Petition Airs Faculty Health Concerns on Reopening Plan

South Building

In a meeting of the Faculty Executive Committee, concerns were expressed about faculty who may not be comfortable trusting their health to the open classroom setting. (File photo)

Members of UNC’s faculty have begun to push back at what they perceive as potential threats to their health in the University’s plans to reopen in the fall.

As of Thursday morning, more than 500 had signed a petition demanding that:

• No instructor be required to teach in person and that no instructor be required to disclose personal health concerns;

• All members of the campus community be required to wear masks and practice physical distancing in classrooms and public settings; and

• UNC test all staff, students and faculty on campus for the virus that causes COVID-19 upon their return to campus and develop a rigorous plan that requires regular and ongoing testing.

The University’s Roadmap for Fall 2020, released May 28, outlines four teaching methods and states that “decisions about which methods will be used for specific classes will be made locally by deans and department chairs, with input from the respective faculty members regarding how to create the right balance of course offerings using these different instructional delivery models.”

It describes courses for on-campus, in-person learners only; a “hyflex” scenario in which courses meet in-person and include some students joining remotely and synchronously, with  recording for asynchronous learners; courses with a small, required synchronous recitation for which, where there are multiple recitation sections, there will be a mix of face-to-face and remote engagements; and courses taught online only.

In response to the petition, UNC Media Relations issued a statement from Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz that said: “The safety and well-being of our community is our top priority. We know that students thrive in our on-campus environment, and we believe we can provide that environment safely. To accomplish this, everyone will be expected to adhere to our community standards, which will include wearing a mask, physical distancing and more. Our planning has involved Carolina’s world-class infectious disease and public health faculty experts, state and local officials, campus leadership, and groups of faculty, staff and students. Having input from these constituencies has helped us develop a strong Roadmap for Fall 2020. We will provide flexibility to faculty, staff and students for remote learning and teleworking so that we can safely and effectively deliver quality instruction, and carry out our impactful research and service this fall. This is an opportunity for this generation to create a new standard for community care. I think they are more than capable of meeting that challenge.”

In a meeting of the Faculty Executive Committee on Monday — a public meeting that any faculty member can attend — concerns were expressed about faculty who may not be comfortable trusting their health to the open classroom setting. A plan announced by Duke University was brought up: Duke says faculty who have health concerns will not be required to be on campus, no health questions asked. The petition asks the same for UNC.

The original language in Carolina’s plans concerning wearing masks and social distancing used “should” and “will be asked to” instead of “required.” On June 11, Provost Robert Blouin told a student webinar that masks would be required, at least in the classroom, and other administrators said there could be consequences for those who don’t wear them.

The roadmap is a “living document” subject to change during the months of phased return to campus for staff, faculty and students leading to the planned Aug. 10 start of classes. The recommendation-versus-requirement on masking and distancing varies among colleges’ plans nationwide, and presumably UNC could strengthen its intent.

Lloyd Kramer, outgoing chair of the faculty, said Wednesday that he would consider masking and distancing to be a professor’s prerogative. Professors determine a range of behaviors that can and cannot occur in their classes; professors routinely tell students they can’t do things as minor as texting or reading The Daily Tar Heel during class. They need the same authority over safety issues in their classrooms. “That’s how I feel about masks,” he said.

The roadmap does not envision testing everyone for the virus.

“Presently, we do not plan to test everyone prior to their reentry onto campus,” it says. “However, before leaving home for work or study each day, all individuals should check for symptoms using the COVID-19 screening checklist. Anyone who is experiencing any symptom(s) indicated on the screening checklist must not go to class or work and should contact their health care provider.

“Currently, we have the capability on campus to test individuals when recommended by a healthcare professional. Over the summer, Campus Health will work closely with UNC Hospitals and our infectious disease research team to develop robust and convenient COVID-19 testing capabilities for our broader campus community. … We anticipate advances in testing practices and guidelines, and we will update the campus as testing evolves.”

The Faculty Executive Committee on Wednesday sent faculty members a survey about their views regarding reopening plans. Faculty have until June 10 to respond.

According to the reopening plans, fall classes would start eight days earlier than originally planned and exams would be finished by Nov. 24, two days before Thanksgiving, with fall break canceled in anticipation of a possible new wave of COVID-19 in the colder months. Conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic could necessitate changes at any time.

A phased reopening already has started, with a priority of ramping up research activities that were cut to about 25 percent of capacity three months ago. Some athletes have returned to campus, and faculty and necessary staff are scheduled to return gradually over the summer.

Included is a new initiative to deal with freshman students who won’t be able to get to the campus due to health concerns and, in the case of international students, inability to enter the country. Called Carolina Away, it is planned as an entirely online experience that will enable up to 1,000 new undergraduates, in digital sections of key courses in the general education curriculum, to participate in small group experiences and engage in learning communities that focus on the impact of COVID-19.

The roadmap envisions increased frequency of cleaning classrooms, dorms and restrooms. Classrooms are being reconfigured so that small classes will meet in larger spaces, and large lecture classes may be split into smaller sections.

The plans call for dorms to operate at normal capacity — standard double-occupancy — with few exceptions, including one dorm that will be used to provide temporary housing to residential students who test positive for COVID-19 and a second that will provide temporary housing for residential students who have been exposed to the virus but do not have a confirmed diagnosis. Some double rooms will be converted to singles and held for residents with immunocompromised conditions.


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