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.

Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Searching for work with Ivanka T.

In keeping with a tradition of offering simpleton solutions to complex problems when talking to the commoners that goes back at least as far as Nancy Reagan telling teens to “just say no” to drugs, Ivanka (“Giggles”) Trump has launched the Find Something New campaign for the freshly jobless.

Step mommy Melania must be beaming in the seven languages she actually doesn’t speak at this notion. She, after all, came up with Be Best for her anti-bullying campaign launched after she realized she was married to the world’s biggest.

While naysayers have criticized Ivanka as “clueless,” “out of touch with reality” and “as insensitive as Marie Antoinette,” I believe they are being … too kind.

Jeepers, sis. Cozying up to a can of racist beans was bad enough but now Find Something New?

You first, please. I have previously suggested Ivanka pull a couple of late-night shifts at Waffle House and now’s the time. She can wear a cute nametag that says “Vonkie” and speak the sacred language of scattered and smothered, chunked and capped. I realize this is going to be a lot harder than prissing about and telling whatever young Stephen Miller clone who is trying to write her speeches to “just make me sound human” but it’s worth the effort!

Rebranding is exhausting. Just ask Trump family friend Ghislane Maxwell who will most likely never get that chain of after-school day camps for girls up and running now. Thoughts and prayers.

Find Something New. As a tattered nation hopes to do exactly that along about Jan. 20, 2021, perhaps Vonkie is onto something here. Just not in the way she intended: to placate millions of unemployed Americans who now also have to worry about being evicted or endangering their kids by sending them to school.

If you check out the website, as I did, you’ll find lots of skills assessment stuff, some dating back to 2005 because nothing says “I Care” like 15-year-old job advice. The news wasn’t all bad. To be fair, in the name of journalism — a field I highly respect and occasionally participate in — I completed a skills quiz that, in the words of that great American patriot Jethro Bodine, deduced I would excel in either brain surgery or streetcar conducting.

Well. It was almost that bad. After clicking on a few filters, eliminating jobs that required “physical strength” and “not being mostly sedentary,” the skills match indicated I’d make a good “poet.” Yeah. That’ll pay the bills with enough left over for cat food. For the poet.

One hiccup: I accidentally clicked on a quiz for kids and didn’t realize it until the final question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Grow up? Must I? Deal. Breaker.

There’s nothing wrong with getting training for a better job. The problem is when the advice comes from someone who, as the saying goes, was born on third base and thinks she hit a triple.

Celia Rivenbark is so starved for human interaction she gets irrationally excited when Microsoft Word says, “Welcome back!”  

Commentary, COVID-19, Education, News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. UNC-Chapel Hill leaders come under fire at emergency faculty meeting

Chancellor’s failure to share health department’s reopening recommendations called a “breach of trust”

The Orange County Health Director has urged the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to move to online education for the fall semester and keep on-campus housing to an absolute minimum as the COVID-19 pandemic in the county worsens.

The campus will be doing neither of those things, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said Wednesday.

Health Director Quintana Stewart made the recommendations in a July 29 memo to Guskiewicz. Faculty, staff, students and members of the community only became aware of the memo Wednesday, when it was reported by media outlets including Policy Watch. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Chair of UNC-CH faculty: “a serious breach of trust” campus not aware of Orange County health recommendation

2. UNC System creating all-campus COVID-19 dashboard not open to public

The UNC System is creating a system-wide dashboard to monitor COVID-19 metrics across the system’s 17 campuses, according to a memo from UNC System President Peter Hans to chancellors of UNC schools.

The memo, obtained by Policy Watch this week, describes a dashboard that would be updated daily for “internal, informational purposes only” and not available to the public. It would be password protected and chancellors would have to request access even for their leadership teams, according to the memo.

