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WCU Faculty Part of UNC System COVID-19 Lawsuit

Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University
UNC System employees have filed a lawsuit to halt the start of the fall semester.

A lawsuit has been filed against the UNC System to halt the start of classes statewide. The lawsuit lists all UNC System schools including Western Carolina University.

Associate Professor Jack Summers teaches chemistry at Western Carolina University. He’s one of the lawsuit plaintiffs because he says COVID-19 makes it impossible to have a safe work environment on campus.  

“I really don’t think it’s reasonable to expect 17, 18 or 19-year-olds to stay away from each other. They are going to be transmitting the virus among themselves and they are going to be going out into the community,” says Summers.   

Summers says he also feels a responsibility to speak up because he has job security.

“I would like to hear that they have some plan for testing students to see if a lot of them are becoming sick. And have criteria for when we would shut things down, that hasn’t been coming out,” says Summers.

Western Carolina has COVID-19 testing available on campus. The university has said it will ask students to return home if they test positive for COVID-19. Students began moving into the dorms on August 1 and start classes on August 17.

The lawsuit was filed in Wake County and seeks to be a class action suit. Summers says that the lawyers who filed the suit are working pro bono. Assistant Professor Enrique Gomez was also listed on the lawsuit. 

On Monday, the WCU Faculty Senate approved a resolution against resuming in-person instruction and calling for a financial assistance guarantee from the UNC System for students if the COVID-19 pandemic forces online-only instruction.

Western Carolina University responded to the lawsuit with this statement on Tuesday night: 

"While the university will not address the specifics of pending litigation, Western Carolina University leadership has developed plans for the fall 2020 semester using an inclusive decision-making process. This process is guided by science and data, grounded in WCU's core academic mission and intended to balance teaching, research, service, engagement and total student experience activities with the well-being of our community. Throughout the process, WCU leaders continue to monitor guidance from the CDC, local and state public health professionals, and the University of North Carolina System." 

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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