Commentary, COVID-19, Higher Ed

Editorial: Legislature should support UNC System in its time of crisis

In case you missed it yesterday, the lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record neatly summed up the dilemma confronting the UNC system as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and what state lawmakers ought to be doing in response.

As the editorial noted, the pandemic has put university leaders between a rock and hard place when it comes to reopening campuses. If students don’t come to school and pay tuition and fees, the university could be forced to make massive cuts.

“The challenges are serious. A new report about plans to deal with financial losses related to dropping enrollment is alarming. The report looks at how the campuses would react to budget cuts that could result if enrollment drops anywhere from 2% to 50% as the pandemic grinds on. Reduced enrollment, of course, means less tuition and fees coming in.”

But, of course, opening schools as per usual would bring massive and unacceptable health risks. The answer, the editorial thoughtfully explains, is for the General Assembly to realize what’s at stake here and to act to preserve what it rightfully terms an “invaluable” state asset. Here’s the conclusion:

“If positions are eliminated, salaries slashed, workloads increased, research curbed, employees furloughed and other worst-case scenarios come true, the damage could be hard to reverse.

Once the COVID-19 crisis is behind us, the UNC System will be needed more than ever.

North Carolina can’t afford to base decisions about the university system too rigidly on dollars and cents. Enrollment drops and lost income should not automatically mean wholesale cuts in budgets, personnel and educational opportunities.

The General Assembly should make decisions for the long haul, so that the UNC system will remain strong and be ready — and able to help North Carolina’s recovery. That will mean investing in the universities to help them make it through this crisis.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

COVID-19, News

Survey: Americans of color more likely to favor keeping schools closed

Image: Adobe Stock

There is new survey data out today indicating that Black and Latinx Americans are much more likely than white Americans to support keeping schools closed to children during the new school year that is about to commence. The survey was conducted Consumer Reports.

This is from an article the nonprofit posted today:

“For Aundi Marie Moore, a Black mother of two in Bowie, Md., there’s no debate about whether her kids should be returning to school this year during the coronavirus pandemic. “My husband and I decided we’re not going to send our children to school, even if it’s mandated, until there’s a vaccine and the safety and health of our community is put first.” Moore says. “Right now, things just seem too rushed.”

Moore is not alone in her concern. Fifty-seven percent of Black Americans and 52 percent of Hispanic Americans say they think that schools should remain closed and that children should begin the school year taking classes online, compared with 25 percent of white Americans, according to a nationally representative survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by Consumer Reports in July.

The reasons for this disparity are no doubt complex. Still, CR found some common reasons emerge from interviews with Black and Hispanic parents who were not part of the survey. They include concerns over greater susceptibility to COVID-19, a lack of faith that safety protocols, including wearing masks and social distancing, can be followed and enforced in a school setting, and a feeling that the decision to open schools is inconsistent with other policies in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

That people of color are greatly concerned about the novel coronavirus comes as little surprise. As NC Justice Center analyst Will Munn reported in this space back in May, African Americans have been suffering and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates since the onset of the pandemic. This from Munn’s report:

Historical discriminatory policies and practices, as well as the nation’s failure to value its ‘essential workers,’ have put African Americans at greater risk.

  • African Americans are more likely than white Americans to work jobs — even multiple jobs — that do not offer health insurance. Many of these workers fall into the “coverage gap,” meaning they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act.
  • African Americans are overrepresented in occupations now deemed essential to the well-being of the nation, such as food service, food production, home health care and nursing home care. These jobs put the people who work them at higher risk for contracting the coronavirus.
  • Neighborhoods and counties with high populations of people of color have fewer health care providers and grocery stores, as well as lower air and water quality due to the legacy of environmental discrimination. As a result, African Americans have a higher rate of conditions that make COVID-19 more deadly, such as diabetes, chronic lung disease and hypertension.”

Of course, there is a perverse flip side to this story in that these same populations — people of color and low income — are also the ones that are generally less well-prepared to cope with online education thanks to the fact that they tend to have more of a need to work outside of the home and less access to reliable internet service and or the devices they need to get online in the first place.

Click here to read the CR story.

