UNC-Chapel Hill working on plans to resume undergraduate classes on campus in January

Posted September 24, 2020 8:23 p.m. EDT

— University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill officials said Thursday that they hope to have in-person classes on campus when the spring semester starts in January.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz abruptly moved all undergraduate classes online in mid-August – only a week into the fall semester – after hundreds of students were infected with or exposed to coronavirus. Most students also were told to leave campus and move back home to keep the virus from spreading further.

"Our hope is that we will bring students back to live and learn on campus this spring semester," Guskiewicz told the school's Board of Trustees on Thursday. "This is a time of uncertainty but also a time of opportunity. I’m confident we can do this."

His optimism is based on greater knowledge about the virus, which he said will allow officials to get better plans in place, including expanded testing.

"We know certainly the path of the virus in terms of how quickly it can or can’t spread in certain settings," he said. "We’ll find the right way to scale this return to accommodate as many people as we can accommodate safely."

Getting students back on the Chapel Hill campus would help boost the university's budget. Officials have forecast losing as much as $300 million this year, which is about 8 percent of total revenue.

"Every revenue source at the university right now is threatened by the pandemic," Guskiewicz said.

Administrators have furloughed some employees, froze spending on outside consultants and travel and put some construction and renovation projects on hold to help cut costs.

"We will have to make difficult decisions as we move forward," he said.

A new advisory board of faculty, staff, students and community members that will help plan for the spring semester had its first meeting last week.

Currently, the spring semester is scheduled to start Jan. 6, but Guskiewicz said that could be pushed back by a week or two.

"I know our community needs time to prepare, so time is of the essence," he said.

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