UNC-Chapel Hill students call for better COVID-19 response from administrators

COVID-19 and schools

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — UNC-Chapel Hill is facing 500 COVID-19 cases among students and staff less than a month into the new school year.

In response, student leaders held an emergency meeting Friday where they called on the administration to do more to slow the coronavirus spread.

The student leaders are calling for several things including expanding mask mandates and implementing virtual learning options for all university courses.

“Not only am I nervous and anxious but confused as to why we seem to be scaling down as hospitals are filling up. Why we seem to be going back on our commitments to keeping campus safe when we see that we have more cases right now then we did last year when we were sent back home,” said Greear Webb, senior advisor at UNC.

The students hoped to hash out solutions with administrators, but no representatives from the administration showed up.

While the university administration initially agreed to attend the meeting, the chancellor canceled via email an hour before the planned meeting.

“My only obligation as student body president is to ensure that students are being heard and I think today we saw that that is not the case here at Carolina. We’ve been moving in such a non-transparent way for so long that it’s become the status quo and so now I think my task is to disrupt that,” said Lamar Richards, UNC student body president.

CBS 17 asked UNC why administrators did not attend the meeting and received this statement:

“Today’s student government press conference grossly misrepresented the University’s detailed, multi-layered safety plans that were designed based on the advice of our top infectious disease faculty, public health experts, the Orange County Health Department and the input of our campus. The Chancellor values student input and will continue to work directly with student leaders in the best interest of the campus, but he will not participate in publicity stunts,” the statement from UNC spokesperson Joanne Peters Denny said.

Denny went on to detail the school’s safety plan which includes an indoor mask mandate, twice a week testing for unvaccinated students and updating the school’s COVID-19 dashboard.

UNC says 90 percent of students and faculty are vaccinated. Beginning Sept. 15 unvaccinated employees will be tested once a week.

Below is the full email to student leaders from the chancellor:

Dear Lamar, 

Last Friday, August 28, you invited Dr. Barzin, Provost Blouin and me to meet with a small group of student leaders. Last evening, you announced to our campus that you are convening an “emergency meeting.” You have misrepresented this meeting to the University campus and me.   

In response to your official notice for today’s meeting, I want you to know that Provost Blouin and Dr. Amir Barzin will not be able to attend, as they are out of town. Vice Provost Cox and I were planning on attending to listen to the concerns of Campus Presidents Council as you outlined in your email invitation to us on Monday, August 30. The message you sent last Friday to me stated “Would you (and prob Dr. Barzin and Provost Blouin) be willing to sit down (in-person) and talk with students (no more than 25) next week for a Q&A style meeting with students”. However, your email yesterday – in which you “slam” my administration – reveals you are more interested in generating publicity than producing meaningful dialogue.  What you described in your email yesterday is now very different from what you originally invited us to participate in with student leaders. As a result, we will not be attending your meeting today.   

As a reminder, I meet with students and student groups every week, including my Student Advisory Committee which I just met with on Monday. In each of those meetings, I have listened to constructive feedback and been able to provide real-time updates on how our campus is doing. Lamar, I have found the vast majority of our students to be in support of being on campus, in the residence halls and in their classrooms. Some are understandably concerned and want to ensure our weekly campus updates continue, that the dashboard reflects the most up-to-date data and that we continue to be open to ideas. That is where you and your team should be stepping in on the students’ behalf. In this case, I find your rhetoric to be wholly unconstructive. We have a mission to carry out and that must be our focus.    

I and my administration have continued to work with you and your team to ensure you have the opportunity to provide student perspectives. You and I have met regularly since you took office and I believe we have maintained a strong, working relationship built on mutual trust and a commitment to collaboration for the benefit of our campus community.   

With regards to the demands that you have outlined, we have discussed many of these issues during our one-on-one meetings and I have discussed these issues in many public settings. I would urge you to communicate my answers to your questions with your constituents. That is one of the many purposes of our meetings: to enable you to understand the many complicated factors that play into our decision making, including the advice of our infectious disease experts, and to explain decisions to our students. I completely understand that you may not agree with those decisions, but I ask that you help your fellow students to understand the rationale and many factors behind our policies.   

The overwhelming majority of your classmates have expressed a clear desire to resume in-person learning. Amazingly effective vaccines remain freely available to anyone and everyone in our campus community. And those vaccines continue to prove remarkably effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization.  

I always welcome your suggestions, but ask that you recognize we have shared goals and priorities and a shared concern for the wellbeing of our community. Suggesting that anyone on this campus wants to see students or faculty come to harm is inflammatory and wrong. I would appreciate a meeting for the two of us early next week so that we can determine a more positive way to move forward. I’ll have my office reach out to you.   

Sincerely, 

Kevin Guskiewicz 

Chancellor 

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