more just a chance to find out what the relevant questions are, identify issues, get different people's perspectives on it and then think about where to go from here," Chapman said on pass/fail.
  • Guskiewicz met with leaders of the Black Student Movement on Dec. 31. The organization published requests for spring academic and COVID-19 safety policies last week.
  • The BSM's request proposed making the current pass/fail system similar to that of fall 2020 and spring 2021, and/or extending the deadline for students to decide whether to pass/fail a class beyond the eight-week deadline.
  • Student Body President Lamar Richards said he has heard similar accommodation requests from students, which he brought forth to the FEC.
    • “One's more about accommodations and allowing students to engage in a bit more flexibility surrounding an uncertain semester,” Richards said. “And the other is just simply asking for an extension to the current pass/fail, then I may be a bit more practical at this point.”
  • Director and Lead Physician of the Carolina Together Testing Program Dr. Amir Barzin spoke about updates to Campus Health and Hallpass testing and answered questions concerning the spread of omicron on campus. 
  • He said that if omicron cases on campus follow the same trajectory as in places like South Africa and the United Kingdom, it appears that there will be an abrupt peak and an abrupt drop.
  • Barzin also said that the University has stopped asymptomatic testing for unvaccinated students.
    • “But I will tell you that many, many healthcare systems, including our own here at UNC, have completely stopped asymptomatic testing because of the lack of safety and security and supply chain for testing supports," he said.
  • Audrey Pettifor and Justin Lessler, professors in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, presented information and updates to campus COVID-19 models as data shifts with the spread of the omicron variant.
    • “I'm sure that infections are projected to peak about the third or fourth week of January, with something like 850 to 1,600 infections occurring per day," Lessler said. "And over the first 30 days, we expect about 13,000 to 22,000 infections to occur. But remember, infections are not cases, many of these may be asymptomatic.”
    • As students and faculty enter the spring semester, UNC reported 913 positive cases among students from Jan. 4 to Jan. 10, according to its COVID-19 dashboard. During the week the University shut down campus in August 2020, it reported 505 positive cases among students.
  • Also at the meeting, Provost Bob Blouin provided updates to the University Libraries’ funding.
    • It was announced in the September that University Libraries will face a total $5 million in budget cuts over the next two fiscal years
    • Blouin said that a $800,000 adjustment was made to the University Libraries budget recently, and $2 million was allocated to the libraries this week from Facilities & Administrative funds.
    •  "I just want to make sure that everyone understands that this is related to a historical deficit that the library has had that has been cumulative," he said. "Not exclusively, but certainly extensively affected by some of the predatory practices of some of the publishers that continue to grow publication costs for the library."

What’s next?

 FEC members plan to continue their discussion on the implications of the omicron variant at the Jan. 14 Faculty Council meeting.

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