Campus News

University leaders share updates on vaccine rates, other key issues

Carolina and Orange County have high vaccination rates, and the University is monitoring the new omicron variant as leaders make plans for the spring semester.

Bob Blouin, Becci Menghini and Kevin Guskiewicz on Zoom screens
Provost Bob Blouin, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity and Compliance Becci Menghini and Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz provided updates on COVID-19 vaccination rates and planning for the spring semester. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

University leaders shared updates on COVID-19 vaccination rates, the recent Mental Health Summit, searches for key leadership positions and the future of work during the Dec. 3 virtual Faculty Council meeting.

Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz, Provost Bob Blouin, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Operations Nate Knuffman and Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity and Compliance Becci Menghini covered these topics:

(Read a separate story about the recently approved budget and pay raises and bonuses for employees.)

COVID-19 vaccinations

The University made great progress this fall, thanks to cooperation from the University community as it relates to vaccines, COVID-19 Community Standards and testing requirements for those who are not vaccinated, Blouin said. He also credited support from the Orange County community, adding that it created a nice dynamic for promoting safety on the campus.

In Orange County, 71% of residents are fully vaccinated and 77% are partially vaccinated. The county has less than a 2% positivity rate for COVID-19 cases, Blouin said.

On campus, 94-95% of faculty have attested to being fully vaccinated and about 95% of students have attested to being fully vaccinated, with about 89-90% of staff vaccinated.

The University falls under President Biden’s federal mandate that requires employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no later than Jan. 18, 2022, Menghini said. Because Carolina receives $165 million in federal contract funding that supports research, educational programs and other initiatives, the University is subject to these requirements. (The original federal deadline of Dec. 8, 2021, was recently extended to Jan. 18, 2022.)

The University expects numbers to increase because employees are getting the vaccine, but some haven’t yet uploaded their vaccine cards into the system. Carolina has received requests for medical exemptions and 350 requests for religious exemptions, she said.

The new omicron variant has raised questions, Blouin said. Plans will be adjusted if needed, “based on the science that emerges in the coming weeks.”

Beginning this week, Blouin said, he is meeting twice a week with infectious disease experts and getting data from around the world in real time.

Blouin encouraged those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine booster to get one. He also advocated for getting a flu shot.

“We’re very fortunate to be living and working in a community with a high level of participation and sensitivity to the health and well-being of the community,” he said.

Dean, provost searches

Guskiewicz said he hoped to announce a new provost within the next week, adding that he has taken additional time to meet with units that report to the provost’s office and has feedback channels in place representing every constituency on campus.

“I’m listening to everyone’s input, talking through it with my leadership team and then I will make a decision about who the best candidate is to put forward to our Board of Trustees as our next provost to serve as the chief academic officer for our campus,” he said.

He added that the vice provost for enrollment search has concluded, and he is preparing to make an offer in the next week.

Searches for deans of the Adams School of Dentistry, College of Arts & Sciences, Gillings School of Global Public Health, Hussman School of Journalism and Media and School of Nursing are underway, he said.

Mental Health Summit

After the Nov. 15 Mental Health Summit, Guskiewicz said he is making the Mental Health Task Force a permanent committee. In addition, Carolina will partner with the JED Foundation, a nationally recognized resource center that provides access to experts and will improve the University’s ability to prevent and respond to mental health issues.

For spring semester, a wellness day was added on April 14, the Thursday before Easter, Guskiewicz said. This change will give students a four-day weekend.

Additionally, a committee is looking at the University’s academic calendar for the next two years to see how two to three wellness days can be added into each semester.

“We’ll continue to listen to our community and support our students, faculty and staff in every way that we can. As I’ve said all along, this is a campus-wide effort, and I’m grateful to all of you for engaging in this issue,” he said.

Future of Work

An Operational Excellence design team is in place to look at the Future of Work as it relates to staff, Menghini said.

“Our productivity was outstanding during the pandemic,” she said.

The design team is looking at how Carolina can most effectively achieve its mission and provide a meaningful on-campus residential experience for students and how the University can provide flexibility for staff with work arrangements.

The Office of Human Resources and Finance and Operations are executive sponsors of this project, Menghini said.

The design team conducted a survey and is reviewing the results. The team is also developing a playbook that will provide a framework for supervisors to use in implementing work options and planning conversations with employees.

“They’ve done remarkable work thinking about these questions moving forward,” Menghini said.

By the end of this year, the team will provide a recommendation to University leadership about flexible work arrangements.

Delegation of authority

This past summer, the boards of trustees at each constituent institution of the University of North Carolina System were asked to review certain subdelegations of authority and restate formally their authority and their delegations of authority, Menghini said. It is important to note, she added, that these delegations and subdelegations are separate and apart from the executive and administrative powers and duties afforded the chancellor under both North Carolina General Statute 116.34 and the Code of the University of North Carolina.

For Senior Academic Administrative Officers Tier II appointments, the Board of Trustees has always had authority to set the salary ranges, make the appointments, determine the initial salary and make any salary changes. Until now, the authority to appoint, make initial salary determinations and make salary changes has been subdelegated to the Office of Human Resources and Academic Personnel staff, Menghini said.

Beginning in January, SAAO Tier II employee appointments and initial salary determination (within the pre-approved ranges) will return to the Board of Trustees, she said, adding that this mirrors what is done for Tier I appointments.

The Office of Human Resources and the Academic Personnel Office are working with the Board of Trustees to develop a process for timely review and approval of these appointments.

Previously all fixed-term faculty appointments, for any duration, were made and approved by the deans. Beginning in January, any fixed-term faculty appointments or reappointments with a term that exceeds three years and a base salary that exceeds $100,000 will require advance review and approval by the provost; and all other appointments are subdelegated to the deans.

The purpose of this change, Menghini said, is to centralize this process so the provost can see all these contracts.

In other news:

  • The Council passed a resolution to honor and celebrate the many accomplishments of Provost Bob Blouin during his service as dean of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and as provost. Blouin announced in May that he was stepping down as provost. He will become the Vaughn and Nancy Bryson Distinguished Professor in the pharmacy school.
  • Darrell Jeter, director, emergency management and planning, and Justin Miller, emergency planning coordinator for the Office of Emergency Management and Planning, provided an overview of the Carolina Ready Campus Preparedness initiative tools and training.

Read more about budget presentation at the Dec. 3 Faculty Council meeting and watch a recording of the meeting.