April 2, 2021

This message is distributed to senate-faculty, non-senate-faculty, dept-chairs, academic-assistant-deans, academic-department-managers, and non-academic-department-managers. (Click here to view description of distribution groups.)  Please distribute this message to your staff and graduate students. 

To: Academic Affairs Departments
David Marshall, Executive Vice Chancellor
Jeff Stopple, Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education
Re: Academic Planning Updates for Spring, Summer, and Fall Quarter 2021


Recent progress in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed us to plan optimistically, if cautiously, for a return to normal campus activities, especially for the Fall Quarter. Infection rates are declining locally, allowing Santa Barbara County to move from the Purple Tier to the Red Tier, with the hope that we may soon enter the Orange Tier. Vaccinations have become more widely available, and anyone working in the Education Sector is now eligible for vaccination. In April, vaccinations will be available in California to anyone over the age of 16, making it more likely that our students will be vaccinated by September. 

Although it is not possible to predict public health conditions over five months from now, when Fall Quarter begins, we are now in a better position to plan for a resumption of campus activities. Throughout the past year, our decisions have been guided not only by State, County, and University of California public health requirements, but also by a strong sense of responsibility to prioritize the health and safety our students, faculty, and staff as we seek to fulfill our mission as a public research university. In consultation with our deans, chairs, and Academic Senate leadership, we will continue to be guided by this principle. We also must be ready to adjust plans whenever required by public health conditions and policies. 

Chancellor Yang provided a recent update about our campus-wide efforts in testing, vaccines, and plans to increase access to some campus facilities, as overseen by the Chancellor’s COVID-19 Response Working Group. This memo addresses academic planning for Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Spring Quarter

The recent entry of Santa Barbara County to the Red Tier allowed us to have some indoor classroom instruction, with restrictions, as well as to continue in-person instruction in some lab, studio, and outdoor courses. We have again provided deans with funding for increased Teaching Assistant support of departmental efforts to offer remote courses. As announced by the Chancellor, the Library has reopened for students at a reduced capacity, with strict COVID-19 mitigation measures. The Library continues to schedule private spaces for graduate student instructors and faculty who need these facilities to conduct remote teaching and/or research.


In light of student and faculty preferences and expected public health guidelines, Summer Sessions is planning a mostly remote curriculum. These courses allow students to make progress towards their degrees, even if they are not on campus. Summer enrollment increased significantly last year, and we expect ongoing demand for courses this year. Departments that wish to explore the possibility of adding some in-person instruction in courses, labs, or studios this summer, as allowed by public health guidelines, should contact Summer Sessions Director Leesa Beck at leesa@summer.ucsb.edu.

Summer Sessions has worked closely with Housing, Student Affairs, and Undergraduate Education to expand and augment special programs designed to assist new students (such as Freshman Summer Start and Transfer Edge). We have developed an additional program, Second Year Summer, for returning students who have spent over a year in challenging remote learning environments and may never have lived on campus. With increased financial aid, we hope to be able to provide a residential experience and special mentoring programs for many of these students to help with their transition to campus and support their academic success. 

Building on the success of last summer’s RISE Institute (Reimagining Instruction for the Student Experience), the Center for Innovative Teaching, Research and Learning and the Office of Instructional Development will offer a new Faculty Development Institute this summer for up to 120 faculty. This three-week intensive program will focus on revising or creating new curricula and pedagogy, especially for introductory courses, rethinking assessment practices, and inclusive and antiracist curriculum and pedagogy. Faculty participants will consider how they can incorporate pedagogical innovations created during the period of remote instruction and/or build new technologies into their teaching to achieve these goals. The call for applicants will be distributed within the next few weeks. 

Fall Quarter

We are currently planning for a substantial return to in-person teaching and learning in the Fall, with the expectation that faculty and students will be in residence, consistent with UC President Michael Drake’s January announcement that the University of California would return to primarily in-person instruction, as allowed by State and local public health agency guidelines. Our plans for a resumption of normal classroom instruction are based on the following assumptions:

  • Public health conditions, and State, County, and UC guidance and requirements, will allow regular, in-person classroom instruction. Please note that the CDC has reduced physical distancing recommendations for K-12 education, but it has yet to revise guidelines for Higher Education
  • Vaccines will be available to all, and the vast majority of students, faculty, and staff will have been vaccinated. Please note that the University of California is considering requiring all students to be vaccinated, pending final CDC approvals of vaccines, with exceptions only for documented medical accommodations.
  • Symptomatic and surveillance COVID-19 testing will be available, as needed. 
  • Face coverings will be required in classrooms if CDC, County, or UC guidelines recommend them. 
  • Students can be accommodated in residence halls at full or near-full capacity.
  • International students will be able to travel to campus.

Although we are optimistic that the conditions will allow regular in-person instruction, it is prudent to anticipate the possibility that Fall may be a transitional quarter as we resume campus activities. Some ongoing restrictions or limitations on student attendance may require us to continue remote instruction for large courses in the Fall. 

