All UNC System schools will teach many courses online, ban large gatherings and prohibit most university-related travel in hopes of minimizing the effect of the new coronavirus that has spread quickly around the world.
The university system office announced Wednesday that all 16 state universities will remain open but move classes from in-person to online “where possible and practical” by March 23. It’s up to each campus to decide which classes will be taught online. The UNC System didn’t say how long schools will continue with a new approach that has never been tried so widely or so quickly.
Wednesday’s decision that affects about 240,000 students across North Carolina came as numerous public and private universities and university systems across the country moved to curtail their spring semesters. The Chronicle of Higher Education all week on Twitter had been tracking schools that announced their plans to cancel in-person classes. The publication gave up Wednesday afternoon when its tally reached 100.
Because universities regularly bring together large numbers of people for classes and campus events, the UNC System said moving courses to the virtual world could help slow the spread of coronavirus.
“All UNC System institutions will remain open and continue to deliver high-quality instruction for our students,” the UNC System said in a news release. “At the same time, we are working to maximize flexibility in how we deliver education in order to limit the potential impact of the coronavirus at our institutions.”
Of the nine reported cases of coronavirus in North Carolina, none are connected to any UNC System school, private institution or community college.
As part of its response to COVID-19, the UNC System also said Wednesday that all state universities must cancel or postpone gatherings of 100 or more people. University-sponsored travel outside of North Carolina is suspended, as is in-state travel to events where 100 or more are expected to attend. The UNC System said chancellors or provosts can make exceptions to the event size and travel restrictions. Some schools have capped gathering size at 50 people.
At least four schools out on spring break this week — UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Appalachian State and N.C. Central — announced Wednesday that they would extend their breaks by one more week. Classes at all four campuses will resume March 23.
N.C. A&T, which had spring break last week, didn’t immediately provide details about potential changes to its campus.
UNCG, which also was out on spring break last week, announced Wednesday that it will continue with its regular academic schedule this week but cancel all in-person classes and labs next week to give faculty time to prepare online lessons. Existing online classes will continue to meet next week.
Online instruction in most classes will begin March 23. Some classes, such as science labs, will continue to meet in person. UNCG promised to tell students “soon” about the status of each of their classes.
In this same announcement to UNCG students and employees, the university said it will encourage students who live in campus dorms to move home or off-campus by Sunday. But residence halls will remain open, and the university said “no student will be left without a viable living option.”
“UNCG is not closing, and we are moving forward with our semester, albeit under some unique circumstances,” the university said in its statement.
The university promised another detailed update Friday morning.
“We recognize there are many unanswered questions and unexpected consequences related to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation,” UNCG spokeswoman Eden Bloss said. “While there is much we cannot predict, we are working hard to address some of the key issues and challenges we believe are likely to impact our students, staff and faculty ... (and) are committed to being as flexible and compassionate as possible as this situation unfolds.”
UNCG also announced Wednesday that it is canceling its annual Alumni Weekend, scheduled for April 17-18.
The UNC System announcement came after other private universities in North Carolina announced major changes to the rest of the academic year.
Duke University said Tuesday it will teach all classes online starting March 23 and asked students not to return to campus from spring break. Elon University announced Wednesday that all classes will meet online from March 23 to April 3. Elon said it expects to resume in-person classes April 6. The campus will remain open for students in the meantime.
Greensboro College said Wednesday it will extend its ongoing spring break to March 22 as it prepares for a possible move to online-only courses after that.