Education, Higher Ed

For local students who need Wi-Fi, East Carolina University answers the call

If you have been working from home these last few weeks, chances are you have thought more than once how important it is that your high-speed internet connection holds up.

Broadband is the backbone to staying connected to your co-workers and staying sane with access to NetFlix, Hulu and other streaming platforms.

But access to high-speed broadband can still be a scarce resource for some North Carolina families.

East Carolina University decided Wednesday to make its Wi-Fi network available to K-12 and college students who don’t have reliable broadband internet service.

ECU’s Information Technology and Computing Services (ITCS) has created a Wi-Fi network called ECUCommunityWiFi that university officials say will be available across all ECU buildings and campuses.

Students will not be able to access the university buildings, but several locations are recommended for the strongest outdoor signal. Locations include:

  • Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium parking lots on north and south side
  • Parking lot between the Croatan and Austin
  • ECU mall (parking limited)
  • Wright Plaza (parking limited)
  • Parking lot between Student Rec Center and Greene Residence Hall
  • Parking lot in front of Christenbury Memorial Gym

Because of COVID-19, Pitt County Schools continue to be closed for in-person instruction through May 15 with learning activities for all classes being offered online.

ECU reminds the public to practice social distancing while visiting the campus to access Wi-Fi.

Earlier this week, NC League of Municipalities Chief Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia told state lawmakers the need for high-speed access was critical for cities and towns working to navigate this health crisis.

“The need for reliable internet could not be more obvious right now,” said Wynia. Yet, many parts of the state are disconnected.

Passing the FIBER NC Act, which would allow for public-private partnerships to address the problem, must be a priority of the General Assembly, according to the League.

Are you a student living in the Greenville area and want to access the ECU Wifi?
Network Name: ECUCommunityWiFi  Password: Pirates2020

COVID-19, Higher Ed, News

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper addresses UNC community on COVID-19

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper posted an online video again Monday addressing the UNC community’s ongoing effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the video Roper, a physician and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks about the decision to postpone commencement ceremonies at UNC System schools this semester.

Policy Watch reported on that decision last week, when Roper announced it at a UNC Board of Governors meeting held by teleconference.



Interim President Bill Roper on COVID-19 from UNC System on Vimeo.


From Roper’s remarks:

“To our students and their families, I want to thank you all for your contributions to our ongoing efforts to confront our national health crisis. I am here today to give you an update of where the UNC System is in its response to this national emergency.

Everyone should, by now, be aware that the CDC and health experts have issued urgent warnings that, if Americans don’t act quickly, the COVID-19 infection will spread rapidly, and our health care systems will be overwhelmed.

Students and young people are not immune to COVID-19.  The public health advice to practice 1) social distancing, and 2) frequent and careful hand-washing with soap is meant to help decrease the spread of this virus. You may not get seriously ill, but you may transmit the virus to others who may be more susceptible to illness.

With your help, the UNC System has responded quickly to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff … and to support our State and national effort to “flatten the curve” of infection.

To mobilize nearly 240,000 students across the UNC System, the System and each of our institutions have had to apply strict guidance in little time. But each institution has put into place processes for granting exceptions for students facing extenuating circumstances and needs.

If you are a student with unique challenges that make it difficult for you to find food and shelter off-campus, or to get access to online course materials, please reach out to representatives at your institution. We want every student in need to have a viable option for remaining in campus housing, with access to food and the internet.

Many of you have questions and concerns during this unprecedented period of upheaval. There are many, many moving parts to this situation … and they are moving very quickly. We don’t yet have answers to all the questions, but we are working diligently to find them, as quickly as we can.

We are addressing the most critical issues first: health and safety, the transition to online learning, and the well-being of our students in need. I know matters related to fees, room and board, and grades are important … but they aren’t as urgent as these other issues are…right now.

We expect to be in a position to start to answer these questions thoughtfully, carefully, in consultation with the federal and state government, and accreditors, in the weeks ahead.

