UC Davis officials address decision to make Spring Quarter instruction remote

UC Davis officials address decision to make Spring Quarter instruction remote

Photo Credits: TESSA KOGA / AGGIE

Information released regarding future instruction, commencement

Editor-in-Chief Kaelyn Tuermer-Lee, Managing Editor Hannah Holzer, Campus News Editor Kenton Goldsby, Opinion Editor Hanadi Jordan and Arts and Culture Editor Liz Jacobson sat down with the following UC Davis administrators on Friday to talk about decisions concerning remote instruction due to the coronavirus. Below is a transcript of the meeting that has been edited for length and clarity.

Title and introduction:

Chancellor Gary May

“My style is collaborative, I expect all my colleagues to be subject matter experts in their particular role, and they are. We occasionally have missteps or fumble things, but that’s going to happen anywhere. My role is kind of just to frame the problem, ask a few questions. At the end, I have to make the final decision, but not always.”

Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Emily Galindo

“I’m thinking about, ‘What are the impacts going to be to our students, those that live on campus, those that live off campus.’ Also, we have 800 staff, so I’m also thinking about how these decisions will impact those individuals.”

Provost Ralph Hexter 

“All the deans report to me.” 

Psychology Professor Kristin Lagattuta, the chair of the Academic Senate

“I’m a mother of two college children, so I also very strongly empathize with the student perspective, and I am a mother of a college athlete, so I empathize with the absolute disruption to spring sports. I’m a faculty member, I also see it from the Senate chair perspective of trying to see the bird’s eye view of how this all goes together.”

Vice Chancellor of Finance, Operations and Administration Kelly Ratliff 

“For all the issues related to human resources and employment, but also everything related to facilities and custodial and those sorts of things, the folks that do campus event planning, that’s all with me. And there are aspects with travel — domestic travel, insurance — for this particular circumstance, those are issues my team is helping with.”

Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Dana Topousis

By “remote learning,” does that mean that students will be sent home and moved out of their dorms?

Emily Galindo: No, that’s not our intent. The campus is still open and we want to allow for that to continue. The situation is fluid though, and I think you have to appreciate that. We are planning to message our students who live in the residence halls now that when we get through with Spring Break we will remain open and that the services will be available to them.

Ralph Hexter: What we’re trying to emphasize is options. Students must have [the ability] to access the material remotely, likewise, individual faculty, given health status or risk, we want to make sure they have the option of delivering material remotely.

A lot of rumors were circulating about what would happen to Spring Quarter instruction. Why the delay on the message?

Ralph Hexter: When we do issue statements, we want them to be as complete and unambiguous as we can make them. That’s why partial information is so misunderstood and turns into rumors.

What has the decision-making process looked like up to this point? 

Emily Galindo: The first meeting was our phone call on Jan. 28. So it’s been since then, that on a weekly or every other week, there have been a number of us that have been on phone calls, beginning to talk about what the situation is. And our calls started primarily with our healthcare folks. 

We have the Student Health and Wellness Center, and we have a medical director, and she is very much in alignment with Yolo County Public Health. We have been getting direction from there. The phone calls have increased as well as the amount of participants on the calls as it’s become a bigger situation. We had our weekly phone call this morning with Student Affairs, Student Housing and Dining, safety risk folks and communications folks. People report out on what’s the latest. 

Then we have [an] emergency crisis management team. They’re more focused on policy than the practical logistical things that happen on a regular basis.

Kristin Lagattuta: I had 15 hours of meetings yesterday.

Ralph Hexter: For example, the Chancellor is on a call every morning with his opposite numbers at 7:30 a.m. and I’m on a call with the other executive vice chancellors for the system at 7 a.m. Part of our calls are trying to learn from one another, and to the extent that’s possible, figure out where we can be exactly in conformity. But there will be local variations — one obvious reason is we’ve got two campuses who are on semesters, and the rest are on quarters. 

Kelly Ratliff: We had a system-wide call with my counterparts and had a group of folks on the phone about remote work. It all involves folks from other campuses. Some of the functions like human resources are both Sacramento and Davis. And if you’re a healthcare worker, it’s a very different circumstance. What does it mean to talk to our employees about people who can and might be able to work from home versus healthcare workers who can’t? Depending on these different scenarios, we bring in our own health experts. So we’re lucky we have the UC Davis Medical Center. They have an amazing infectious disease team. We have our own folks in occupational health, kind of like student health and wellness. 