Commentary, Trump Administration

The Right’s troubling war on the Postal Service: three “must reads”

Image: Adobe Stock

With the fall election almost underway and President Trump trailing badly in the polls, there are growing concerns that Trump and his minions may attempt to interfere with the voting-by-mail option that millions of Americans plan to use to cast their ballots. What’s more, the recent appointment of a right-wing plutocrat and Trump loyalist from North Carolina named Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General is doing nothing to allay these concerns.

Here are three “must reads” from the past few days that caring and thinking people may want to explore in order to get a handle on this troubling situation:

#1 – Yesterday’s lead Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com — “Mail service critical to 2020 elections, Trump needs to end irresponsible attacks.” After explaining that DeJoy has taken steps to slow mail delivery by, among other things, cutting overtime as mail volume has increased, the editorial explains:

“As state and local election boards have been working to expand voting opportunities and shore up absentee voting by mail to accommodate our life-saving need to be socially distant, Trump’s postal service is making critical voting by mail and absentee voting less reliable. That is the REAL voter fraud here – not the phony scenarios the president has conjured up.”

#2 – An article by a veteran journalist with North Carolina connections, Alex Kotch, for the Center for Media and Democracy, entitled “Trump Megadonor in Charge of U.S. Postal Service Poses Grave Threat to U.S. Elections.” As Koch explains:

“As DeJoy slows down the Postal Service, the Republican National Committee is using $114,500 of DeJoy’s money, along with millions more from numerous GOP billionaires and multimillionaires, to sue states that have passed laws to expand mail-in voting, according to Sludge. GOP benefactors helped give the RNC’s legal proceedings account a $23 million budget to block vote-by-mail proposals in some states and fight enacted policies in others. Many of these states are swing states that could determine the result of the presidential contest.”

#3 – An article by North Carolina A&T professor and former Postal Service employee Philip Rubio for the progressive website The Baffler entitled “You’ve Got No Mail.” As Rubio puts it:

“DeJoy’s policies represent the latest and most aggressive cuts in what has been a disturbing trend since 2011. First-class mail is now being curtailed at mail processing centers and post offices, in violation of both labor agreements and Title 39. Postal workers have accused the USPS of getting Americans used to slowing service and accepting privatization. Before these “operational changes,” April 2020 poll results noted a steady 91 percent public approval rating for the USPS despite prior cuts, as more people apparently realize the USPS’s importance and object to its degradation.

…With postal workers now especially worried about mail-in ballots being delayed this November, how will they react to being ordered not to use overtime to transport those ballots—or coronavirus test kits and vaccines?”

All in all, it’s another disastrous mess perpetrated by the Trump administration and its enablers. All patriotic Americans should be speaking out against this attempted heist.

Commentary, COVID-19

New report: U.S. should take these steps to get the virus under control

One fervently hopes that things will be in a better place come January of 2021, but for those looking to get a feel for the kinds of policies a Biden administration might implement if they’re not (or that a Democratic administration might have put in place had one been in power in early 2020), be sure to check out a new report released by the progressive Center for American Progress today.

In “A New Strategy to Contain the Coronavirus,” a team of CAP analysts lays out a straightforward and common sense plan that’s based on the successful experiences of Japan and some states in the American Northeast. As the report makes clear, there’s nothing particularly radical or magical in the recommendations. What they call for is a redoubling of our national effort in several basic areas of public health policy that were never adequately pursued. This is from the introduction to the report:

“After states rushed to reopen their economies in late spring, coronavirus cases began to surge across most of the United States. At the same time, states in the Northeast have experienced declines in COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. Despite having been the epicenter of the U.S. cases throughout the early spring, this region now has a relatively low degree of new case incidence, even as transmission of the virus accelerates in other parts of the country—particularly in the South and West. (see Figure 1)

Public health experts agree that the rush to end stay-at-home orders without meeting public health benchmarks and the politicization of mask-wearing have created this surge. This report analyses the timing and scope of reopening measures to determine which specific actions were more likely to be the reason for the latest spikes. In particular, the following factors appear to be why the Northeast has had more recent success than the rest of the country in slowing the spread of COVID-19:

  • The timing and duration of initial stay-at-home orders
  • The timing and scope of reopening economic activity
  • Individual behavior and local culture, which may have been influenced by local COVID-19 risks early in the pandemic and reinforced by local policy choices

In particular, this analysis finds that a key policy difference between the Northeast and other states is the timing of reopening bars and indoor dining, combined with the adoption of mask mandates before the lifting of stay-at-home orders. In addition, this report briefly compares these findings with the experiences of other countries, focusing on Japan’s successful approach to cluster-based contact tracing and public education.

