COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC System president to “weigh the best course” for each system school following COVID-19 outbreaks

After a week that saw both N.C. State University UNC Chapel-Hill move undergraduate classes online due to COVID-19 outbreaks, UNC System President Peter Hans said he is “working with each chancellor to weigh the best course for each campus.”

“Since the pandemic began, we have listened to and collaborated with leading public health officials while closely monitoring changing conditions across the state,” Hans said in a written statement Friday. “We will continue to do so because health and safety is our priority. Each campus has unique resources and challenges, so flexibility is key. I’m working with each chancellor to weigh the best course for each campus.”

UNC System President Peter Hans.

The system and its individual schools have been highly criticized for moving forward with re-opening plans that were against the advice of medical experts and public health officials. In the case of UNC-Chapel Hill that included proceeding with on-campus living and in-person courses against the recommendation of the Orange County Health Department. According to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, UNC System leaders advised him to “stay the course” with their plan despite that recommendation.

The full-capacity, shared space, on-campus housing plans put in place at most UNC schools qualify as “highest risk”  according to guidelines put forward by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The in-person classroom plans qualify as “more risk” — the middle tier of three risk categories. Most UNC schools have not actively limited students in their dormitories, instead relying on concerned students cancelling their housing contracts to reduce density in shared living spaces.

“I want to thank the faculty and staff doing extraordinary work under tough conditions,” Hans wrote in his message. “I also commend all of those students who have acted to protect themselves and our community. We all hoped for better circumstances this fall. But no matter what, we will provide the rich, rigorous education our students need and deserve.”

At the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, the Durham-based two-year residential high school run by the system, classes are set to begin Monday.

This week, seeing the proliferation of infection clusters at other system campuses, the faculty at NCSSM passed a resolution opposing in-person, residential learning in the Fall semester and asking for the autonomy of all UNC System schools to make their own decisions about reopening.

The resolution “recognizes the constraints imposed by the Board of Governors and UNC System President that require NCSSM to offer face to face courses” and says the board has been “opaque in its decision-making and rejected the long-standing practice of shared governance with faculty and staff.”

The resolution states that “despite the time, energy and money invested by NCSSM to create a safe environment, the risks posed by the virus are still too great to bring students, faculty, and staff to campus even in a low-density model of face-to-face instruction” and calls for fully remote instruction, time for the faculty to adjust the curriculum and lesson plans to the new medium. It also asks that all UNC System schools have the autonomy to make these decisions for themselves, something for which faculty across the system have petitioned the board of governors since Policy Watch first reported that the decision to close schools due to infections would be made by the UNC System president and board of governors, not the leaders of the individual schools.

One Comment

  1. Stephen Leonard

    August 22, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    The reactionaries on Jones Street and their patrons on BoG thought that COVID offered another opportunity to continue breaking shared governance in the UNC system. Just like packing and downsizing the BoG, bagging Tom Ross, HB2, NC Promise, Silent Sam, NCGAP, putting BoG members on the campus Chancellor search committees, the sham UNC ‘free speech’ policy, stripping the Governor of campus trustee appointment authority, hazing Margaret Spellings, and several other governance power-grabs, this one once again demonstrates that the hyper-politicization of public higher education governance produces really, really bad decisions.

    Now we have Chancellors catching hell, parents blaming professors, students getting blamed for being students, faculty governance bodies voting no confidence in their campus leadership, and general chaos on the campuses — all because some authoritarian cranks who know nothing about our campuses think they have all the answers. This is like a UNC version of Rule of the Trump Puppets.

    And it isn’t going to get any better, because now they also have a President who — unlike Ross, Spellings, and Roper — happily shills for the reactionary cause. Hans has been in office for 22 days, and has already squandered whatever (undeserved) good will the university community might have held for him. [Just wait until he uses his newly-usurped authority to insert candidates in the campus Chancellor searches. Can you say Chancellor Tim Moore, Chancellor Tom Apodaca, Chancellor Art Pope? And if the moderates on the BoG have any integrity left, they will VOTE AGAINST this policy change when it comes up for approval at the September BoG meeting].

    I was thinking the darkest days of public higher education maladministration might (finally!) start fading away, but instead of doing a serious presidential search, the BoG just picked a sycophant to lead (sic!) the system, and the legislature keeps appointing members of the kakistocracy to the Board. The UNC governance response to COVID only shows that we are still in the throes of wilfull ignorance — and that the worst may be yet to come.

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