On Wednesday, March 25, Chancellor Gilliam and Provost Dunn addressed faculty and staff at a virtual Town Hall hosted by Faculty and Staff Senates. Faculty Senate chair Anthony Chow called the meeting to order and welcomed the group.
Chancellor Gilliam expressed his appreciation for efforts across the University to deliver first-rate education to UNCG students in the trying circumstances, for faculty and the staff who supported them who transitioned courses to an online format, and for staff members who helped residential students leave campus.
“It was a very difficult task, but handled with grace and compassion,” he reflected. He stated that there are now 120 students on campus out of over 6,000. He praised the empathy shown towards students and the broader community. The chancellor then turned to what the University might look like in a post-Covid world, which he said he anticipated sometime over the summer.
A question was raised about how this crisis will impact the budget. Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Charles Leffler noted that there has been the added extra cost for sanitation, and the burden of operating buildings that are still open even when we’ve moved instruction online. He echoed the chancellor and provost’s concern about the coming decreased enrollment numbers for fall. Leffler and the chancellor indicated that efforts are under way at the University and System levels to pursue state and federal assistance.
A question was raised about who determines mandatory versus voluntary staff. The chancellor noted that this decision was up to supervisors, but that at this point all nonessential staff are to work remotely. Essential staff includes personnel necessary to maintain critical facility and lab operations.
Provost Dunn responded to a question about researchers’ access to labs by noting the Office of Research was working to outline a window of access for researchers to prepare their equipment and materials for reduced operation and access. It is up to each campus to make decisions on a case by case basis.
In response to a question about non-tenure track positions, Provost Dunn stated, “It’s very important we do everything possible to maintain our level of enrollment. We do not anticipate any disruption of employment of non-tenure track faculty.”
A question was raised about whether or not the University would reimburse students and families for meal plans and dorm days. The chancellor indicated that the University and System are looking into this. He had mentioned earlier that many decisions were and would continue to be made by the UNC System.
To a question about whether the semester would be extended to allow for lost class time, Provost Dunn responded that it will not. She noted that extra days are already built into the semester, and that shift to online learning will change expectations about faculty to student contact time. The provost emphasized that student learning outcomes are more critical than meeting the exact number of hours at this point.
A staff member asked if the University was following the recommended sanitization protocol, and the chancellor indicated that UNCG is working above and beyond CDC recommendations in terms of both methods used and frequency of sanitization.
Provost Dunn and Chancellor Gilliam acknowledged that some students will experience ‘technological hardships’, namely due to lack of adequate internet access or computer technology. They encouraged faculty to be flexible and patient with this in mind.
Both asserted that supervisors need to be sensitive to faculty and staff needs as operations come back on line, such as some employees needing a bit more time to transition back to campus due to school and child care closures, or caring for family members.
Provost Dunn noted that faculty searches will continue, and both she and the Chancellor expressed the importance of supporting the recruitment effort during these times.
Regarding operations of the campus in general, the provost stated: “There are vastly different needs across the University. We will defer to experts across campus. We have a very competent emergency management department here. Sometimes leading is following and we defer to their expertise.”
“We rely heavily on them,” agreed Gilliam. “We don’t think the few of us sitting around this table have all the answers nor need to control the reaction from campus. We rely on their expertise and for them to answer our questions. To echo Dana’s comments, sometimes you have to follow in order to lead.”
Chancellor Gilliam reminded all of the exceptional nature of the current circumstances.
“These aren’t normal times and therefore our responses can’t be normal. We may have to change things up; we may have to think a little bit differently.”
Both Chancellor Gilliam and Provost Dunn praised UNCG’s Emergency Management and other units that have helped advise operations, and then the chancellor turned his praise to the attendees of the forum.
“You all have stood up in a time when we need stand-up people. You have lives, children, parents, spouses and partners, who may be facing uncertainty with their employment. The so-called enemy is invisible and you don’t know what you’re up against. So it creates a great deal of uncertainty and angst. Stay with us, stay calm. We’ll come out on the other side dinged up a bit. They’ll be some frustration, some bumps in the road. Ultimately we’ll be stronger for it, we’ll have more faith in one another to accomplish great things. I want you to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe.”
A recording of the Town Hall is posted in full on Youtube and will soon be posted on the Faculty Senate and Staff Senate websites, and, as Chow said, there are plans to post a follow-up Q&A for any questions that were not addressed during the Town Hall.
Chow closed the session with a simple, crucial message: Stay safe and be well.