UNC-Chapel Hill Abandons On-Campus Instruction; Will HBCUs Follow?

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill today announced plans to convert all instruction to online learning, following the school’s first week of resumed classes on campus and more than 130 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the last few weeks.

The campus relented under mounting pressure from faculty and staff to address rising numbers of infection clusters, and in a letter to the campus community, UNC officials suggested that the university always had an eye towards closure in the event of infection spikes.

“Since launching the Roadmap for Fall 2020, we have emphasized that if we were faced with the need to change plans — take an off-ramp — we would not hesitate to do so, but we have not taken this decision lightly,” wrote Kevin Guskiewicz and Robert Blouin, the chancellor and the provost, respectively, in a message to the campus. “We have made it in consultation with state and local health officials, Carolina’s infectious-disease experts, and the UNC system.”

Politics and statistics aside, the closure of the UNC campus to in-person instruction sets a new standard for the entire public system of higher education in the state. If the state’s flagship, with political will and matching resources behind it finds that it has to fold on the coronavirus question, what does it mean for smaller institutions and specifically those serving communities made most vulnerable by the virus?

Five public HBCUs are now on the clock towards what feels like inevitable closure, especially when pictures continue to surface of students ignoring social distancing guidelines on campus at North Carolina A&T and beyond.

But how long will it take for the system to get the message? When does the latitude for Chapel Hill’s failure extend towards a preventative approach for the other campuses? Four of North Carolina’s top ten counties with the highest number of infections are home to black colleges.

Orange County, where Chapel Hill is located, isn’t even in the top 25.

If HBCU leaders can’t have the autonomy to protect their communities, then system officials should at least allow the numbers to take on the role.