UNC System interim president says he plans to reopen campuses for 2020 fall semester but with changes

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper announced Wednesday that he expects to reopen the campuses for the 2020 Fall Semester.

"Our institutions have done a remarkable job serving their students during this time of crisis. Our speedy adaptation to remote teaching and learning was a necessary and invaluable step to preserve the continuity of our students' academic pursuits while protecting health and safety," Roper said in a statement. "But 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. 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."

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Until a vaccine is developed, Roper said many members of some universities may not be able to risk teaching or attending in-person classes.

"We are optimistically seeing indications of improvement and hopeful that this will continue", Roper said. "But these trends will continue only if we stay focused and diligent, which we must and will do. North Carolina will likely have improved capacity for tracking student exposure and greater access to the tools, materials, and supplies that can help minimize the virus's threat."

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In the statement, Roper said the system must consider steps and precautions to protect vulnerable and high-risk populations.

"I expect to reopen our campuses for the Fall 2020 Semester and look forward to welcoming our faculty and students back to their classrooms and labs this fall," Roper said.

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For example, some institutions may consider a staggered or shortened academic calendar while others take action to reduce density in housing and classrooms.

Roper anticipates operations will not be the "normal" students and faculty are used to prior to COVID-19 but eventually all 17 campuses will operate again at full capacity.

The UNC System will remain in frequent contact with Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of NC Department of Health and Human Services and will continue to coordinate our operations with Governor Cooper's executive orders.

"Our efforts to mitigate the pandemic's threat have been successful because our actions in March were swift and comprehensive," Roper said. "The continued success of our effort now depends on approaching our next moves forward with caution, optimism, and precision."