Kristin Lagattuta: And at the medical school, we have people who are expert epidemiologists and [ones on] coronaviruses, too, and they are working worldwide. So it’s incredible expertise we’re drawing from.

Kelly Ratliff: The formal decision structure relies on that emergency crisis management team. And then Gary [May] is the ultimate decision maker. There are some things where UC President Janet Napolitano has taken the lead — in terms of some of our employment practices and paid leave, Janet [Napolitano] set those policies, like the travel restrictions. The category two and three travel restrictions were set by the president. And then we’re implementing locally how it affects our systems and our language. [The decisions are] implemented by individual managers and supervisors because they know their own work best.

Kristin Lagattuta: The Academic Senate basically has authority over decisions involving courses and instruction and grading. We’ve been meeting regularly for several weeks now trying to figure out how to improve and basically lax some of the rules about how instruction goes. Normally, if a professor wanted to move some or all of their course material to remote instruction, they’d have to go through this lengthy approval process. And so suddenly, when you’re faced with this emergency situation, you can’t have these very strict rules. Everyone’s really trying their best to align with the guiding principle, which is really maximizing how many students could finish Winter Quarter. We’ve had a lot of emergency meetings where we discuss a lot of these issues. We want students to be successful. We fully recognize this is stressful. 

As you likely know, we have a lot of professors who are over 60-65 years old and we want to give them control to make certain decisions so they can protect their health. It’s balancing all of these interests and really getting a lot of very dedicated faculty in the room to make very, very thoughtful decisions, and they’re not easy decisions to make. We’re really encouraging faculty to be as caring and flexible to their students as possible. We can’t police all that. We’re hoping that all faculty will have the best interest of students in mind when they’re making these decisions. But it’s challenging, it’s challenging for everyone.

Emily Galindo: On behalf of the chancellor, one of the things that he did when the fire situation happened, he did again this week: He called together student leaders from his Graduate Student Advisory Board, the Undergraduate Student Advisory Board [and] the ASUCD Executive Office. And he asked the question: ‘What do you think we should do? And what do you think would be most helpful?’ 

Given the decision to cancel all in-person finals, why did the university not cancel in-person instruction during Week 10?

Ralph Hexter: There’s sort of two horizons that are guiding our decisions: How do we protect — to the extent possible — the health of the people involved in the activity? And then, as we shift from containment to mitigation, how do we [decrease] the frequency of the number of peoples we bring together? 

A week ago Friday, [and] a week ago Saturday, we weighed what would be realistically able to achieve [and] we chose to strongly encourage the making available of the opportunity to access the material remotely. We felt that we would, in reality, achieve the same thing [by] cutting down the number of classroom meetings and the number of people attending by strongly encouraging rather than simply mandating, which, personally, I think would have led to a feeling that we just kicked over an ant hill, and people would have thrown up their arms. 

Ken Burtis, who’s the faculty advisor to chancellor and provost, has been going around this week and visiting some classrooms and he said that there’s so few students in the classes that are being held that we’re achieving that recommended social distancing and then some. And I will just comment that Berkeley faced a very different rhythm because they’re semester, so it was in the semester and not the last week of the quarter. 

Kristin Lagattuta: And also emphasizing student choice — some students don’t learn as well remotely because there’s a lot of distractions going on, and we wanted to maximize student choice to be able to attend in the classroom. We imagined only about 30% of students would actually show up to classes, if not fewer, so you could spread out. But I think that again, in situations of uncertainty, giving a level of control and choice to people to make those decisions are really important. As students, that last week of the quarter — [when] people are giving the final midterm or you have class presentations — [it] can be overwhelming for students if all of the sudden you’re just like, ‘No more, you don’t get to do this anymore.’ And for faculty too, it’s very challenging. 

I know students joke about how faculty can’t even work the technology in the classroom at the time of the lecture, how can they be expected to do all this stuff online? They were frantically trying to figure out, ‘How do I do Zoom lectures? How do I integrate these things into Canvas? How am I going to do these online quizzes?’ They’re working so many extra hours to make this happen for their students in order to maximize the quality of education they can provide to students. 

With some professors giving out 100%s on finals, there’s been a discrepancy in terms of grading and examinations across classes. What is the university doing to ensure all students receive fair marks?

Kristin Lagattuta: Our major guiding principle [was] to maximize the opportunities for students to finish Winter Quarter by offering more flexibility to instructors to make those decisions — they’re the best authority of their class [and] of how much their students learn. I don’t think there can be a one-size-fits-all. I don’t think there is one fair approach, because someone could argue, although it’s nice to get 100% on the final for everyone, is that fair?

