Answers to Your Questions about the Fall Term

UNC Seal in the brick in front of South Building.
Scenes of a sparsely populated campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on March 25, 2020. The University began remote instruction for more than 95 percent of classes to help stop the spread of COVID-19. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Dear Carolina Community,

The national unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic have created one of the greatest challenges in the history of American higher education. Last month, we unveiled the University’s Roadmap to Fall 2020, a comprehensive plan that outlines the operational and policy changes necessary to enable us to resume full on-campus operations in August. We believe strongly that the best Carolina experience is one that occurs on campus, and we have heard the same sentiments expressed by many of our students, faculty and staff. To that end, we have spent the past several weeks soliciting input from a variety of faculty, staff, and students including members of the Faculty Council, Employee Forum, Student Government, and many of our world-renowned faculty experts in public health, infectious disease and ethics. We also welcomed input from over 4,000 faculty and staff and over 2,000 students who participated in webinars and more than 1,200 faculty who provided feedback via a survey conducted by the Faculty Council earlier this month.

Carolina’s Roadmap is based on guidance from faculty experts in public health, infectious disease and ethics, as well county and state health officials. Our plan considers the safety and well-being of our campus community along with other competing interests and values, including the mental health of our community members, the quality of the educational experience, and the financial health of our University and our employees. Whether for progress toward degree, faculty academic progression or staff advancement, many of our students, faculty and staff need the campus infrastructure to succeed. It is our responsibility to provide a safe environment whereby individual pursuits and our collective mission can be safely pursued.

We are aware that some members of our community have expressed questions and concerns about the plan we’ve presented, and we understand and appreciate those questions and concerns. We are working very hard with our community to make sure you have the very best information available and that we communicate with you often.

To address the questions and concerns we have heard to date, we are working through a deliberative process and intend to communicate with you often. Below we summarize some of the decisions that have been made regarding the expressed concerns shared with us.

  • Our community standards make clear that face masks must be worn in all classroom settings by students, faculty, staff, and visitors from the time they enter the building to the time they leave the building and in indoor common spaces such as bathrooms and hallways. In dining halls, masks must be worn except when eating or drinking. In addition, masks must be worn in outdoor settings where physical distancing is not possible. The University will centrally procure and pay for masks for those who do not have their own. Carolina’s infectious disease faculty experts have stressed the importance of masks and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, and state and local public health officials have been consistent in advocating for the importance of masks in reducing the likelihood of transmission and acquisition of the virus.
  • Students, faculty, staff, and visitors must observe a minimum of 3 feet physical distancing “mask to mask” in classrooms. Public health scholars believe the 3 feet minimum with masks will greatly reduce the opportunities for transmission or acquisition. Schools will have the discretion to expand distancing greater than 3 feet for certain classrooms. There will be 6 feet minimum distance between the instructor and the first row of students in every classroom.
  • The University continues to refine its testing protocols. However, based on input from experts, testing every member of our community could create a false sense of security. The CDC does not recommend widespread, asymptomatic testing, and instead recommends that all individuals take preventative measures to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is consistent with the advice of our own infectious disease and public health faculty experts.
  • We will be as flexible as our guidance allows with those who may need to teach, work or learn away from campus. There is a formal process that allows individuals to seek reasonable disability accommodations for medical conditions through the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office to ensure each employee’s privacy rights are protected. There is also an informal process that allows individuals to make requests for flexibility based upon non-medical circumstances from their deans, department chairs or supervisors. Ultimately, we are confident that those who can teach or work on campus will teach and work in an environment where we have taken a number of measures to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including the measures recommended by the CDC. Based on conversations with our campus deans, department chairs, and supervisors we intend to teach the majority of our courses on campus in the fall. This will best accommodate our students, most of whom are seeking to return for an on-campus learning experience.

It is inevitable that COVID-19 will affect some members of our campus community whether they are on campus or off campus this fall. We will continue to meet with stakeholders from across the campus community as we continue to refine our plan as well as the “offramps” should we need to pivot. Of course, it is impossible to predict what the coming months will bring with 100% certainty. As we did in the spring, and if circumstances warrant, we know we can shift our operations again to protect the health and safety of our community.

As we have said many times, our community will need to work together to ensure we keep each other as safe as possible. In just one example of new ways we plan to tackle this challenge, the University has formed an unprecedented Campus Public Health Communication Coalition to help creatively educate students and community stakeholders regarding our stated community health protocols.

The entire Carolina community is critical to our fall plans and we will continue to work with faculty, staff and students to ensure we are listening, sharing information and making whatever adjustments are needed in real time. We study, live and work in one of the best research and healthcare regions in the world, and society is counting on us to help prepare the world for the next pandemic.

With each passing day we are encouraged by the faculty, staff and students eager to return in the fall and we appreciate those who continue to share their ideas with us to help inform our planning and communication with you.


Kevin M. Guskiewicz

Robert A. Blouin
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost