UNC Charlotte looks to be going forward with a new fall semester schedule despite backlash from its student body.
On May 4, Chancellor Philip Dubois announced that the Fall 2020 semester will begin on Labor Day, Sept. 7, two weeks after the planned start date of Aug. 24. Dubois instated the delay to “allow additional time” between Charlotte and Mecklenburg County’s predicted peaks for coronavirus and the beginning of the semester.
“The health of our students and employees, especially those who may be at higher risk, is our top priority in making this decision,” he stated in the announcement.
The Fall 2020 schedule also omits vacation days for fall break and Thanksgiving Eve, while moving the final exam period back to Dec. 17-23, which many students took issue with. The backlash was so great that the UNC Charlotte Student Government Association (SGA) released a statement on May 11 addressing these complaints.
“We want to assure you that we hear your questions and concerns and are working diligently to provide answers for you,” the statement read.
SGA encouraged students to continue voicing their concerns and assured them that it would “continue to advocate on behalf of [students].”
On May 12, SGA passed the 2020 Break Act, which formally stated that the Student Senate branch of SGA opposed the new fall semester schedule plans. The text cited the more flexible plans implemented by 16 different universities across the country, including the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which will resume class as quickly as possible “with no disruptions” to student breaks. The Senate pointed out that, like Charlotte, Milwaukee will host a major national convention this fall, though it’s still unclear what that will look like at this point.
The Senate also added that Thanksgiving and fall breaks are “essential” to students’ mental health and well-being. “Numerous studies have shown a direct correlation between academic success and adequate time to rest,” it stated.
SGA convened a special meeting with Provost Joan Lorden on May 12 in order to voice their concerns and clarify further information about the proposed fall semester schedule. During the meeting, UNC Charlotte officials named several factors in the decision-making process, including a “grace period” for faculty to plan hybrid and online classes, the long-term planning for normal spring and summer semesters, and the evasion of the projected coronavirus peak.
In a statement released on May 13, SGA thanked Lorden for the meeting, but reaffirmed their criticism.
“While we respect the decision made that the Fall 2020 schedule will remain, it is the belief of the Student Government Association that students would better benefit from keeping their breaks as we feel these breaks directly contribute to the well-being of our students’ mental and academic health.”
SGA also advocated for online final exams in hopes that they would offer more flexibility for students traveling for the holidays, as well as more transparency in the decision-making process.
Lorden and other UNC Charlotte officials will take it under consideration. As Dubois stated in the May 4 announcement, “We must be responsible about balancing the return to classrooms, offices, and residence halls with the health and safety of Niner Nation and the uncertainty this pandemic poses.”
A survey done by the UNC Charlotte chapter of the American Association of University Professors asked 162 faculty members how they’d like to see classes carried out in fall, with 65.4% of respondents saying they’d prefer online-only, and 25.3% responding hybrid. Less than 10% would like to see a full return to traditional, on-campus learning.
UNC Charlotte students were asked to vacate residential halls by March 20, and online classes started shortly after that, later leading to the university being named in a class-action lawsuit as part of a Charleston lawyer’s “College Refund 2020” campaign.
The decision on the UNC Charlotte fall semester schedule will be finalized on May 29.
Other Institutions in the Area
At Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), students have already begun to trickle back onto campus, as some health career and commercial driver’s license students have resumed face-to-face instruction. Like most institutions around the country, CPCC transitioned to online learning in March.
Queens University of Charlotte President Daniel Lugo released a statement on May 13 stating that the university is “actively planning for students to return to residence halls and in-person learning” in the fall, though how that will look has not yet been announced. Johnson C. Smith University has not yet announced its plans for the fall semester, though the in-person graduation ceremony scheduled for May 17 was rescheduled to Oct. 28, as part of the still-scheduled homecoming festivities that week.
Further south, the University of South Carolina (USC) announced on May 17 that the school will also cancel its fall break, though other plans for the university differ greatly from UNC Charlotte.
According to a statement released by USC President Bob Caslen on Sunday, classes at USC will begin on Aug. 20 as scheduled, with Labor Day and Election Day listed as “remote class days,” meaning classes will be held online or not at all, per the professors’ discretion.
Most notably, USC will end all face-to-face instruction after Thanksgiving break, which takes place from Nov. 25-29. Remote learning will resume upon return from that break in preparation for a second wave of COVID-19. “Our best current modelling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December, which also will likely coincide with traditional flu season,” Caslen wrote in the statement.
Caslen also proactively addressed the concerns around the cancelation of fall break, possibly seeing the backlash that universities like UNC Charlotte have already faced.
“I realize that students and faculty look forward to getting away and recharging in the middle of the semester, and I appreciate that many of you will not be pleased with the decision to cancel Fall Break,” he wrote. “These changes are part of the new normal that all of us must embrace as we return to campus for work and study, and they are necessary for us to successfully resume in-person instruction. Most importantly, they reflect our top priority: your health, safety and wellbeing.”