Ralph Hexter: We worked very closely with the Senate. So there was a whole range of possibilities — not to have a final, having the final remotely, [changing] the weighting of the final. One other thing was to have a take-home final or an alternative assignment. All of that is really built on what already exists. 

I don’t think the university can guarantee, even in the regular operation, that everything is fair in the sense that everything is equal between one class or another. We certainly hope that within any framework people are working fairly and that there are opportunities for appeals. I will acknowledge clearly, that in this unique situation of sudden changes, there might be more opportunities for discrepancies.

Kristin Lagattuta: When we offer those additional flexibilities, we strongly encourage them to minimize the amount of change or disruption to what their stated grading practices were going to be [for] that course. 

When did discussions with other UC campuses begin and when did discussions with UCOP begin regarding the situation? And when did UCOP issue its first directives around the coronavirus?

Kelly Ratliff: The first one I’m recalling had to do with travel and it’s [from] February. [For] the system-wide calls, in many ways, Davis was first. We had the first community transmission patient at our medical center, and then we had the situation with our students who were being tested. The system-wide interaction started before that, because as soon as folks knew about our coronavirus patient and students under isolation, my email was going crazy. Some of this was happening starting in late January, when we first had our case. And then every one of my system-wide groups moved to weekly calls starting then. 

It looks like we’re making different decisions on different campuses. In some cases we are, but often that’s right now driven by the public health guidance. For example, when you read and see what’s happening with large events, mass gatherings, the original guidance that was coming out of Yolo County had to do with 150 people. So that’s how we start — at 150. Their public health advice in Santa Clara County was 50. We each have our own situations. UC Davis happens to sit in a couple counties. We have locations in Solano, Yolo and Sacramento counties. There are different reference points, different local circumstances, but we’re all again doing our best to share information about those things.

Ralph Hexter: Yolo County could not agree with Sacramento County on certain things.

Kelly Ratliff: Which also happened during the fires.

Ralph Hexter: We were waiting for Yolo County to come out with guidance. What finally came out was that Yolo and Placer County and Sacramento County had already done something different, which is extremely challenging for us. Our UC Davis Health has clinical operations in both of those counties, not to mention others. 

Kristin Lagattuta: As the Senate chair, we also have a system-wide component. I meet regularly with the Senate chairs from the other divisions of all the other campuses. We’ve been sharing a lot of the decision-making regarding, ‘What are we doing about instructional practices? How are you handling remote instruction? How is that all working?’ We’ve been really drawing from each other in these uncertain times to try to figure out what the best practices would be. 

What sort of issue areas does UC President Janet Napolitano have unilateral authority over and what directives has she given?

Kelly Ratliff: Our labor agreements are system-wide — so on some of the employment issues and issues around paid leave. And guidance [on] travel. We have a president with experience from Homeland Security, so some of these things are sort of more natural even in her own areas of subject matter expertise. 

Possibility of a refund

Kelly Ratliff: As campuses are deploying their instructional model in similar but different ways for Spring Quarter, depending on local circumstance. How might we consider thinking about folks asking about refunds? There’s going to be [a] conversation and a standard approach about the mandatory system-wide fees and tuition, which will not be refunded because everything we’re doing is not closing the campus.

Kristin Lagattuta: It’s actually more expensive in many ways because we’ve had to get all the Zoom pro licenses for the instructors, the examity costs $20 a student for every student proctor and there’s thousands of students going to be proctored this way. The university is actually pouring a lot more resources into this to make this happen. I’m getting all these texts from [professors] talking about all the equipment that they’re buying just so they have things at home in order to deliver the kinds of instruction that they the students need.

What is the thinking right now in terms of commencement ceremonies?

Kelly Ratliff: The very clear message right now is that we’re still planning on commencements. That may change, but we want to lead with: ‘We’re still planning on commencements in this sea of uncertainty.’ We’re trying to do things in rolling time fields — that will make some folks uncomfortable, because it still won’t be certain. For now, that’s the decision framework, because so much is changing. Our messages last Saturday were the first of all the UC campuses, then all of a sudden we quickly became last. None of us ever imagined like what happened with the NBA and the NHL and the symphony and the opera and the Mondavi [Center].

