September 8, 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.)  

To:   Academic Affairs Departments
From:  David Marshall, Executive Vice Chancellor

Re: Fall Quarter Academic Planning Updates 

As we approach the beginning of Fall Quarter, I am writing to again express gratitude for the resilience and dedication of our academic community, and to provide some Academic Affairs updates to follow up on the recent messages by Chancellor Yang and Academic Senate Chair Susannah Scott about our return-to-campus planning. Acknowledging that the uncertainty and anxiety about COVID-19 variants has added to the stress and exhaustion that everyone feels after eighteen months of the pandemic, this message provides some background and context for our plans to welcome back students, faculty, and staff, exercising the same caution, conscientiousness, rigor, and compliance with public health requirements, that have guided our decisions since March of 2020.

Science- and public health-based planning: The Chancellor convenes his COVID-19 Response Working Group almost daily to consult with our campus medical team and scientific experts and review campus, local, County, State, and national public health data, including COVID-19 case rates. We coordinate closely with colleagues on other UC campuses, including the UC Health Coordinating Committee, which provides guidance about testing and risk mitigation developed by subject matter experts from around the UC system. We are also monitoring the experience of UC Berkeley and UC Merced, as well as other campuses around the country on the semester system that began classes at the end of August. Our policies and plans are informed by the latest information, studies, and public health guidance. We have worked closely with the Academic Senate to coordinate policies and protocols for the beginning of the academic year.

Vaccination, masking, testing, and screening requirements: As Chancellor Yang recently wrote, we expect a very high rate of vaccination among our students. We expect to meet the recently updated UC requirements, based on CDC guidelines, to be designated a “fully vaccinated campus,” and we are rigorously enforcing the University of California system-wide vaccine mandate. Students who do not comply with the policy will have blocks placed on their registration and be subject to expedited disciplinary procedures. Staff and faculty (including emeriti who come to campus) are also required to comply with this policy. The protection offered by this high rate of vaccination will be reinforced by mandatory masking in indoor spaces, including classrooms, and both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing. UC policy requires all campus community members to complete the Daily COVID-19 Screening Survey prior to coming to campus as a part of the University’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Clearance to be present on campus will depend on compliance with vaccine and testing policies, as well as other mitigation measures. 

Classrooms and academic buildings: We previously communicated that our academic and research buildings were evaluated by Design, Facilities, and Safety Services and outside experts to ensure that ventilation meets or exceeds requirements defined by the State of California. Our practices are consistent with guidelines provided by the CDC and parameters for air change rates, ventilation, and air filtration provided by organizations such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers. Where needed, maintenance was performed and modifications or enhancements were made to ensure that ventilation and filters are optimized in instructional spaces. In consultation with faculty experts, informed by up-to-date models and studies, Design, Facilities, and Safety Services is taking additional steps to ensure that systems will be operating efficiently in ways that will reduce the risk of transmission in classrooms. Public Health authorities have determined that classrooms can operate at their normal capacity. Physical distancing is no longer required since studies indicate that in this context it provides no significant benefit in addition to vaccinations and masks. Real-world transmission studies, along with testing data from other campuses, continue to indicate low risks of infection in classrooms when there are high vaccination rates, masking, symptom screening, and testing. 

In-Person teaching: Students (the majority of whom have never taken classes on our campus) are eager to meet faculty, return to the classroom, and become part of an academic community, just as faculty are eager to reengage with students, as well as resume research and creative collaborations. Like universities around the country basing their decision to return to in-person teaching on public health data and modelling, we believe that the combination of required vaccinations, required face coverings, and a regimen of both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing significantly minimizes and mitigates the risk of COVID transmission. 

Outside of emergency conditions, only the Academic Senate has the authority to allow remote or online instruction, based on approved online courses or very limited exceptions. Instructors with specific medical conditions may qualify for workplace accommodations; requests must be submitted to the Workplace Accommodations Specialist in Human Resources. The Senate will allow some workplace adjustments for faculty who live with immunocompromised household members. Department chairs and deans may be able to help address some concerns with adjustments that do not involve remote instruction. Please see the August 31st Senate Newsletter for more information about circumstances in which brief, temporary periods of remote instruction will be allowed.

Students must direct any requests for medical accommodations involving in-person teaching to the Disabled Students Program, and instructors should not make individual arrangements with students who need DSP accommodations. However, instructors are urged to be flexible and cooperative if students need to be absent for brief periods of time because of isolation and quarantine restrictions or COVID-like symptoms. We do not want students to attend class if they might pose a risk to others. Instructional Development is offering guidance about the relatively simple process of recording audio and PowerPoint presentations with Gauchocast/Panopto for posting to Gauchospace. This may be a reasonable option. International students whose presence in the classroom might be delayed by visa issues or vaccination protocols have been advised to contact the academic advising office in their College. Again, we urge instructors to be cooperative where possible. 

