November 25, 2020

Dear Colleagues

Congratulations on making it through this very challenging semester! I’m just writing with a few updates and reminders as we transition out of the semester, into grading and planning for the spring (and beyond).

I. Grading

Everyone in our University community has been under extraordinary pressure since the pandemic started early this year. This includes our graduate students, many of whom are balancing the demands of family (e.g. elder care, child care, home schooling) with their responsibilities on campus (e.g. teaching, research) and the work necessary to continue progressing toward their degrees (e.g. courses, research, field work). Thank you for taking these added burdens into account when you assign grades and please remember that the “CV” grade is available together with the incomplete (“IN”) grade for graduate students who have been adversely affected by the pandemic. The CV grade provides an additional 3 months beyond the one-year afforded by the IN grade, for students to complete the work required for fall 2020 courses. As always, IN grades should be completed in a year but have the option for extensions of time if needed.

II. Admissions

We are in the midst of application review season. Like UNC-Chapel Hill, many universities and colleges moved to pass/ fail grading in spring 2020 and again in fall 2020. As such, it is likely that you will see pass/ fail grades on many of the transcripts that you review. Please remember, a “pass” is just that—a grade indicating that the student mastered the content of the course. Please treat it as such and do not penalize applicants for having such grades on their transcripts. If you have concerns about an applicant’s mastery of content, please consider using the interview process to further assess their knowledge base.

Given the current travel restrictions and quarantine rules in many states, we cannot recommend in-person interviews at this time. Rather, we urge you to take advantage of Zoom and other technologies. Although Zoom provides the opportunity for both audio and video interactions, it is not equivalent to a face-to-face interaction. Please keep this in mind if conditions change and it becomes possible to conduct in-person interviews. In the spirit of treating all applicants equitably, please consider the disadvantages (and advantages) of a virtual interview when you compare applicants. Please also keep in mind that access to broadband internet is not universal and some of your applicants may not have access to this technology.

Please refer to the admissions guidance our office provided in mid-September for additional advice concerning this season’s admissions cycle.

III. Spring Semester 2021

COVID-19 Testing: The spring 2021 COVID-19 testing plan has just been released. Graduate students who must come to campus to work, do research, or teach or take courses are required to be tested once per week. Your program may have specific requirements and will communicate those directly. Testing is voluntary for faculty and staff who come to campus and not required for those who do not. Please see this information about testing centers and protocols. Graduate students are not required to participate in prior to arrival testing before returning to campus.

Student Wellness Days: In lieu of spring break, the University has scheduled 5 “Student Wellness Days” (Monday and Tuesday, February 15-16; Thursday and Friday, March 11-12; Monday, April 5 for the majority of campus; dates may differ in the Professional Schools). Please remember that Student Wellness Days are intended as breaks from the semester and try not to schedule major assignments on days following these breaks.

Travel: As long as the state-wide travel ban continues, we will continue to review requests for exceptions to travel for research, meetings, and other academics-related business. Students should work with their advisors/ departments to submit their travel requests through the RASR work flow.

International Students: Despite current pandemic trends, we are still hopeful that most international students will be able to join us on campus in spring 2021. For those who cannot, we will continue to review requests for exceptions to our policy that international students must be in the country to be hired as graduate assistants. Please consult the UNC Global website for information about global employment options. Exception requests should be submitted by departments, using the RASR work flow. For graduate assistants, employment through a professional employer organization (PEO) will likely be the most appropriate option, though it is worth noting that the associated fees are significant, typically more than the base amount paid to a graduate student. The preferred PEO for our university is Global Upside. UNC Global website has a document that estimates costs associated with employing a student through the PEO.

Student Payroll and Awards: The standard dates for student employment were changed to accommodate the earlier start date in August. Students employed for the entire academic year (August 5 – May 4), will continue to receive a paycheck each month of employment, however, the payment for August was larger and the payment for May will be smaller than usual. For students hired for the fall semester only, August 5 – December 31, the last paycheck will be in December. For students hired for the spring semester only, the payroll dates are January 1 – May 5. Fellowships, awards, and other financial aid will be disbursed beginning January 11, 2021.

Finally, thank you for all you have done and continue to do to support our graduate students during this crisis. I know you are tired and that this calendar year has been replete with frustrations, disappointments, and complications. On behalf of everyone in The Graduate School, we value and greatly appreciate the efforts and sacrifices you have made to ensure that graduate students can continue to make progress toward their degrees and the career paths of their choice. We hope you get some time for self during the break and wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season and all best for 2021.

—Dean Suzanne E. Barbour