COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill faculty survey shows instructors unsure about safety of return to campus

This week the UNC Faculty Executive Committee published the results of a survey of more than 1,200 instructors regarding the school’s controversial plan to return to on-campus instruction in August.

The results show a faculty that remains unsure enough precautions are in place to protect them from COVID-19 as the pandemic continues in North Carolina, with record days of both infections and hospitalizations recorded in the last week.

Asked whether they believe enough safety precautions are in place under the campus’ current plan, 34 percent said they were not sure. Twenty-one percent said they disagreed enough precautions were in place and 20 percent said they strongly disagreed.

More than a quarter of the respondents said they were unsure if they felt comfortable returning to on-campus instruction under the current plan. Another quarter said they strongly disagreed that they were comfortable and nearly 20 percent said they disagreed that they were comfortable.

 

Read the entire survey, including information about sampling and methodology, here.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC System Presidential candidates to be interviewed beginning next week

The UNC Board of Governors’ Presidential Search Committee will begin interviewing candidates for the next president of the UNC System next week.

The search committee met in closed session Friday. While it made no public announcements, the committee did set another meeting for 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

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

The search for the system’s next leader has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, the search committee director Kim Strach reported it had 36 applicants from across the U.S. and several from other countries. The selection process is confidential and none of the candidates are being identified publicly.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper was scheduled to leave the system’s top leadership position at the end of June. But as Policy Watch reported last month, he has agreed to stay until the search is concluded. The timeline for his replacement is still unclear and depends on progress on slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Roper has been serving as interim president since November 2018. Before that, he was CEO of UNC Health Care for 14 years and dean of the public health school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

As interim president he now makes $775,000 per year, with a $77,500 annual retirement contribution and the possibility of up to $125,000 in an annual performance bonus.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC’s minority serving schools get $6 million to research, fight COVID-19

Six schools within the UNC System’s that serve communities of color have been awarded $6 million to fight COVID-19, the system announced Thursday.

The schools  — Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, N.C. A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, UNC Pembroke and Winston-Salem State University — will each receive $1 million through a partnership between the UNC Board of Governors and the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Last month state lawmakers approved a $1.5 billion coronavirus relief package. The collaboratory got $29 million to study testing, prevention and treatment of COVID-19 as well as its public health and economic impacts.

 “One of the first calls I received after the $29 million research package was approved by the General Assembly and the Governor was from [UNC Board of Governors member] Darrell Allison,” said Jeff Warren, executive director of N.C. Policy Collaboratory. “From our first conversation, it was clear we were both well aware that these campuses, and the communities they serve, represented areas of the State hardest hit from this pandemic. This investment builds on forward-thinking research already occurring on all six of these campuses.”

Allison is chair of the board’s Committee on Historically Minority-Serving Institutions, which was formed in 2018.

“This is yet another opportunity for the UNC System to show the meaningful impact that our historically minority-serving institutions are making in their respective regions and communities they serve,”Allison said. “I am confident that this partnership and these programs will provide real-life solutions in the fight against COVID-19, today, and could be a model for how our state can more effectively confront tomorrow’s crises as well.”

The system provided a summary of each school’s proposed work Thursday:

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC System forming task force to examine racial equity issues

On Monday the chairs of the UNC Faculty and Staff Assemblies and president of the UNC Association of Student Governments called on the UNC Board of Governors to respond to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the resulting international protests against police violence and racial inequity.

On Tuesday, Interim UNC System President Bill Roper and UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey responded, announcing the creation of a task force to examine racial equity issues and make recommendations to the system for addressing them.

From the system’s letter establishing the task force:

“George Floyd died a horrible, violent, and unjust death at the hands of a white police officer,” they wrote. “This immoral and indefensible act cries out for justice and compels all of us fully to recognize and grapple with our country’s history of racism and oppression that has so often resulted in violence. As members of the University community, it is our obligation and responsibility to do the hard work needed to address inequities in the UNC System for the benefit of students, faculty, staff, and all North Carolinians.

  • We are pleased to announce that the UNC System Equity Task Force is being established as a six-member special committee of the Board of Governors, with each of you as members, joined by Board of Governors members Darrell Allison (Chair), Kellie Blue (Vice Chair), and Anna Nelson (Vice Chair). The UNC System Office will provide staff and resources needed to support the important work of this task force. We ask that the task force do the following:
  • Meet with student, faculty, and staff groups to discuss issues of race and equity in the UNC System and all tangible steps that can be taken across the UNC System in pursuit of equity and understanding;
  • Gather, explore, and develop recommendations, suggestions, and feedback;
  • Prepare a report to the Board of Governors, to include a list of recommendations and action steps in priority order; and
  • Present the report to the chair of the Board of Governors and the president by October 2.We look forward to working with you on this important project for the future of the UNC System.”