Unfortunately, the projected time frame for the virus reaches into our spring commencement season. Simply put, we have had to face the reality that spring graduation ceremonies will be disrupted.

I know and understand that this will disappoint our students and their families, who have worked toward this goal for so many years. But the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff must be our top priority. Rest assured, your institution will celebrate your academic achievement in due course.

COVID-19 presents the UNC System with one of the most significant challenges it has faced in its long history. But witnessing our faculty, students, families, and leaders at every level of the UNC System, rallying together, has filled me with great optimism.

We will not get everything right as we adjust to a rapidly evolving situation, but I can assure we will make corrections as we move forward.

These are challenging times, and the UNC System is rising to this challenge, quickly and thoroughly. Thank you all for your contributions to this vitally important effort.”

COVID-19, Higher Ed

Commencement cancelled for UNC System schools as system prepares for long-term COVID-19 changes

Interim UNC System President Bill Roper.

Commencement ceremonies for all UNC System schools has been officially cancelled over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, UNC System Interim President Bill Roper announced Friday.

“Simply put, we believe spring graduation ceremonies will be disrupted and it’s time to make alternative plans,” Roper said at the UNC Board of Governors meeting.

The system doesn’t anticipate the pandemic will disrupt the completion of the spring semester and the awarding of degrees, Roper said — just the ceremonies themselves, which can’t be held with appropriate social distancing procedures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have emphasized that people should be no closer than 6 feet apart from one another.

“I know and understand this will disappoint our students and their families who have worked so hard toward this goal for so many years,” Roper said. “But health and safety of our students, faculty and staff must be our top priority.”

Only one board member, Bob Rucho, objected to the move. Rucho, a former state senator, said families have already made plans to attend graduation ceremonies and called cancelling them “way premature.”

Roper’s announcement followed a report to the board by Dr. David Weber, Medical Director of UNC Hospitals’ Departments of Hospital Epidemiology (Infection Prevention).

The current pandemic should peak in four to 12 weeks, Weber said, but social distancing will continue to be necessary for an additional month to six weeks. The current precautions will likely need to be in place into mid-August. It could be as long as five months before people can safely go back to eating in restaurants and attending sporting events, Weber said.

Because this will likely become an endemic coronavirus — one that infects people at a fairly predictable or stable rate — Weber said, we will likely see a second wave during respiratory infection season next year.

The UNC System has about 80,000 students living on the campuses of its 17 schools, Roper said. The university stepped up efforts to get students out of the dorms this week. By the weekend there should be only about 10 percent of the on-campus population remaining, Roper said.

Chancellors at the individual schools are trying to act with sensitivity and support students who have no other options for housing, food and Internet access that will allow them to continue their courses, Roper said. About 95 percent of courses across the university system have been converted to online-only, he said.

Roper said the UNC system is looking at the possibility of moving to a pass/fail grading system for the Spring 20/20 semester, but has not made a decision on the issue.

There are remaining questions about student refunds for housing and meal plans, as well as how the system’s priorities and day-to-day functions, Roper said. Further answers to some of those questions are expected next week, Roper said. The UNC Board of Governors tabled all of its budgetary request items to the legislature in Friday’s meeting.

COVID-19, Higher Ed

UNC Board of Governors meets today amid questions, tensions over COVID-19

The UNC Board of Governors will hold a special, full board meeting Friday via teleconference after a full day of teleconference committee meetings Thursday that in many ways offered more questions than answers.

Many questions about how the system will  respond to the COVID-19 pandemic long-term, or even past this semester, were tabled until the full board meeting. A discussion of postponing commencement was brief and did not come to a conclusion. Discussions of the challenges students face in trying to move out of their dorms by this weekend while resuming classes online was tabled for the Friday’s full board meeting.

Board of Governors member Marty Kotis was rebuffed in several attempts to have budget and legislative priorities drawn up a month ago rewritten or tabled in light of the pandemic.

