EDITORIAL: UNC Board of Governors, fix this or resign

When The Daily Tar Heel called this whole situation a clusterfuck, they were on to something. A majority of students would’ve been able to tell you that we saw this coming. Yet, the UNC Board of Governors (BOG) chose to continually ignore students, experts, faculty and staff concerns, pleas and warnings to close the universities amid a global pandemic that has amounted to over 805,000 deaths globally and 2,500 in our state.

There is no way the BOG didn’t see the frightening increase of positive COVID-19 cases plaguing its universities coming.

Since the announcement of fall 2020 campus reopenings, university administrators actively withheld vital information from the general public and their student bodies. Information that is crucial for students, faculty and staff to know, such as accurate positive COVID-19 cases on campuses and self-reported data.

Moreover, universities have done a horrendous job of ensuring staff members’ safety as students return to campus. University employees were provided with one or two masks per week and didn’t have access to more personal protective equipment, like basic face shields and gowns. Outraged by the lack of protection against the virus, they sued the UNC System for its blatant disregard for their health and safety.

As a result of their lack of transparency and extremely careless planning, one after another, university administrations were forced to reckon with the train wrecks they set into motion.

As UNC-CH and NC State have demonstrated, you can only keep information hidden for so long, and when the truth is revealed, the situation rapidly spirals out of control. Three days after its first clusters were reported, UNC-CH transitioned online. Similarly, NC State transitioned online two days after its first cluster report. When cases start to balloon, what does the BOG do? Blame students and “off-campus activities.”

“Over the spring and summer every institution prepared for the fall semester under the guidance of well-known public health officials,” UNC System President Peter Hans said in a statement. “This hard work is being undermined by a very small number of students behaving irresponsibly off campus, which unfairly punishes the vast majority of their classmates who are following the rules.”

So why did the BOG risk our safety by bringing us back to campus in a situation where we could possibly contract a fatal virus that is still not fully understood?

Money.

Spare us your empty words about how much you value giving us an education. We know that tuition and fees are worth hundreds of millions of dollars to these universities. And now, we know that the BOG values those millions of dollars over the lives of their students.

However, all colleges didn’t make that same calculation. The California State University (CSU) system, one of the largest public university systems in the country, was quick and decisive in choosing remote learning for the fall in mid-May.

The BOG was likely aware of the same medical evidence as the CSU system, but somehow came to a different decision. The CSU system prioritized safety over funds, and it’s time for the UNC System to do the same.

We came together because the BOG refuses to accept responsibility. We came together because the BOG refuses to be transparent. We came together because the BOG put us in danger.

We came together to say with one voice that the BOG needs to be held accountable for its actions, and that it needs to immediately take steps to right these wrongs.

It is not too late for the BOG to protect the thousands of students who have yet to return to their campuses and start classes. The BOG should learn from the crises they caused at UNC-CH, NC State and ECU.

All UNC System schools should be fully online. Pending isolation or quarantine, students—including athletes—living on campus should be sent home with prorated refunds for housing and meal plans, unless they display a need to remain on campus. Students who wish to withdraw from universities should also receive prorated tuition refunds.

Our lives cannot be monetized. We are worth more than a check. One group of individuals should never and could never properly understand the needs of 17 different campuses.

The UNC System Board of Governors pretends to represent the best interests of their students, faculty and staff members. We’re done buying into that charade.

Members of the UNC System Board of Governors: Fix this or resign. This is your fault.

Signed,

Technician Editorial Board, North Carolina State University

Blue Banner, UNC Asheville

The Western Carolinian Editorial Board, Western Carolina University

The Seahawk Editorial Board, UNC Wilmington

The East Carolinian, East Carolina University

The Daily Tar Heel Editorial Board, UNC Chapel Hill

Other supporters:

Chronicle Editorial Board, Duke University