COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill outlines plans for return to campus

UNC-Chapel Hill students will return to campus in early August, skip fall break and end the semester early, according to a Thursday message from Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. Faculty and staff will begin a phased return to campus June 1.

The plan is similar to those announced by UNC-Greensboro and N.C. A&T earlier this week. School administrator say the changes are part of an overall strategy to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 during the current pandemic and help get ahead of a “second wave” of the disease expected during cold and flu season.

“The College of Arts & Sciences, along with our schools and units, are reconfiguring in-person course instruction to include physical distancing provisions,” Guskiewicz said in his message. “These considerations mean that small classes will meet in larger spaces, and large lecture classes may be split into smaller sections, delivered remotely or consist of a combination of both. Our goal is to offer as much flexibility for students and faculty as possible.”

“We made the difficult decision to eliminate fall break not only to finish sooner but also to minimize possible virus spread associated with travel,” Guzkiewicz said. “We understand that this new schedule may disrupt your summer plans and want you to know that we considered many options to avoid as much disruption as possible. Thank you for your understanding and know that we will do everything possible to offer flexibility and accommodation as needed.”

The UNC System hopes to finish work on its return plan guidance for the 17 campuses buy the end of this month,  UNC System Interim President Bill Roper told the UNC Board of Governors on Wednesday. Leadership at the individual schools will be given the authority to decide what works best for their campuses, Roper said.

“We are optimistic, leaning in and expecting our students, faculty and staff to return to classrooms, labs and libraries this fall,” Roper said.

From Guskiewicz’s message:

 

Based on advice from our infectious disease and public health experts, who believe we could be facing a second wave of COVID-19 sometime late fall or early winter, we are making significant changes to our operations. On their guidance, we are starting and finishing the fall semester early in an effort to stay ahead of that second wave. As these are unprecedented times, our roadmap will also have off-ramps, and we will modify this plan if conditions change and the situation warrants. The safety, health and well-being of our campus community will always be paramount in our decision-making.

This fall semester will look and feel different from the past. Here are some of the initial changes we are implementing to care for our community:

  • Faculty and staff will return in a phased approach. Research programs and laboratories will begin ramping up on-campus operations June 1. Employees should initially expect staggered work schedules, alternating schedules, reconfigured workstations, remote work and other accommodations to limit density on campus and maximize safety. More details to follow.

  • The first day of classes will be Aug. 10 (professional schools may vary), final exams will be completed by Nov. 24 and students will not return to campus after the Thanksgiving holiday. We will announce plans for New Student Convocation (Aug. 9) and Winter Commencement at a later date. The University will observe Labor Day (Sept. 7) and University Day (Oct. 12), but will eliminate fall break (Oct. 15-16) this year.

  • Students participating in organized co-curricular activities (e.g. Carolina Athletics/ROTC/UNC Marching Tar Heels) will be invited back to campus in a similar phased approach. More details to follow.

  • We will ask our campus community to adhere to our “community standards” and public health guidelines to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

  • Class sizes will be adjusted to allow for appropriate physical distancing; entering and exiting buildings will occur through clearly marked one-way corridors.

  • Time between classes will be extended to allow for necessary physical distancing in and out of buildings, which will impact the number of courses held during typical weekdays. Therefore, students and faculty can expect additional weeknight classes. More details to follow.

  • Up to 1,000 new students who are unable to begin residential learning and living in August may participate in a new experience called Carolina Away. This initiative, still in development, will allow them to learn together in high-quality, digital sections of key courses in our general education curriculum, participate in small group experiences and engage in learning communities that focus on the impact of COVID-19.

  • Many other areas are still in the planning phase. The University will launch Carolina’s Roadmap for Fall 2020 website next week that will serve as a repository of information relevant to fall 2020 operations. The website will be updated throughout the summer as more details are available.

 

Initial reaction from staff and students to Roper and Guskiewicz’s messages was mixed to negative Thursday, with a number of prominent faculty and students from UNC’s flagship school taking to Twitter to criticize what they say is a return that is too hasty and short on safety details.

Commentary, Higher Ed

Fetzer’s long overdue departure offers a ray of sunlight at UNC

Tom Fetzer

There hasn’t been much good news emanating from the UNC system in recent years. Ever since Republican legislators peppered the system’s Board of Governors with of a cadre of cronies and conservative ideologues, most of the news has involved controversy, backbiting, investigations and constant turnover in leadership.

Yesterday, however, there was a ray of sunlight when Tom Fetzer, one of the chief architects of board’s dysfunction, finally took his leave.

Fetzer, a corporate lobbyist, former politician and full-time right-wing firebrand has been an almost constant source of conflict and chaos at UNC.

He’s regularly worked to undermine the concerted efforts of his fellow board members with rogue actions – including destructively inserting himself into the chancellor searches at both Western Carolina and East Carolina, and indeed, seeking the jobs for himself.

He’s been a similarly unhelpful participant in efforts to do away with the “Silent Sam” statue that served as a hateful symbol of white supremacy to so many in the Chapel Hill community.

Fetzer says he resigned to spend time with his family, but the evidence indicates other board members had grown weary of his stunts and self-dealing and forced him out. As PW’s Joe Killian reported:

Fetzer’s announcement comes as the board is finalizing changes to its policies and procedures that would more strictly outline its members’ responsibilities. The policies will include censure and recommendation for removal of board members who overstep their roles. The changes were instigated by repeated problems with Fetzer acting in ways his colleagues said were inappropriate and possibly legally dangerous for the UNC System.

While most of the board was silent on Fetzer’s announcement, two members spoke to Policy Watch about it Wednesday. The members asked not to be identified so that they could characterize closed-session discussions of the board.

