With classes beginning this week, UNC-Chapel Hill faculty petition to take classes online for 4-6 weeks

By: - August 16, 2021 11:31 am

Over the weekend students across the UNC System began moving into on-campus dorms and off-campus apartments. But with classes set to begin Wednesday at UNC-Chapel Hill, faculty are petitioning to take classes online for 4-6 weeks as new COVID-19 clusters are already appearing on campus and Delta variant infections continue to climb.

As of Monday morning, the petition had nearly 200 signatures from faculty members from across the university’s myriad departments.

Students, faculty and staff also petitioned and urged greater caution – including a move online – last year. Administrators and the UNC Board of Governors disagreed, moving forward with reopening plans they insisted would work. Within a week the system’s largest schools – including Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and East Carolina University – were forced to make the move after mounting infections that overwhelmed their quarantine spaces and proved their precautions inadequate.

Earlier this month, six former state health directors urged UNC System President Peter Hans to follow the lead of several other large state university systems in mandating vaccination at UNC Schools. That is not a step Hans or the system’s governing board have, so far, been willing to take.

Read the new petition in full below.

New U.S. cases of COVID-19 have risen to more than 129,000 cases per day. This is “the highest average since early February.” In North Carolina, more than 2,400 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Breakthrough cases are increasing. Our ICUs are full or almost full. Last fall, the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 was used as one metric to move teaching online. Rushing back to the classroom this week puts us all at risk

As we learned from the past two semesters, online teaching, although not always optimal, can work well. Clearly, we can move to remote classes for the next 4-6 weeks until the more transmissible Delta variant surge is brought under control. 

UNC Hospital infectious disease physician Dr. David Wohl said on August 13, “We’re in trouble. We are going to have a very bumpy few weeks…. It’s only going to get worse. We are backsliding.” 

The current plan for UNC—which includes no “off-ramp” for remote learning, unlike last fall, and no vaccine mandate—is for regular classrooms with no physical distancing, near-full dorms, football games with no masks, and full to capacity dining halls. This is a formula for disaster.

We need a block of time to get this situation under control. As the Chair of the Faculty Mimi Chapman, Chair of the Employee Forum Katie Musgrove, UNC-CH Student Body President Lamar Richards, and Neel Swamy, President of the Graduate and Professional Student Government wrote in The Daily Tar Heel, “A few weeks of remote instruction would allow our campus to get more people vaccinated….” Jill Moore, Secretary of the Faculty and a professor in the School of Government who studies North Carolina communicable disease law, has said that there is no legal reason for NC universities to refrain from mandating vaccines.

A. David Paltiel, professor of Public Health at Yale, said that college leaders who do not require vaccines were guilty of a dereliction of duty: “They’re not taking care of their constituents. It really comes down to whether they have any business opening their doors.”

We understand that some staff members will need to be on campus. They must be provided with PPE in the form of N95 masks, time off to get vaccinated or tested, and hazard pay. Remote teaching will create a safer environment with fewer students, faculty, and staff on campus. 

The time to act is now. We, UNC-CH instructors, call upon Chancellor Guskiewicz and Provost Blouin to delay in-person classes until the metrics improve. This is the only moral and compassionate path. We require bold and courageous leadership. The risks are too high. 

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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.