The memo, dated August 5, is accompanied by a series of charts marked “confidential draft: not for distribution” which detail which metrics may be tracked.[Read more…]

3. As schools reopen, we’re rolling the dice with people’s lives (Commentary)
North Carolina is now almost five months into the massive societal disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s more than understandable that just about everyone – especially parents of young children – is going a little stir crazy. The weather has been stifling, the news has been mostly sobering, a vaccine remains several months away at best, and the utter incompetence and moral bankruptcy in the White House’s handing of the crisis remains absolute.

At such a moment, it’s not at all surprising that people would latch onto to any shred of hopeful information that would seem to offer a path back to normalcy.

And so it is that at the beginning of August 2020, that North Carolina’s public colleges and universities and many K-12 schools are preparing to take the reopening plunge. [Read more…]

4. Majority of state’s 1.5 million students will start school with remote instruction

Roughly one million of the state’s K-12 students will attend school remotely to start the new school year, State Superintendent Mark Johnson said Tuesday.

Johnson made the comment during a remote Council of State Meeting.

“Right now, we’re on track for two out of every three students in our public schools to start learning remotely,” Johnson said.

Two-thirds of the state’s 1.5 million students is about one million students.

Gov. Roy Cooper directed the state’s 116 school districts to reopen, as soon as Aug. 17, using a mix of remote learning and in-person instruction. Cooper also gave districts the option to reopen using remote learning only if coronavirus metrics indicate that’s best for students.[Read more…]

 

 

Read more

Commentary

The economic bounceback deflates

Image: Adobe Stock

Job gains slow considerably in July; need for renewal of $600 benefit persists

Today’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows three months in a row of payroll employment gains, an increase in jobs of 1.8 million in July on top of 4.8 million in June and 2.7 million in May. But, because so many jobs were lost in March and April, we are still 12.9 million jobs below where we were in February, before the pandemic spread. The slowdown in jobs gained is likely due to a resurgence of the coronavirus and re-shuttering in parts of the country.

As with June, the bulk of the job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality (592,000), primarily food services and drinking places (502,000). Even with these gains, this sector remains down 2.6 million jobs since February. Retail trade employment also added jobs (258,000), followed by professional and business services (170,000) and other services (149,000).

Then, there’s the reported significant increase in public sector employment, which should be completely discounted in this report. Public sector employment, however, remains 1.1 million below its level in February. We’ve seen large reductions in state and local public sector employment—a sector which disproportionately employs women and Black workers—over the last few months. Given that a significant share of these are in public education and that they happened at a time of year when they wouldn’t usually occur, it’s likely that the artificial uptick in jobs in those sectors in July occurred when the seasonal adjustment would have smoothed out the end of the school year. So, I’d warn data watchers to consider those gains with a grain of salt, and to look at the overall changes from February (pre-COVID-19) to July.

The unemployment rate also fell in July, from 11.1% in June to 10.2% in July. At this level, the unemployment rate remains higher than the worst month of the Great Recession, when it hit 10.0% in 2009. If workers who were sidelined as a result of the coronavirus—either out of the labor force or misclassified as employed not at work—were included, the unemployment rate would be 13.8%. After continuing to rise in June, the unemployment rate for Black men finally saw some mild improvement, falling from 16.3% in June to 15.2% in July, but remains significantly higher than other race and gender groups. Latina workers, who had faced the highest unemployment rates in this recession at 20.2% in April, are now down to 14.0%. Across the board, the unemployment rates are still quite high and the unemployment insurance data released yesterday suggest the pain is likely to continue for a long time.

Federal policymakers need to act now to reinstate the $600 unemployment insurance benefits to the 30+ million workers who are desperately trying to make ends meet. And, those benefits are supporting a huge amount of spending, which means, without it, the loss of about five million jobs.

Federal policymakers also need to provide massive fiscal relief to state and local governments so they can continue to provide necessary services and prevent unnecessary cuts to their budgets as their revenue falls. In fact, they could do one better and increase public-sector employment through the hiring of additional public health workers and contact tracers. With virtual, and in some cases hybrid, school openings planned, there will need to be more public education staff, not less, in coming months.

Elise Gould is a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, which first published this commentary.

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.