“I think the writing was on the wall for him that the board wasn’t going to put up with the kinds of things he was involved in,” one board member said. “We are putting some teeth into our policies and he is not stupid. He’s a very intelligent man. He knows if he continues to operate the way he has, he’s going to end up in trouble.”

Another board member said he believed Fetzer could “read the room” and tell that the majority of the board had no further stomach for scandals from its own board members.

“His personality is just not going to allow him to be on the board without going beyond the lines that most of us observe,” the board member said. “He just has the kind of nature where he’s going to do what he wants to do and he likes to get into it with people, and I think our board is trying to move beyond that. We’ve had too much of it in the last few years.”

Let’s hope this news signals a long overdue shift at UNC away from personal and political agendas and toward supporting the university of the people.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC System will not raise tuition, continues to explore fall semester reopening

Students returning for the Fall semester at UNC System schools won’t face tuition and fee increases. But it’s far from certain how many of those students will be returning and how the 17 campus schools will each handle their return.

The UNC Board of Governors voted unanimously on Wednesday to keep tuition and fees flat, as Policy Watch reported was likely earlier this month.

As Policy Watch previously reported,  most of the state’s universities would like to see tuition and fees increased. Just a few months ago, the board was considering an average increase for new, in-state undergraduates of 2.5 percent, or about $165. But chancellors at the individual universities and UNC Board of Governors members said they are reluctant to raise costs for students with so much economic uncertainty related to the pandemic.

“We believed the people of North Carolina had enough burden,” said  UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey in a press conference after Wednesday’s full board meeting.

Randy Ramsey, Chairman of the UNC Board of Governors.

How the  universities will absorb inevitable cuts is not yet clear. With increased costs and a massive hit to revenues related to the pandemic, the General Assembly is expecting a shortfall in next year’s state budget of up to $4 billion.

“If you’re looking at a state shortfall of $2 – $4 billion, you could be looking at a ten to twenty percent cut to the system, depending upon what revenue numbers come in at,” said board member Marty Kotis in a committee meeting Tuesday.

None of the universities are yet sure how many students will return to campus for the Fall semester, even if every school works out a plan for in-person instruction. Some may choose to take a gap year in light of the pandemic, board members said. Some families, concerned about the safety of returning to campus with the coronavirus projected to see another spike in cold and flu season, may choose to pursue online-only education until there is greater certainty.

“You don’t know if students are going to be there really, until they write that check for tuition,” Kotis said, which means the system can’t be confident of its own revenue figures.

This week, Kotis suggested the university may look at raising tuition on out-of-state students. That would help increase revenues without violating the university’s mandate to be as close to free as is possible for citizens of North Carolina. Read more

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed

UNC Board of Governors allocating $44.4 million in coronavirus relief funds to campuses

When the UNC Board of Governors meets this morning, the full board will vote on how to allocate $44.4 million  from the Coronavirus Relief Fund created by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The board’s committee on Budget & Finance gave preliminary approval to a slate of allocation recommendations in a unanimous vote Tuesday.

The money will go to each of the 17 individual UNC System campuses, with separate line item allocations for the UNC System office, the N.C. Arboretum and $5 million in digital learning enhancements to benefit the system.

Direct funding for each school was capped at $4.5 million, which must be used to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in one of four ways:

* Covering costs of moving coursework and exams entirely online during the pandemic
* Implementing a digital learning accelerator
* Sanitation prior to the reopening of campuses and during their operation thereafter (and other necessary and eligible expenses for services during ongoing operations in the pandemic)
* Assistance for students and employees, including counseling and information technology support.

Each allocation was calculated based on requests from the individual schools derived from their costs incurred and their estimated costs through December 2020, with the allocation to each school capped at $4.5 million. Only expenses incurred between March 1, 2020  Dec. 30, 2020 were eligible.

Source: UNC System Office

Read more

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC schools outline campus return plans

Several campuses in the UNC system are revealing their plans for students to return to school, though they are light on detail and tentative.

Both UNC-Greensboro and N.C. A&T said Monday that they plan to welcome students back to campus in August for the fall semester. Both schools will eliminate the traditional fall break.

UNCG Chancellor Frank Gilliam.

“This plan reduces the need for people to leave campus, disperse widely, and then return in the middle of the semester,” UNCG Chancellor Frank Gilliam  told students in a message Monday. Limiting movement is key for managing virus spread. It also enables us to maintain the necessary instructional days required to meet our academic standards and best serve our students.”

Both campuses also plan to eliminate Reading Day, hold final exams online and end their fall semester at Thanksgiving. They are tentatively scheduling in-person commencement ceremonies for December but both schools say that and many of the details of the fall calendar will depend on developments with the COVID-19 virus, which health experts say will likely have new spikes during the traditional cold and flu season.

“While we will be prepared to resume in-person instruction this fall, we are taking important steps to significantly reduce the number of students on campus in late November and December, to help manage community spread of infection,” said N.C. A&T Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Beryl C. McEwen in a message to the campus community. “As the largest historically black university in the nation, we appreciate the special challenge that we face to protect our sizable student body, and we will be working throughout the summer to make sure we are ready.”

The UNC Board of Governors meets Wednesday. When and how each of the campuses may return to full-time in-person instruction will be discussed.

Some higher education experts have warned that any return to normal operations for the fall semester is too soon and that universities are largely ill-equipped to provide the kind of social distancing necessary to prevent further community spread of the virus.

“In addition to the calendar changes, we are currently assessing all of the other implications of COVID-19 on our operations,” Gilliam told students in his message. “We will maintain maximum flexibility in our planning, knowing that conditions may evolve over the summer.”