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UNC Faculty Council discusses COVID, University Approved Absence policies


The Old Well, complimented by late summer flora, stands tall on August 7, 2022. 

In the first 2023 meeting of the UNC Faculty Council, updates on the pandemic were shared along with discussions of the approved UNC absence policy and the presentation of the 2022 Thomas Jefferson Award.

Jill Moore, secretary of the faculty, opened the January meeting Friday in the absence of Chairperson Mimi Chapman, who was unable to attend.

COVID-19 Updates

  • Dr. David Weber gave faculty and administration an update on pandemic protocols. He explained that case numbers have been lower in the United States, but expressed the remaining potential danger of the virus. 
  • “I don’t want to minimize the impact of COVID,” Weber said. “We’re losing a little over 500 people a day to COVID. It was and is the third-leading cause of death in the United States for the past three years, surpassed only by cancer and heart disease.” 
  • Weber also discussed additional COVID-19 variants in the United States, paying particular attention to the new, highly-contagious XBB variant. 
  • Audrey Pettifor, a professor in the department of epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, asked Weber about his opinions on Paxlovid — an antiviral treatment for COVID-19.
  • “I have a strong feeling that we are underusing Paxlovid and I personally would like to see the FDA release it for all use and leave it up to clinical judgment about it,” Weber said. 

2022 Thomas Jefferson Award

  • Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced that Professor Geoffrey Sayre-McCord of the department of philosophy would be this year’s recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award. The award was established in 1961 by the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation, with nominations accepted from any member of the University faculty.
  • “[The award] is presented annually to that member of the academic community who through personal influence and performance of duty in teaching, writing and scholarship has best exemplified the ideals of democracy, freedom and education,” Guskiewicz said.
  • Sayre-McCord is the director of the UNC Philosophy, Politics and Economics program. He is also the Founding Director of the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Society, an international society for those interested in issues that occur between the three disciplines. 
  • "Jeff is a fantastic teacher, researcher and leader on our campus, and Jeff has served our University’s mission of teaching, research and service faithfully,” Guskiewicz said. 

University Approved Absence Policy

  • Professor Meg Zomordi of the School of Nursing and Dean of Students Desirée Rieckenberg gave a presentation about the University Approved Absence Office and also discussed common misconceptions surrounding class attendance policies. 
  • Rieckenberg said there were approximately 1,079 University approved absences for the 2020-2021 academic year, compared to approximately 5,063 in the 2021-2022 school year. 
  • “The numbers, you can see, are staggeringly high, and the growth is the piece that we have been keeping a big pulse on,” she said. 
  • A student can request that an absence be University approved if it falls within the given criteria: authorized University activities, disability, religious observances, pregnancy, significant health conditions or personal family emergencies. 
  • “(In fall 2022) over 2500 requests are received, and only 980 of those are actually approved as meeting the criteria that the attendance policy sets forth,” Rieckenberg said. 
  • Rieckenberg also drew attention to the University class attendance policy, explaining that faculty do not need permission to approve and/or excuse any absences. She said the Dean of Students office is working to partner with faculty in order to ensure student success both in and outside of the classroom. 
  • Zomordi presented certain scenarios to faculty in order to work through what is and is not a University Approved Absence and explained the different ways in which faculty can handle student absences. 

What else is new? 

  • Guskiewicz announced that a new committee has been formed on academic freedom and free speech, which will advise him and Provost Chris Clemens on the best practices for advancing academic freedom.

What’s Next? 

  • The faculty council will meet again on Feb. 17 at the Michael Hooker Research Center.


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