“We can’t stick our heads in the sand,” Kotis said during a budget discussion that involved sending hundreds of millions of dollars in budget priorities to the North Carolina General Assembly.

The asks to the legislature included funding for new classroom and dormitory buildings as well as for summer classes. Kotis said that in light of so much uncertainty about when students may return to campus and the likelihood that the pandemic will stretch into summer, the board should instead be asking for money to expand its online education capacity and should not be approving the use of cash for most capital projects.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis

But the majority of board members present said that while the pandemic is of great importance, the board can’t throw aside long-term planning.

Unable to get the committees of which he is a part to postpone budget and legislative priority items, Kotis instead asked that they at begin putting together updated asks for the General Assembly specific to the pandemic.

“I’d like to request we develop budget priorities specific to the coronavirus impact over the next month and have that be available for the legislature before they return on the [April 28th], including some mission critical items that relate to COVID-19,” Kotis said.

Though Interim UNC System President Bill Roper assured Kotis that was already underway, Kotis did get a commitment that the board will work on pandemic-specific needs, with Roper leading the efforts.

In remarks to several committees, Roper emphasized the seriousness of the pandemic and the questions is raises for management of the 17-campus university system.

In a personal and uncharacteristic aside, Roper referred to The Bible in discussing what he called the “unprecedented challenge” of the pandemic.

“If you read Esther, Chapter 4 it has relevant language for times such as this,” Roper said.

“To state the obvious, we are in the midst of a global pandemic that not only is effecting the university system but every person, family, business and institution across North Carolina and the nation,” Roper said. “In a crisis like the one we’re in, we have to apply the principles of triage  — meaning, we’ll focus on the most critical and urgent issues now and then get to others in due course. But that doesn’t mean way in the future — it means tomorrow, the next day, so on.”

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper.

“We’ve set as priorities the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Roper said. “Secondly, continuing our academic mission by transitioning to online learning. I’m pleased to tell you that 95 percent of our classes or more are now ready to go online. We’re ensuring that our students have a place to live with access to online studies and access to nutrition.”

“I tell you, I believe we will get through this,” Roper said. “But it will not be easy. We simply don’t know when this is going to be over and we have to be prepared for the long haul. We’ve been working with the chancellors  and their teams, who are on the front lines — also with state and county officials. I’ve spoken many times this week with the governor, with [House] Speaker [Tim] Moore, with [Senate] President Pro Tem [Phil] Berger, with DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen and our board leaders, especially [UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy] Ramsey and we’ve been in touch with our congressional delegation in Washington.”

“There are many other issues that are on peoples’ minds,” Roper said. “Just to name a few of those, beginning with what financial issues do we face, what refunds will students be due such as housing and dining. And I would commit to you that we will in a position to start to answer those questions in the next week. But I say again, we’re in a serious global pandemic and we’re proceeding with the expectation that this will get worse before it gets better. I had the occasion to talk to the leaders of several of our large health systems across North Carolina and they are preparing for an onslaught of patients at their institutions.”

“I will tell you I am confident we  will not get everything right,” Roper said. “But we will make corrections as we move forward.”

The public can listen to Friday’s full meeting of the UNC Board of Governors, which begins at 9 a.m. Friday,  via a live stream.

COVID-19, Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors meeting via teleconference this week

The UNC Board of Governors is holding committee meetings Thursday and a special full board meeting Friday, all via teleconference, as the system continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The public can listen to a live audio stream of the meetings online through a special web page set up for that purpose.

A full schedule of the meetings is available here.

Policy Watch will be reporting on these meetings.

Earlier this week, the UNC system began closing dorms and dining halls at all of its 17 schools as it saw its first COVID-19 case, an employee at UNC-Chapel Hill.

UNC System Interim President Dr. Bill Roper released a video Wednesday morning, providing an update on the quickly evolving situation and the university system’s reactions to the pandemic.

Concerned students at UNC-Chapel Hill are petitioning to follow many other top colleges and universities in moving to a pass/fail grading system for the Spring 2020 semester as their academic lives have been upended.