The following message was emailed to faculty on May 4, 2020.
Thank You and Looking to the Future
Dear Carolina Faculty,
As we finish finals this week, I want to take a moment to say thank you.
None of this has been easy. Pivoting to remote instruction in ten days wasn’t easy; the countless Zoom meetings it took to stay accessible to your students and peers have been far from easy. And juggling all of this on top of the extra childcare, homecare, and overall life uncertainty has perhaps been the hardest of all. I am deeply grateful for your sacrifice and flexibility for our university and our students.
Last week, a faculty member told me, “there’s a lot of compassion on our campus right now.” That’s what we need and it’s because of you, our faculty. It’s because of your time, your effort, your talent, and your caring for our students.
I know there is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about what the rest of 2020 will look like. First, I want to be clear in saying that there will be financial implications to our university as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly every source of revenue to the university is threatened, but we will work through this together. While we don’t yet know the extent of the state’s budget shortfall, or the direct impact to the UNC System or UNC-Chapel Hill, we have already put several measures in place to help mitigate the negative effects, including a pause on filling most vacant positions and restricting salary adjustments and non-personnel purchases deemed non-essential. Provost Blouin and I are working closely with our deans and other unit leaders to develop strategies for managing a potential budget shortfall. Our goal is to protect our people, our students, and our core mission of teaching, research and service to our state. Carolina Next will help guide our decision making.
We don’t know exactly what the future looks like. The governor, state and local officials, and our infectious disease experts are watching the virus’ path, and we are in daily communication with them as we plan and prepare for the fall. We’re in the unique and fortunate position of having among our faculty some of the world’s top infectious disease and public health experts, including several who have been researching the coronavirus for many years. My team and I are in constant contact with them and leaning on their knowledge and expertise. With so many unknowns, they have guided and will continue to inform our decision-making.
What we do know for certain is that the desire for students and their families to join our Carolina community remains very high. As of Saturday, we have received 4,651 confirmations from admitted first-year students, an increase of 355 or 8.3 percent compared to last year on the same date. This number includes 299 global students, an estimated 250 of whom will not be able to secure visas in time to enroll in residence in August due to COVID-19. We want to provide these admitted global students an opportunity to enroll this fall through remote instruction, such that they can become residential students in the spring 2021 semester. We have a team working on this, and I remain optimistic that we can accomplish this goal. Overall, despite the challenges facing higher education during these unprecedented times, we may have the largest incoming class in the history of Carolina.
So, with the safety of our community as the first priority, this fall we are planning for different scenarios. Our hope is to begin classes in mid-August as planned, welcoming our new students to campus. While this is our goal, we are also preparing other options, including a shift forward or backward in the start of the semester based on guidance from our experts. Some amount of remote learning will become a part of our new normal, so we must take the next few months to prepare for this reality. I have heard from faculty, students, and parents about what is important to them as we attempt to return to a sense of normalcy on our campus. The personal interaction, group projects, and experiential education opportunities that allow students to thrive are needed.
Regardless of what the academic calendar becomes, classroom instruction likely won’t look or feel like a typical Carolina fall. A return to on-campus residential instruction will require modifying behaviors, restructuring the classroom and co-curricular environments, and developing community standards that will likely include some protective equipment, testing and contact tracing to ensure a safer campus environment for a period of time. We have a scenario planning team that includes several faculty members considering multiple forms of instructional delivery, including more flexible teaching models that rely on some online and some in-person instruction. The effectiveness of this kind of teaching, with blended remote learning, has been proven by several of our faculty. But it takes work, time and a team to design it right, so we are working to provide resources to help our faculty make adaptations.
This fall will demand a lot from our university but I know we will be up to the challenge. There are many decisions ahead, and I promise we will work to give as much advance notice as possible and always seek faculty feedback to inform those decisions. Through it all, our top priorities will always be the safety of everyone in our community, and the integrity and excellence that defines a Carolina education. We remain committed to our core mission of teaching, research and service to our state, and we will make sure our students are well-cared for and have what they need to succeed.
As we prepare and strategize for the fall, I ask you to look back on the past semester and to give thought to several questions. The pandemic will change the world of higher education, and it will change us. So, what do we want that change to be? What has worked, and what has not worked? Were there unexpected benefits realized this semester? What were the challenges? How might the university operate differently? Every university will be affected by the coronavirus. The question is which universities will emerge stronger because they weathered this storm together, saw opportunities and learned new lessons. Our competitive advantage will always be our people and our community coming together to learn, grow and challenge one another. How do we seize and preserve this advantage in the midst of this new normal?
As the nation’s oldest public university, we’ve survived ups and downs for over three centuries. Every challenge, every period of mourning, every breaking point — we have endured it as well. We are a university defined by our faculty and we are dependent on your strength, talent and compassion. Please know that your voice is important. We are in this together, and together, we will continue to make Carolina the leading global public research university we strive to be.
Kevin M. Guskiewicz