July 20, 2021

This message is distributed to Dept-Chair, Academic-Assistant-Deans, Academic-Department-Managers, and Non-Academic-Department-Managers.  (Click here to view description of distribution groups.)  

To:     Academic Affairs Departments

From:     David Marshall, Executive Vice Chancellor

Re:     Return to Campus Planning in Academic Affairs

I write at the beginning of a new academic year with hope for the future and appreciation for the extraordinary efforts of everyone in our campus community who worked to sustain our academic mission since March of 2020. We are particularly grateful to the health professionals, faculty experts, and on-campus staff, in coordination with the Chancellor’s COVID-19 Response Working Group, who helped to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus. 

Recent campus communications, including Chancellor Yang’s June 11th Campus Planning Update, the June 23rd Updated Campus COVID-19 Guidelines, and the June 30th Recommendations from Research Oversight Committee, provide detailed information about current policies and guidelines related to our return to campus. As Chancellor Yang reported in his July 16, 2021, UC Systemwide COVID-19 Vaccine Policy Update, the UC Office of the President is requiring all UC employees, students, and staff to be vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus (or receive an approved exemption) by the Fall in order to participate in any University programs or be allowed in any UC facility or office. With this requirement, and with continued compliance with public health policies and best practices, we can confidently embark on a resumption of most campus activities.  

The July 19, 2021, Flexible Work Arrangement Resources for Staff memo from the Chancellor’s Return to Campus Working Group and Human Resources follows up on Chancellor Yang’s message that the two-month period between June 30, 2021 and September 1, 2021 has been envisioned as a transitional period in our return to normal in-person, on-site work. As academic buildings reopen and restrictions are eased, staff can begin to return to offices and other facilities, consistent with current COVID-19 mitigation guidelines. Some units have programs that require staff to be present on campus this summer, but remote work may need to continue in many departments over the summer. We recognize that the implementation of vaccination and masking policies are still in progress, childcare obligations may still present some logistical challenges, and our campus community continues to adjust to the reopening of society. 

Academic department managers and chairs should continue to consult with departmental staff and their dean’s office about their summer plans. We encourage managers and chairs to exercise maximum flexibility as they make arrangements for the summer. We expect that all staff will return to campus workplaces by September 1, 2021, unless other arrangements have been approved. Human Resources, with guidance from the UC Office of the President, has updated the remote work policies that predated the pandemic to support units that wish to institute flexible arrangements in locations and schedules, where this is appropriate. HR’s Flexible Work Arrangements website provides departments with useful tools, guidelines, and a framework for decisions about remote work options. 

The UC Office of the President recently issued a Guidance Regarding Return to Onsite Work for Academic Appointees (June 23, 2021) that emphasizes our commitment to an in-person academic experience. It begins: “Administration and Senate Leadership are united that the default mode of instruction and research be in-person. This means that as an in-person institution, the University will conduct its regular business, including teaching and research, with faculty, staff, and students physically present.” Although some restrictions may last through the Fall, the Guidance continues, “In the long run, the connectivity and common experiences afforded by campus presence are essential for building, strengthening, and maintaining a robust and inclusive university culture that supports our innovative work as a student-centered, research-focused, service-oriented university.”

Noting that the APM requires faculty to “maintain a significant presence on campus, meet classes, keep office hours, hold examinations as scheduled, be accessible to students and staff, be available to interact with University colleagues, and share service responsibilities throughout every quarter or semester of active service,” the Guidance notes that flexible work arrangements may be appropriate for some “non-faculty academic appointees,” and outlines various principles and criteria. Academic Personnel will distribute information about the process for considering such cases, similar to guidelines for the staff whose support and collaboration are central to our academic mission. 

In the weeks ahead, in coordination with Human Resources and the Chancellor’s Return to Campus Working Group, Academic Affairs will ask the deans to review departmental workplace plans for the Fall and report to the EVC’s office on proposed arrangements. Although options and opportunities will vary across campus, depending on specific circumstances in different units, our aim is to have consistent and transparent criteria and processes for making decisions about fully or partial remote work, with final approval at the dean’s level. 

Many departments have begun conversations about remote work options for staff. These local conversations take place in the context of a national conversation about reimagining the workplace after it was literally displaced and disrupted for fifteen months. A review of options for individual staff, departmental units, and organizations may provide new opportunities to rethink how we collaborate, arrange work schedules, and utilize space. However, we expect that the norm for academic departments will continue to be an in-person, on-site, campus workplace. It will be important to restore a sense of community after an extended period of isolation in which we have been (in the words of the poet Rachel Hadas) “alone together,” “stranded in our shared nowhere.” The operational needs of departments are paramount, as well as the needs of colleagues, co-workers, and students. Students are especially eager to return to campus and be part of a residential campus community. 

As we strive for the right balance between a vibrant campus community and new ways of working both individually and collaboratively, we should acknowledge that returning to campus will not mean turning back the clock to a past status quo. Most of our students will be studying on campus for the first time. Many graduate students and assistant professors will feel pressure to jumpstart their research and creative projects. Some staff have never set foot in their offices or met their staff and faculty colleagues in person. The personal and professional impacts of the pandemic will be with us for a long time. We also will return to a changed conversation about pressing social issues, including our national reckoning with systemic racism. We will need to work together with patience, empathy, and understanding.

In my first message to faculty after the end of Winter Quarter instruction in March of 2020, I sought to reassure those who feared that a massive shift to online education would cause irrevocable harm to the university. Acknowledging the role of the Academic Senate in defending the quality of a UC education, I wrote: “We will continue to reaffirm traditions of pedagogy, research, and intellectual inquiry that go back to Plato’s dialogues and Aristotle’s principles of scientific method: the communities of dialogue and debate, and the hands-on laboratories and studios in which faculty and students engage in the experimental and collaborative processes of discovery and creation.” 

I also suggested that while we would “learn from the limitations revealed in the experiment that has been forced upon us,” we could “gain insights from rethinking our habitual practices” and “learn from the innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship” of our colleagues and students. The same is true as we reimagine our workplace and our lives, assessing what we lost and what we learned in our remote exile. It would be a mistake to limit a conversation about the workplace to a focus on location. We have an opportunity to rethink how we work together as we return to campus and renew our common purpose as a great public university dedicated to education, research, and public service. I look forward to ongoing conversations. Thank you.