UNC System facing pressure to protect international students, move Fall courses online

UNC-Chapel Hill Kevin Guskiewicz in a recent video addressing the return to campus next month.

With less than a month before students return to UNC System schools, pressure is mounting for administrators to oppose a newly announced Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that would prevent international students from remaining in the country if their classes are online. That optio seems increasingly likely given ongoing record days of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the state.

In a video message to the UNC-Chapel Hill community, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said the university is doing everything it can to support international students. But rather than announce any action opposing the policy, as many private and public universities now have, Guskiewicz announced that as of this week 56% of the fall courses will have an in-person component. Forty-four percent will be entirely online.

That’s not enough, according to many faculty. The Diversity Liaisons of the College of Arts and Sciences sent an open letter to Guskiewicz, Provost Bob Blouin, and Dean Terry Rhodes, asking them to launch a “forceful effort to oppose the policy which runs counter to our aspirations to be an inclusive, global university.”

The Dean’s Council of the Gillings School of Global Public Health also condemned the ICE policy and, in an open letter, encouraged all UNC System schools to normalize online education without penalty during the ongoing pandemic.

“We are opposed strongly to the new ICE policy,” the council wrote in the Gillings School letter. “It is unnecessary, unreasonable, harassing and cruel, and will discourage talented international students from attending U.S. institutions of higher education. To institute the policy now, nearly at the last minute, leaves students potentially stranded in a sea of uncertainty with no life rafts.”

“We empathize with Gillings students and all international students,” the council wrote. “Online instruction has become an accepted mode of academic training and is a critically important option for delivering high-quality education in the time of COVID-19. All our students – including international students – should be able to continue their education remotely, if needed. It would be irresponsible not to provide this option if circumstances require it. In a pandemic this country has not yet controlled, it is unfair and mean-spirited to punish international students for something over which they have no control.”

A large number of faculty have signed on supporting the letter. Guskiewicz will address the Faculty Executive Committee Monday afternoon, where he will face questions on the issue.

Pressure to move the entire Fall semester online to avoid infections, illness and deaths is growing across the UNC System, with a UNC Workers Town Hall and Day of Action planned for July 16 and 17.

“With the numbers as they are, it is not a matter of if but when a move to all online courses or full shutdown will be required this Fall,” the workers said in a statement on the issue. “In fact, the time to move courses online is now. Given the metrics re: cases in North Carolina, we will be putting all 16 UNC campus communities at serious risk if we return.

“Let’s make remote/online classes the default and give all employees assurances that they will be safe from COVID-19 infection by providing instructional staff with a guarantee that they can teach safely from off-campus location and by providing non-instructional staff with paid leave at full pay during the period that campuses are closed due to the pandemic.”

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