Given this evidence, other states and the federal government must at a minimum work to quickly replicate these conditions throughout the rest of the United States. In addition to mask mandates, federal economic support directed to high-risk businesses and their workers can keep those companies financially viable, protect workers’ health and pocketbooks, and slow the spread of the virus.

The need for both the first and second wave of business closures was never inevitable. Like other countries around the world, the United States could have prevented high levels of community spread through swift and aggressive measures such as testing and tracing or promoted the adoption of personal hygiene habits such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Unfortunately, the federal government’s failure to act early on in the pandemic and states’ decisions to reopen too rapidly mean that targeted closures are again critical to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. This approach of targeted closures and attacking clusters is what is needed at a minimum in areas with substantial spread—but ultimately, local stay-at-home orders may also be needed to create the conditions under which this strategy could work.”

The report concludes by advancing four basic, but proven effective recommendations to limit the spread of the virus:

  • Closing indoor dining and bars, with the federal government providing these establishments critical financial support to cover fixed costs and keep workers employed
  • Monitoring and imposing greater restrictions on potentially high-risk venues such as gyms and places of worship where people generate higher levels of droplets and aerosols
  • Implementing mask mandates, publicizing the rules, and ensuring that all residents—especially lower-income individuals—have access to masks at no cost to them
  • Adopting cluster-based contact tracing

Let’s hope our national and state leaders are paying attention. Click here to read the report.

Commentary

Higher education group blasts new scheme for selecting UNC System chancellors

UNC System President Peter Hans.

As Policy Watch reported two weeks ago, the UNC Board of Governors is considering a controversial change from new system president Peter Hans to the way the chancellor selection process will work at the system’s various campuses.

This is from reporter Joe Killian’s story:

“Hans’ proposed change would allow the UNC System president to add up to two candidates to search process. Those candidates would go through the same interviews as other candidates, but would automatically move forward as part of a slate of finalists for the position. In effect, the president would have the power to both insert candidates into the search process without approval from the board of trustees, those candidates would become finalists for the positions whether or not the board of trustees approves and the president would then choose a final candidate from those finalists.”

As Killian also reported in July, the proposal received a negative response in some quarters – including from some members of the Board of Trustees at East Carolina University, who expressed a concern that such a switch could pave the way for a politically-connected candidate without other obvious qualifications (like North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore) to secure the chancellorship at the Greenville campus.

Yesterday, one of the state’s leading higher education nonprofits, Higher Ed Works, also weighed in with an editorial criticizing the proposal.

Here’s the conclusion to an unsigned essay entitled “Why bother with a search if outcome is decided?” that the group posted yesterday:

“The move would disenfranchise campus Boards of Trustees – again, why go to the trouble to conduct a national search if two finalists have already been chosen? – and strip trustees of ownership in who leads the campus. Trustees have already bristled at the proposal, saying it could politicize chancellor searches.

Further, it would stifle applications from external candidates if they think the search is biased toward internal candidates.

North Carolina’s public universities have been blessed with good leadership and can only benefit from the broadest possible pool of applicants.

Some – like recently retired UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois and his predecessor Jim Woodward – came from outside the UNC System to lead its most rapidly growing campus. So did current NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson.

As [UNC Board chair Randall] Ramsey recently noted, the Board of Governors can already return a campus’s recommendations to trustees if it doesn’t like its choices – and has done so.

The President has the same prerogative. There’s no need to make his or her recommendations a self-fulfilling prophecy – the recommendation alone should send a strong signal.

Republicans once billed themselves as the party of local control – “investing authority in the level of government closest to the people.”

That would include trustees at the 17 campuses of the UNC System. So let’s have faith in those local leaders – who are primarily appointed by the Board of Governors – and not dictate their choices to them.

Developing a pool of prospects makes good sense. But mandating the choice of finalists is overkill.”

Click here to read the entire essay.