It is possible that we will be required to cap class size in lecture courses. We are analyzing the departmental curricular plans recently submitted to the Registrar to determine which classes would be impacted if class size were limited to 200. We encourage departments and faculty offering these large lecture courses to begin discussing alternate scenarios with their deans and Instructional Development. Departments that offer multiple, parallel iterations of the same class should provisionally plan to make one iteration remote, if necessary. Another possibility is that classroom capacity will be limited to less than 100%, which also would require some large lecture courses to be taught entirely or partly remotely in the Fall. We are analyzing the potential impact on course scheduling if classroom occupancy were reduced to 50%. 

If large courses cannot take place entirely in person, departments may consider various options, including:

  • Having a portion of the class attend in person, and using existing classroom technology to record lecturer audio and visual presentations for students not in attendance to view asynchronously. 
  • Using new classroom technologies to synchronously stream lectures and visual presentations through Zoom so in-person and remote attendance could take place simultaneously. 
  • Dividing students in a lecture course into two groups, with half of the class attending in person and half attending remotely on alternate days. (Remote lectures could be either synchronous or asynchronous.)  

Neither instructors nor teaching assistants will be required to teach courses in mixed modes if this would significantly increase their workload. Faculty choosing to teach in mixed modes may need additional support. Instructional Development continues to update the many resources available to assist remote teaching at Keep Teaching, and will work with instructors if they want to discuss instructional options. We are working closely with Academic Senate leadership to explore and develop these possibilities, and we will continue to work with departments as planning parameters become more clear. The Academic Senate has specific criteria and requirements for fully online instruction, and it is working to develop criteria and procedures for new course modalities when the campus no longer has pandemic-related public health restrictions. 

Academic Offices and Work Arrangements

The complex and labor-intensive process of inspecting, assessing, and recommissioning academic buildings and approving required Work Site Safety Plans and building use plans is almost complete. We are grateful for the work of our Design, Facilities & Safety Services teams and our building committees, as well as the Assistant Deans who assisted these efforts. To date, 84% of academic office buildings have been approved for scheduled and individual faculty office use, following assessments and building plan approvals. In addition to the 32 academic office buildings that have been approved, 2 more building committees have submitted plans, and 4 more building committees are finalizing plans. We hope to soon include and schedule graduate students in building plans if departments have offices that can be made accessible to individual graduate students for solitary use, following all established COVID-19 mitigation protocols. 

As previously announced, staff are expected to continue to work remotely through the Spring Quarter. We do not yet know whether we will be ready for a return of staff to offices in the summer. We are currently planning for staff to return to academic offices in the Fall, with the same provisos discussed above in the context of instruction. Discussions are underway nationally, in the UC Office of the President, and on our campus about the future of remote work arrangements after the pandemic. A working group in Academic Affairs will review policies and consider the logistics of some potential remote work arrangements in the future. 

Measures to Address COVID-19 Impacts

Numerous communications have described measures to address some of the impacts of the pandemic on academic work, especially in the Academic Personnel merit and promotion process, with special attention to non-tenured faculty. Resources and information on COVID-19 related impacts to academic employment can be found on the Academic Personnel website and on the Academic Affairs COVID-19 Information & Resources Page. See also the Office of Research website for information about the Research Assistance Program

Looking Forward

After twelve months of remote work and instruction, it is a relief to plan a return to campus activities by the Fall Quarter, even if it is frustrating that we cannot predict with certainty the conditions, policies, and parameters that will determine our ability to fully resume instruction and academic work. We know that our students will need us. Remote instruction has been very difficult for many students. In the Fall, the majority of our undergraduate students (all first- and second-year students, including all first- and second-year transfer students) will be new to campus, never having taken UC Santa Barbara courses in person, and perhaps never having met a university professor. Close to 40% of our students are the first in their families to attend college. Most of our undergraduates will have no experience of a research university. Graduate students will be eager to enter the lab, library, and seminar room, perhaps for the first time on this campus, and engage in dialogue and collaboration with their faculty mentors. Many of our new faculty colleagues will be new to the campus as well, and some of our staff colleagues will be returning to offices they have never seen. It will take conscious and careful work to rebuild our academic community. 

As we anticipate this renewal, we also should acknowledge the pain and loss of the last year, as well as the ongoing psychological, economic, cultural, and professional impacts of the conditions in which we have lived. Added to this will be challenges unrelated to the pandemic, such as our responsibility to understand the role of public university teachers, researchers, and staff in the national reckoning with racism and violence in our society. Over the last twelve months, our community has demonstrated its commitment and ability to rise to the occasion when faced with such challenges. Although we still face uncertainty in the months ahead, we should face these challenges with confidence. 

Please note the town hall meeting recently announced by the Academic Senate on Thursday, April 8, 1-3 PM, to discuss campus planning, current expectations for Fall Quarter teaching, and parameters that will affect decisions made in the coming months about reopening the campus. We are grateful for the partnership of the Academic Senate in our planning process. 

Thank you.