The Western Carolina University Faculty Senate called an emergency meeting today to consider a resolution asking the college to cancel in-person instruction this Fall. The Faculty Senate was nearly evenly split for the vote, but ultimately voted to pass the resolution opposing a residential opening for Fall 2020 and calling on the state to guarantee funding for the university system should future outbreaks force its institutions to return to online-only instruction. The vote was 15 members in favor and 13 opposed – with one abstention.
“Western Carolina University values the voice of its faculty and the role of shared governance,” said Chancellor Kelli R. Brown and Interim Provost Richard Starnes in a joint statement following the meeting. “The vote today during a special-called Faculty Senate meeting to discuss a resolution related to the residential opening of the fall semester reflects the complexity of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education.”
The resolution will be forwarded to the UNC College system and is simply a voice of opposition – it does not do anything immediately to change the beginning of the semester, which is scheduled to begin next week for in-person instruction.
WCU announced last week that the Fall semester will be a hybrid form of delivery, which will offer remote learning options where feasible, while also providing in-person instruction and residential living for students.
“After 20 years in the academy serving as an administrator, as a staff member, as a faculty and certainly as a student, those voices are all important to what we do,” said Associate Professor in the College of Education and Allied Professions Yancey Gulley, who introduced the resolution. “I did feel that our voice was missing a bit in this conversation from this standpoint, so thank you all for taking the time to give that voice that you have to the bigger conversation of higher education to the state of North Carolina and to our own institution.”
The Faculty Senate argued that returning for in-person instruction next week was a financial decision for the University instead of a health and safety one.
“It is a dangerous thing to open WCU and other institutions in the UNC system amid the current pandemic, as there is currently no vaccine and positive cases continue to appear,” Gulley said. Gulley noted that any sort of a surge in cases as a result of WCU reopening would overrun Jackson County’s medical system.
Students have already began moving into dorms across the campus, and classes are scheduled to begin on August 17. Because students are already on campus and prepared to begin next week, Faculty members like David de Jong, Assistant Professor of Psychology, said it was too late to reverse course.
“I’m not sure why we need to table it, particularly when it is a fluid situation,” said Professor of English Dr. Laura Wright. “It’s going to be changing constantly, but we have this point before us now.”
Dr. Wright has been outspoken with her concerns regarding returning to work this Fall, as well as the lack of communication from the University and Faculty and Staff.
Student Government Association President Dawson Spencer said based on a survey sent out last month, students were as torn regarding returning to campus as faculty. According to Spencer, responses to the showed 156 students saying they did not wish to return to campus and 159 saying they did.
“Most of them are eager to return to normalcy at campus and want to have whatever they can have as consistent as it was last semester, but they also are still concerned, and rightfully so,” he said.