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WCU Faculty Vote For Total Online Instruction

Lilly Knoepp
Blue Ridge Public Radio
Western Carolina students began moving back into campus residence halls on August 1.

The Western Carolina University Faculty Senate narrowly approved a resolution calling for all classes to go online when the fall semester starts next week.  Dr. Yancey Gulley, an associate professor in higher education and student affairs programs at the school, introduced the resolution. 

He says the decision on whether classes should be online or in-person lies with the statewide UNC System.

“Yes, the institution needs to survive financially however, the balance with lives for that to happen is actually not really a balance at all,” says Gulley. “Especially when the UNC system has not answered the repeated question of how many students or employees are an acceptable number of positive cases - or worse deaths – before a last minute pivot to online instruction like we saw in spring.”  

Right now, Western Carolina is moving forward with an in-person and online hybrid instruction plan. This resolution does not change that policy but it reflects the voice of the faculty. 

There currently are no active COVID-19 cases on campus, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. The website explains that it is only tracking employee and student cases that have been reported to WCU Human Resources, WCU Health Services or the Student Self-Reporting tool.

Since July, there have been 13 student cases and three employee cases, according to the dashboard. It was announced that seven students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 after summer athletic training in mid-July.

Kadence Otto, chair of the faculty senate, says that after the resolution was announced she received a lot of comments from students about the need for an in-person fall semester.

“What they fail to realize is that the virus is not about them. The rate of danger to the young people is just not there – it’s to the faculty, the administration and so on,” says Otto. WCU's current policy is that if a student tests positive for COVID-19, they will be asked to go home or housed in the 'isolation dorm.'

The resolution summarizes the need for online-only instruction this way:

“Therefore, be it resolved, the WCU Faculty Senate is gravely concerned about the health and well-being of the Catamount community and those in the region we serve (particularly those from vulnerable populations); thus, we oppose a residential opening for the Fall 2020 semester and stand in solidarity with those School Systems, Faculty Senates, and County Health Departments who have spoken out against face-to-face instruction during this pandemic. We furthermore call on the state legislature to guarantee funding to the UNC system, and financial assistance to affected students, if and when further outbreaks force schools to return to online-only instruction.”

The vote to pass the resolution in the faulty senate was 15-13-1.  Students began moving into campus residence halls on August 1 and classes start August 17. 

Western Carolina University  Chancellor Kelli R. Brown and Interim Provost Richard Starnes issued a joint statement following the meeting: "Western Carolina University values the voice of its faculty and the role of shared governance. 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. Instruction this fall will begin on Aug. 17 and will be a blend of traditional in-person, online and hybrid course delivery." 

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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