Nearly 70 UNC-Chapel Hill faculty members call for virtual reopen for spring semester in op-ed

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nearly 70 faculty members with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are calling for a responsible teaching plan for the upcoming Spring 2021 semester in a Daily Tar Heel op-ed.

UNC-CH suffered an excruciating reopening stricken with COVID-19 clusters back in August that forced all of its undergraduate students to return home for online learning just a week into the fall semester.

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In fear of being overwhelmed like the semester before, 68 professors signed their name on an op-ed published by the campus' independent student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. The op-ed called for planning to be "guided by a sober and realistic assessment of pandemic conditions."

The university has about 3,887 faculty members in total.

The op-ed, published Wednesday, questions Chapel Hill leaders' ability to handle a return to learning explicitly referencing the administration's failure to heed the Orange County Health Department's warning to not hold in-person learning and housing weeks before reopening.

"Given current conditions and UNC's track record, the plans for spring are doomed to repeat too many of the failures of the fall," it reads. "The only ethical decision is to cancel face-to-face instruction (with the exception of classes that demand it, such as clinical experience) and to keep on-campus residency reserved for those who have special circumstances."

The Daily Tar Heel Editorial Board was a vocal critic of the university's Fall reopening plan.

According to a school calendar, students tentatively return to class on Jan. 19.

As of Wednesday, Orange County approaches the 4,000 milestone of COVID-19 cases and 62 deaths within the county.

"Like most universities across the nation, we have learned from the fall semester. With input from faculty, staff, students, members of the local community, and officials from the Orange County Health Department, we have planned for a significantly different on-campus Carolina experience in the spring, including mandatory testing. We are closely monitoring state and national case counts, and we are prepared to adjust our plans at any time and will announce changes no later than January 9 - prior to the return of our on-campus residents, if the conditions necessitate it," Joel Curran, Vice Chancellor of University Communications for UNC-Chapel Hill, said in a statement to ABC11. "Key changes include a robust testing program that will feature mandatory testing for undergraduate students. Last fall, our pilot testing program yielded a .53 positivity rate, and we believe our students will embrace our more rigorous testing regimen this spring. Like the fall term, most classes will still be taught via remote instruction, and we have improved the communication and enforcement of our COVID-19 Community Standards to better manage off-campus student behaviors. The University will be communicating regularly with students and parents over winter break to ensure they fully understand their role in protecting our campus and community next term."
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