Leaders at UNC-Chapel Hill are soliciting feedback on the university’s response to the August on-campus shooting that left a professor dead, including assessing whether training for active shooter situations should be required more broadly at the university, UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz told faculty Friday.
Guskiewicz addressed the shooting at the first meeting of the academic year for the university’s faculty council, largely praising the university’s response to the event — while also acknowledging that no response to such situations is “perfect,” and fielding questions from faculty largely related to the university’s communications during and after the event.
“I know that not everyone felt as prepared as they may have wanted to, and no system and no response is perfect,” Guskiewicz said. “And I’ve said that repeatedly over the past several days.”
The News & Observer previously reported that there is no required emergency training for faculty at the university, according to information provided by the UNC media relations office. Some students recounted to The N&O in the days following the shooting that they felt their professors were not prepared for the emergency, and some faculty continued to teach during the three-hour lockdown.
Guskiewicz said at Friday’s meeting that active shooter training is required “for many of the new members to our campus community,” and other faculty are “regularly” encouraged to participate in training. After the shooting, the chancellor said, the university “will assess whether more required trainings should be considered,” with input from faculty and others.
An online portal for campus members to provide additional feedback on the university’s response to the shooting should be available sometime next week, he announced.
Also at Friday’s meeting, the faculty council unanimously adopted a resolution in honor of Zijie Yan, the applied physical sciences professor who was killed in the shooting.
“We mourn the death of Professor Zijie Yan and extend our deepest sympathy to his family, his students, his colleagues, and other loved ones,” the resolution, which is written in both English and Mandarin, states. “His legacy will live on through all of us, the scholarship of his students and his significant contributions to science.”
Concerns about communication
Much of the feedback faculty provided to the chancellor and provost, Chris Clemens, Friday centered around how the university communicated with the campus community about the threat throughout the three-hour lockdown.
The first Alert Carolina message was sent around 1 p.m. on Aug. 28, indicating there was an armed and dangerous person on or near campus and urging people to go inside and take shelter.
One faculty member, Kevin Stewart, said he wished the initial alert provided more precise information regarding the threat — suggesting that the term “active shooter” would have been more accurate and conveyed the nature of the threat better — and where the threat was unfolding.
Stewart cited the common practice of urging people near active shooters to run, hide or fight, but said it is difficult to know what choice offers the most safety if you do not know where you are in relation to the location of the threat.
“I think, hopefully this won’t happen again, but if it is an active shooter, that would be good to know and the location would be good to know,” Stewart said.
Guskiewicz said the university’s alert messages were crafted using widely held best practices for emergency situations, but didn’t rule out adjusting the alerts “in some way.”
“There’s some danger in providing too much information in these situations,” the chancellor said.
Other faculty members also commented on how the alerts were sent out, saying they experienced the Alert Carolina website or phone alerts not updating as often as the alerts went out on social platforms, such as X, formerly known as Twitter. Some faculty noted that many people, including faculty and students, do not use X.
Clemens, the provost, said phone alerts were “limited to changes in status” of the threat, while more frequent alerts were pushed out to X to avoid having phone ringtones sound, which could have called attention to where students and faculty were sheltering, had the threat been widespread across campus.
Clemens said the university’s messaging protocol “will all get reviewed.”
Other faculty said that they would like to see the alerts issued in multiple languages, especially Spanish, for campus employees and students whose first language is not English.
“We are working on it,” Guskiewicz said in response to a question about offering the alerts in Spanish. “We’ve learned a lot over the past 10 days.”