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.

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