Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center shares her recent interview with UNC System President Peter Hans.

1. To start off, what are your biggest goals for the system after COVID-19?

First, it will be eight months for me at the end of this month, and it has been emergency management mode. I arrived on August 1, students [were] already coming back to campus that week. We inherited plans that were in place that, in some cases, were insufficient with our larger campuses. There’s been a lot of work to improvise and adapt and overcome, if you will, which I think we have largely done—not perfectly by any means—but largely, through more testing, better health and safety protocols, coordination of campus responses, [we] kept our campus communities healthy in the process.

[We] continued graduate operations more clearly than the undergraduates in those three large institutions; 14 of our 17 institutions made it through fall in good shape. But the clinical operations, the research operations in many ways, were still open. A lot of the change to online learning I think, long-term, will be beneficial [because] it moved the mindset of faculty to embrace technology. We’ve got points that we need to iron out in terms of quality assurance in that delivery method. But I’m trying to look at the silver lining of that.

Now, you asked “post-COVID,” I would love to tell you we’re just completely done, but we’ve been in the process of standing up these vaccination clinics on almost all of our campuses, except the very smallest ones where we’ve partnered with local health care providers. We felt like this was incredibly important for us to resume operations, to be able to vaccinate members of the campus community, as well as people beyond that, as a public service.

We’ve actually found a great example at UNC-Pembroke, where people in Robeson County are more willing to trust a mobile vaccine clinic from UNC-Pembroke than [someone] coming in from the state to deliver it. But I can’t wait for the day when we are clearly just past this and I can focus on: how do more North Carolinians earn high-quality degrees with less debt?