The task force is just one of a number of seven actions called for by the student, faculty and staff leaders.

From their Monday letter:

“As a community of higher education, we are dedicated to knowledge, inclusiveness, diversity, and truth. We ask that there are several issues that can be quickly addressed to begin the healing and attenuation of the pain:

  • Convene a UNC System Task Force to develop a strategic plan to engage and leverage its tremendous intellectual and financial resources to address this issue in a comprehensive, meaningful, and impactful way for all faculty, staff, students, and the communities we serve.
  • Ensure a safe working environment that is rooted in belonging and in which the personal rights, lives, and dignity of everyone is assured. The perspectives of all North Carolinians must be exemplified by those who will guide the University of North Carolina System into the future.
  • Start a discussion regarding culturally relevant decisions, even while we deal with theCOVID-19 pandemic. Re-dedicate ourselves to reflect on what we can do as an academic community and as individuals to confront the issues of racism in our own communities.
  • Ensure that our students, staff, and faculty have access to whatever is needed to try to be in a state of wellness, both psychologically and physically, when they return to campus in the Fall Semester. Ensure that all university constituents have access to mental health resources, to health care, and to academic help that will ensure their respective success.
  • Advocate to find solutions for our students who continue to experience oppression on our campuses and in their daily lives. The pain from longstanding racial oppression cannot be healed quickly, but the discussions to do just that can start today, from the UNC System Office outward.
  • Acknowledge the indispensable role of the UNC System HSMI’s in fostering the empowerment of marginalized communities, and especially people of color. It is imperative that these institutions receive adequate support to continue to meet their individual missions, particularly during these economically uncertain times.
  • Above all, stay engaged with our students, staff, and faculty by acknowledging openly that the current situation is challenging, and that everyone is suffering, especially students, staff, or faculty of color. The COVID-19 pandemic has sensitized us to an unseen disease of viraletiology; it is beyond time to address the disease of racism that attacks our collective soul.”
COVID-19, Higher Ed, News

Students, medical experts weigh in on UNC-Chapel Hill’s return to campus

Students and medical experts joined the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Executive Committee Monday afternoon for a discussion of re-opening to on-campus instruction August 10.

Students joined the faculty in their skepticism over parts of the plan as they again pressed administrators about safety measures and decision making as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“I think students want to come back to campus,” said Reeves Moseley, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Student Body and Undergraduate Student Government President. “Being on Zoom is not ideal in any circumstance. There’s the mental health aspect of it but there’s also the education aspect of it. Students don’t want to be paying tuition dollars for online guidance and teaching.”

But that’s not the student body’s largest concern, he said.

“I think students are more so concerned about their well-being,” Moseley said.

Reeves Moseley

There are still a lot of unanswered questions and many moving parts in the plan to bring students back to campus, Moseley said. Students are particularly concerned with the safety of residence halls and whether there can be effective social distancing there, he said. They also have questions about the wearing of masks, whether they will be mandated and how the school may enforce that.

“We need to prioritize the well-being of students despite the fact that most students want to come back to campus,” he said.

How students will behave off-campus — and how off campus students may be treated differently than those living on campus — is a concern, Moseley said. On-campus students who are exposed to the virus or who test positive will be quarantined in two campus residence halls kept for that purpose, he said. But what happens to off campus students who are similarly effected and who will come and go on campus, and among their off-campus roommates?

Most students will wear masks on campus and especially in classes, said Preeyanka Rao, undergraduate vice president.

“The majority, if not all, of the students I’ve talked to — all of them have voiced they are comfortable and want to be wearing masks on campus,” Rao said. “I think given all of the scientific research that has been done with coronavirus as well epidemiological and health behavior findings, students understand the necessity of wearing masks to reduce transmission of the disease.”

 

Preeyanka Rao

But student leaders were less confident students will be willing to wear masks and observe social distancing protocols at parties and in off campus social situations. That’s a major concern in bringing thousands of students from across the state and country back to campuses in the Fall.

“I can probably say with almost near certainty that although there may be some that will wear masks [in off campus social situations], the vast majority are unlikely to wear masks,” said Maian Adams, Chief of External Relations and Advocacy of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation.

“I say this because I have seen some students out and about now over the summer who aren’t necessarily practicing social distancing,” Adam said. “They are going to bars and they aren’t wearing masks even if the bartenders are wearing masks and the other people around them.”

Read more