COVID-19, Higher Ed, News

Letter urges white tenured faculty to strike at UNC-Chapel Hill over return during COVID-19 pandemic

UNC-Chapel Hill’s  Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective at UNC-Chapel Hill is calling on white tenured faculty members to strike this Fall unless the university moves to remote instruction as its default.

In a letter released this week, the group urges  the faculty members with the greatest power and security to take this step to support faculty, staff and students for whom it would be much more difficult.

The Bell Tower on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

“Those who will be most affected by UNC reopening this fall are those who have already risked so much to make campus safe and just for everyone,” the group wrote in its letter. “It is wrong for the most protected workers to risk the least and the least protected workers to risk the most.”

“We have sacrificed a lot in our efforts to make campus safe without faculty support,” the group wrote. “Now we are asking you to join us. We come to you with hopeful solidarity and genuine willingness to share our hard earned experiential knowledge, resources, and networks developed over years as labor organizers and activists. There is very little time for you to take the steps necessary to mitigate the sickness and death UNC’s fall reopening will cause. We are hopeful and resolute that you will.

The letter comes after a series of petitions from students, faculty and staff urging university and UNC System leaders to reconsider bringing tens of thousands of students back to the 17 UNC campuses beginning next month.

On Monday a group of current and emeritus faculty from across the system sent a letter to UNC System leaders asking online-only classes to be the default system-wide in the Fall semester.

Last week more than 200 faculty at Appalachian State University signed a letter asking students and their families to make the decision to take classes online this semester.

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey made clear last week that individual campuses and their chancellors will not have the power to make decisions about going entirely online due to COVID-19 infections on their campuses. Instead, he told school leaders in an email, that decision will be made by the UNC Board of Governors and incoming UNC System President Peter Hans.

The UNC Board of Governors meets Wednesday in committees and will hold its full board meeting Thursday.

A petition to move instruction online in the Fall semester launched last week has gotten more than 3,000 signatures.

This week’s Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective letter, in full:

Dear faculty,

We, the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective at UNC, come to you hopeful that we can work together in these next crucial days and weeks before August 3rd, when undergraduates are supposed to return to campus. We also come to you exhausted from months—and for many of us, years—of taking great risks to our livelihoods and lives to make this campus safer.

We come to you afraid for our lives and motivated by the relationships we have cultivated with campus workers, graduate workers, and undergraduates, whose fears we are also acting upon. We are asking you to act, too.

White tenured faculty members, we ask you to refuse to teach this fall unless the semester is remote by default, and unless the administration commits to move forward without furloughs or cuts to graduate students’ and low-paid workers’ pay and benefits. We are specifically calling those with the most privilege to take the first step in withholding labor. As Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color have been asked to shoulder the burden of “diversity and inclusion” work in departments, and as many BIPOC faculty took a significant risk in their work on and support of the Roadmap to Racial Equity at UNC-CH this summer, we see this ask as one way for white tenured faculty to step away from protecting their power through silence and inaction. Furthermore, as faculty at the UNC system’s flagship school, Chapel Hill faculty have more security than their colleagues at other UNC schools, who face greater precarity in this moment.

Students returning to campus will, without question, increase the rate of sickness and death within the UNC campus community, in Chapel Hill, across the state, and even across the nation. According to a recent talk given by infectious disease experts, UNC has capacity for 160 students to be quarantined on campus. Before the majority of students have even returned, we have reached a quarter of that capacity with the summer football conditioning outbreak. This summer, UNC has continually failed to deliver on promises to protect and care for the wellbeing of students and staff through COVID relief and prevention resources, including a total lack of transparency with students’ CARES Act funding, requiring staff to reuse limited and inadequate PPE, and not extending testing resources to exposed staff. The University has still not decided or announced when their “off-ramp” would occur or what it would look like.

It is also inevitable, as many individual faculty and organizations have noted, that campus will be forced to return to full online instruction before the end of the semester. Students will again be asked to uproot themselves and further spread COVID to their home communities—and to continue paying for the University housing contracts or off-campus leases they have no choice but to sign to attend on-campus courses at UNC-Chapel Hill

Saving lives and reducing harm must be our priority. The only reasonable choice is to halt reopening before thousands of students, workers, and faculty return to campus. White tenured faculty, you have the power to refuse to implement a deadly reopening plan before the crucial moment when undergraduates return en masse to Chapel Hill.

To date, members of the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective have worked in different ways and with different strategies to do what we can to prevent campus from reopening. We developed an extensively researched petition presenting three simple demands and—recognizing that budget cuts were always going to be announced—outlining practical ways to pursue them without harming the most marginalized among us. This document registered our hope that the campus community would prioritize health and wellbeing over profit or protection of its multi-billion dollar endowment. This means protecting not only the lives of campus workers and graduate students, but their livelihoods, too.

We also spearheaded an effort to work with the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, which is meant to represent all 11,000 UNC graduate and professional students at UNC. We drafted and submitted three resolutions for GPSF’s emergency session: 1) endorse the petition and its demands 2) demand that UNC protect international and undocumented students, and 3) stand in solidarity with campus workers. All three resolutions were passed almost unanimously and were shared with campus and UNC system leadership.

We have coordinated social media and email campaigns to pressure university admin, consistently communicated with our network of petition signees, and gave and solicited feedback to and from university administrators and department chairs. Undergraduate students are doing similar work to push for a remote semester, along with campus workers who have bravely shared their concerns.

This is not the first time students have risked their well-being and livelihoods to fight for the health and safety of our campus community. Members of this collective withheld our labor to prevent the further militarization of UNC police and Silent Sam’s return. But undergraduate student activists fight everyday with their unpaid labor and at the expense of their mental health and physical safety for the rights of working class, BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ peoples across campus.

Campus workers have also been central to the justice and labor movements on our campus. From the founding of the UNC Janitor’s Association by four Black housekeepers in 1930 to the UNC Food Workers Strike of 1969 to the demands issued by the UNC Housekeepers Association in 1996 to going on the record today about UNC’s failure to protect workers from COVID, UNC’s non-faculty staff have consistently risked their jobs, reputations, and safety in order to make Carolina’s campus a safer place for anyone to work.

Those who will be most affected by UNC reopening this fall are those who have already risked so much to make campus safe and just for everyone. It is wrong for the most protected workers to risk the least and the least protected workers to risk the most.

We have sacrificed a lot in our efforts to make campus safe without faculty support. Now we are asking you to join us. We come to you with hopeful solidarity and genuine willingness to share our hard earned experiential knowledge, resources, and networks developed over years as labor organizers and activists. There is very little time for you to take the steps necessary to mitigate the sickness and death UNC’s fall reopening will cause. We are hopeful and resolute that you will.

Sincerely,

Members of the The Anti-Racist Graduate Student Collective at UNC-Chapel Hill

2 Comments


  1. Berel Dov Lerner

    July 22, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    Only ***white*** tenured faculty? Did Fox News suggest the idea so that they would be able to make fun of it on the air??

  2. Abdul

    July 22, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    Moving to online classes well inevitably mean many students withdrawal. Who wants to pay high v tuition and not receive a full student life experience on campus. That’s why we attend universities like UNC, and not just sign up for online degrees at other institutions. Student life and interaction is critical to this entire business model of higher education, without it the staff and faculty won’t have a job. And this Members of the The Anti-Racist Graduate Student Collective at UNC-Chapel Hill would cease to exist. So, let’s focus on implementing guidelines that mitigate risk and provide improved campus safety, not distinguish the entire ball of wax that is higher education.

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