Editorial: UNC’s virtual switch-over is inevitable

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If you’ve been on campus this week, you may have heard of the potential for UNC to move classes online.

Whether this news comes from the worried whispers of your fellow students or the faculty-led petition for four to six weeks of virtual learning, you might be confused as to the UNC’s position on the matter.

Either way, we can learn from past UNC mistakes and how some policy decisions might make virtual learning inevitable this semester.

Perhaps most noticeable is the lack of a mandate on vaccines at UNC. This approach – which has stood up to legal challenges – is being adopted by other public universities, including Indiana University and the University of Virginia, which have deregistered more than 200 students who did not comply with the mandate.

The UNC system has informed its campuses, including UNC-Chapel Hill, that under state law, only the North Carolina Public Health Commission can mandate student vaccinations, according to information on the Carolina Together website.

But fundamentally, the issue also involves transparency and communication between administration professors and students.

According to this Twitter feed by Noel Brewer, a distinguished professor at the Gillings School of Public Health, some of UNC’s new COVID-19 guidelines prevent important safety measures, such as notifying instructors if a student in their class tests positive.

Brewer also points out how the vagueness of these guidelines can affect their interpretation. How many COVID-19 symptoms justify the absence of a teacher? This decision seems to be up to the professor who is showing symptoms.

So what could have been done – and where do we go from here?

  1. UNC can provide comprehensive public health education, and places where students can learn more about COVID-19 vaccines. Websites and emails promoting immunization are not always accessible or sought after by students. Instead, UNC should host in-person spaces on campus where students can ask questions and get answers.
  2. Drop-in vaccine collection on campus could help increase the number of students vaccinated at UNC. If you’ve been vaccinated before, you may remember how difficult it was to find a place and make an appointment. Since the spring, vaccines have become more widely available and some places no longer require an appointment. While the Carolina Vaccination Clinic offers appointments, it is most often the student’s responsibility to find the clinic and make an appointment.
  3. Finally, if the NCU does not require vaccines, they should encourage them. North Carolina has taken a similar approach, offering admission to a million dollar lottery for newly vaccinated citizens. College doesn’t need to make students into millionaires to achieve similar results – subsidizing meal plans or involving students in giveaways might be enough to attract students.

Inaccessibility and reluctance have proven to be two major obstacles for people who have not yet been vaccinated. The UNC has the power to fight both. The University has an extensive network of professionals and academics in public health and epidemiology, as well as resources to prioritize on-campus vaccination clinics.

The UNC draws on a large bank of resources to help fight the pandemic, without having to close the doors to in-person learning.

If it can be done safely, UNC should avoid falling back into virtual classrooms and repeating the mistakes of fall 2020. But most of all, we need to keep the community of Chapel Hill healthy. To do this, herd immunity is imperative, especially for young and immunocompromised individuals who cannot yet be vaccinated.

But without a solid exit plan, a return to online courses is inevitable for UNC.

@dthopinion

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