Please see the Keep Teaching website and recent communications from the Instructional Support Team for information about microphones available to use while teaching with masks and other technological and pedagogical strategies. Instructional Development, CITRAL, GauchoSpace, Nectir, GradeScope and iClicker are offering a variety of pedagogical and educational technology workshops this month. The full list of workshops and registration information is on the regularly updated Google Doc of Pre-Fall workshops.

In addition, I encourage instructors to register for the panel discussion, Designing Courses for Resilience, to be held on September 15th from 1:00-2:30 PM, in which instructors who have participated in the Reimagining Instruction for the Student Experience (RISE) Institute will share ideas about designing courses in the context of the various disruptions that have been experienced on campus due to fire, flood, mudslides, racial justice issues, and the pandemic. The registration link is here. As we think about student success in the face of uncertainty, we need to remember how much has changed since Fall 2019; the students in our classrooms in Fall 2021 have experienced an unprecedented disruption in their education. 

Merit and promotion considerations: Our Academic Personnel office has posted a series of relevant memos with guidance and policy statements dating back to March of 2020, as well as links to COVID-19 Information & Resources. See, in particular, advice about the use of COVID Impact Statements. Departments should provide relevant context for academic records in merit and promotion cases. Reviewing agencies understand that the impacts of COVID and our remote conditions will be felt even after we emerge from the pandemic. 

Returning to the office: The deans are in the final stages of reviewing the staff workplace plans that have been submitted by academic departments, with the endorsement of department chairs. There is consensus that we need to reestablish and maintain a sense of community. While most staff will remain fully on site and very few will be fully remote, we know there is interest in exploring hybrid options that allow for some remote work. We will strive to balance the needs of the academic unit and the various constituencies that it serves with the desire of staff to have increased flexibility and to benefit from some of the efficiencies and innovations developed in our remote environment. 

After the deans have approved department plans and remote/hybrid work agreements have been submitted to Human Resources, we will begin an extended trial period. We know what it is like to work with everyone on campus and with everyone off campus but we do not yet have experience with a hybrid workplace. We will review the success of these arrangements throughout the academic year. Reimagining the workplace, especially in an academic context, will be an ongoing process. Given the added uncertainties of our current situation, we understand that the transition back to campus may be somewhat slower than expected, and we encourage supervisors to exercise flexibility between now and the beginning of classes. 

Our path forward: Since March of 2020, with the help of our faculty, staff, and students, we have worked to maintain the academic mission of the university while protecting the campus and Santa Barbara communities. We have followed all national, State, local, and UC public health guidelines, and our decisions often have been more conservative and restrictive than public health requirements and other university practices. We are pleased to see in-person instruction beginning successfully at Berkeley, Merced, and other semester campuses around the country, but we know there may be advances and setbacks, as well as tactical adjustments in the months ahead. Recent reports about the efficacy of vaccines against variants seem encouraging. On September 7, 2021, the New York Times reported that the odds of vaccinated individuals becoming infected with COVID in our area are less than 1 in 10,000, and the overall trend of decreasing cases locally indicates that the odds are even better in our campus community. However, we will continue to monitor all the relevant public health data and scientific literature, calibrate our responses, and if appropriate, reassess and adjust our plans. Although the safety and well-being of the campus is our primary responsibility, we also have to be mindful of the potential risks of not reopening our campus—risks to our students, who have faced educational, psychological, and social challenges during the prolonged isolation of the pandemic, and risks to our future as a great public university dedicated to instruction, research, and public service. We will need flexibility, patience, and understanding. 

We are grateful to the Academic Senate for organizing a Town Hall on September 13th from 3:00 to 5:00 PM to discuss the beginning of the Fall Quarter. The Chancellor and I, along with some of our colleagues from the Chancellor’s COVID-19 Response Group, will participate to offer more information and answer questions. We will continue to update the campus community as the quarter begins.

Finally, I look forward to opportunities in the Fall to engage in discussions about the important academic agenda that awaits us beyond COVID crisis management: our plans for faculty recruitment in 2021-22 to advance the excellence and diversity of our departments; efforts to address faculty and staff housing challenges; strategies to respond to ongoing budget challenges; discussions about curricular and pedagogical reform in the contexts of enrollment pressures, student success initiatives in the aftermath of pandemic and remote environments, teaching evaluation reform, and our WASC reaccreditation process; plans for a new, interactive online course catalogue to help students navigate the academic landscape and select courses and majors; efforts to rethink workplace opportunities; and the ongoing enterprise of rebuilding our academic community. Important work awaits us. 

Thank you.