The editorial board of The Daily Tar Heel, the University of North Carolina’s student newspaper, published a searing column on Monday tearing into school leadership for the “clusterfuck” they created by pushing to resume on-campus learning.
On Monday afternoon, just a week after the semester began, the university announced that its Chapel Hill campus was moving undergraduate courses to online-only after at least four COVID-19 clusters ― defined as having five or more cases ― cropped up in student housing.
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Robert Blouin said the move to remote learning meant the majority of undergraduate residential students were expected to change their residential plans for the fall as the school works to “de-densify” the campus. It was unclear from the announcement how that would play out for the thousands of students who’ve just moved in.
“We all saw this coming,” The Daily Tar Heel titled its editorial.
The onus should have fallen on UNC leadership to implement measures to safeguard all students, the editorial board argued.
“University leadership should have expected students, many of whom are now living on their own for the first time, to be reckless. Reports of parties throughout the weekend come as no surprise. Though these students are not faultless, it was the University’s responsibility to disincentivize such gatherings by reconsidering its plans to operate in-person earlier on.”
In a statement emailed to HuffPost about the editorial, Guskiewicz said the university understands that students and parents may be concerned and frustrated by the changes.
“As much as we believe we have worked diligently to help create a healthy and safe campus living and learning environment, we believe the current data presents an untenable situation,” he said. “As we have always said, the health and safety of our campus community is paramount, and we will continue to modify and adapt our plan when necessary.”
Guskiewicz also said the university had created its roadmap for the new semester in consultation with public health experts and state and local health officials over the last five months. However, he did not address the specific accusations in the editorial.
The Daily Tar Heel called out UNC administrators for ignoring the Orange County Health Department, which wrote a letter last month recommending that the school restrict on-campus housing to at-risk students and implement remote learning for the first five weeks of the semester. It came after coronavirus case counts rose in the county, and university attendees and community members expressed concerns about students returning en masse to Chapel Hill.
In response to the letter, Guskiewicz told students that the health department’s advice was not an order or mandate but that the university was working toward aligning with the department’s general recommendations on several counts.
The Daily Tar Heel editorial board accused Guskiewicz, Blouin and others in the administration of passing the buck and failing to take responsibility.
“We’re angry — and we’re scared. We’re tired of the gaslighting, tired of the secrecy, tired of being treated like cash cows by a University with such blatant disregard for our lives,” the authors said.
UNC, one of the largest universities to attempt a resumption of in-person learning, was under close scrutiny as other schools weigh the risks of returning to face-to-face instruction this fall. Colleges that reopen for in-person classes do so with the knowledge that they’re likely putting many of their students, their staff and people in the surrounding community at higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
In another editorial published last week, the editorial board accused UNC of putting profits over people and pushing ahead with reopening plans despite the protests from students and staff calling for classes to resume online. The newspaper published a nine-point list of issues, which included the university’s decision not to test students and staff before returning to campus, a lack of transparency around those who test positive for the coronavirus, and the decision to allow dorm buildings fill to capacity despite that scenario being considered high-risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read the full editorial at The Daily Tar Heel.