In a notice that went to all students and to others on the campus Tuesday, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said he and others at the University are working on a plan to have the students back on campus in August.
“As we look ahead to this summer, we don’t know what the future holds,” Guskiewicz said in the latest of a series of weekly messages to students who have been away from the campus since spring break in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “With safety as our first priority, we are preparing for a phased reopening of the University and working alongside Carolina’s world-class infectious disease experts to develop a plan that would prepare us to reopen the University’s research operations in June and July and to have students back in August.”
He said to expect details of the plans later this month.
Of 226 colleges and universities of all sizes, public and private, that have reported their intentions to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the overwhelming majority plan to open in the fall with students on campus. Some said they were not ready to release their plans, and others said they were undecided. A few said they were planning a mix of in-person and remotely taught classes.
On April 29, the interim president of the UNC System said he expects Carolina and the system’s other higher education institutions to reopen classrooms and laboratories in the fall.
“We are working closely with our chancellors to chart a course forward,” Dr. William Roper said in a statement.
Individual institutions would have the autonomy to consider staggered or shortened academic calendars “while others may take action to reduce student density in campus housing and classrooms,” Roper said.
“Our chancellors will have flexibility to determine what local steps they need to take to protect all students, faculty and staff, especially high-risk populations, both on campus and off. They will have the ability to put unique precautions in place.”
The Chapel Hill campus is closed, all scheduled events through June 30 have been canceled, and both sessions of summer school will be taught remotely. Guskiewicz had said on April 2 that he would announce plans for July and August by May 31.
“For many in the UNC System, digital learning technologies simply cannot be a long-term substitute for the facilities and community that our campuses provide,” Roper said. “The majority of our faculty and students need access to our libraries, labs, classrooms, and medical and agriculture facilities to fully engage with their research, teaching, learning and service work.”
He pointed out that recent data in North Carolina are showing trends that suggest efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19 are paying off. He said that by the fall, the state likely would have improved capacity for tracking student exposure and greater access to the tools, materials and supplies that can help minimize the virus’s threat.
“Until a vaccine is developed, many members of our community may not be able to risk teaching or attending in-person classes,” Roper added. “The UNC System recognizes the needs” of faculty and staff, older students and members of the community with underlying health concerns.
“Our steps forward will be contingent on what we discover through ongoing monitoring of infection rates and North Carolina’s testing and treatment capacity. We will continue to follow the advice of the nation’s infectious disease experts and our own experts at UNC Health.
“Our efforts to mitigate the pandemic’s threat have been successful because our actions in March were swift and comprehensive. The continued success of our effort now depends on approaching our next moves forward with caution, optimism and precision.”