Kristin Lagattuta: We fully recognize how absolutely crushing it would be to students and their families to cancel those really beloved and momentous events, especially graduation. We don’t want to take those decisions lightly, we really want students involved in that and whatever happens with graduation, right now it’s there. We don’t want to get rid of it. That’s such a time of celebration that to let go of that [would be] heartbreaking.

In terms of the implementation of “remote instruction,” what will happen to research laboratories?

Ralph Hexter: Our commitment is to have the university open and be in operation. We’re thinking of giving everyone, to the extent possible, the flexibility to work or study remotely. When it comes to research labs, each one is going to have to decide.

As you may or may not know, we have five million research animals, most of them are fish, but there are a lot of quadrupeds as well. Nothing against fish, but they all need to be taken care of. So we have critical operations, like the clinical operations at the medical center, [that] we would never shut down. We would [look] at the individual personnel in the lab — if anyone is immunocompromised or has a health need or a family need that requires them to be reassigned, we’ll figure out a way to cover it.

Kristin Lagattuta: My research lab is at the Center for Mind and Brain, and so what we’ve been talking about is really limiting, as much as possible, human subjects’ participation in studies too. And so most of us have sort of shut that down unless they’re really critical, longitudinal studies where you have to test a child at a certain age. But then actually making it completely voluntary for those families and letting them know, and increasing how much we’re cleaning everything and really trying to only have the lab personnel that really need to be there so we can have more social distancing too. It’s really, really challenging because graduate students are working on their dissertation research, and I have many undergrads who volunteer in my lab, so we’ve said that we’re not having them come in because they’re interns. But that’s missing out on educational experiences for them too. We have a Senate Committee — a Committee on Research — and they’ve been sort of informing some of these decisions too, but it’s really challenging.

What is the university planning to do in respect to in-person labs for course credit?

Ralph Hexter: That is one of the topics under most active discussion now. Yesterday morning, on our AVC call, we were hearing from Berkeley, where chemistry was videoing the processes, having either the TA or the TA plus a couple of student volunteers do the experiment, get the students to see what the meanings are, they remotely take it down, do the calculations. So when it starts to get down to labs, there’s no one-size-fits-all. I’m aware now that that was actually already ongoing here. So I think some of them will be handled that way in a very creative, remote fashion, and I think that’s interesting. I was talking to a graduate student who, himself, teaches a lab, and he was saying actually right now in lab, sometimes the technician does the literal experiment and the students just get the data and have to figure out the calculations. 

This will require some work in the department and Senate level, [but] there may be some [where it] is utterly impossible, and perhaps other arrangements will have to be made. Students could potentially take a lab in another quarter, but if the student were to need to graduate, I’m hopeful that they would find ways to adapt. And advisors in the departments now can make adjustments.

Kristin Lagattuta: Outside of labs, you have the performing arts and studio arts, and that also provides a lot of challenge for students too. But yes, we would anticipate increasing flexibility.

Ralph Hexter: Because we’re not closing the campus, some of those activities may take place on a voluntary basis in the actual venues.

Kristin Lagattuta: The other thing we’ve also discussed is increasing Summer Sessions. So if the situation changes by summer, maybe some of the lab courses that would normally take place in spring, we would have a larger number of options for students to take in the summer. Of course, we can’t predict with certainty what’s going to be happening in the summer, but that’s also something that faculty and departments are thinking very strongly about — how to maximize how many students make that progress toward graduation and being mindful of that.

Given that the date to file for graduation was Friday, if students who were planning to file for graduation in Fall Quarter now want to rethink that decision and graduate this Spring Quarter, will the deadline be extended?

Kristin Lagattuta: That’s a good question, we will find that out.

Ralph Hexter: This is a really great example of why it’s wonderful to share these things, because new questions come up that we’ve never thought of.

Increasing Pass/No Pass registration

Kristin Lagattuta: During November 2018, when the campus was closed due to fire, several students signed this petition saying, ‘Can we extend the Pass/No Pass deadline?’ And we thought about that very thoroughly. What we decided — and I think it still holds in this case too — is that the Pass/No Pass, while even right now feels very good for students and very stress-relieving, it has a lot of future negative consequences that a lot of students might not think about in the here and now. You need a certain amount of graded units for graduation. A lot of graduate professional schools require certain classes to be graded. So what we decided in November of 2018 — and, again, still stands now — is that we’re requesting that advisors in colleges are flexible with this. If someone really wants to extend that Pass/No Pass, they would tell them, ‘This would be the consequences and things that could potentially happen, so you can really make an informed decision.’

Residence hall contracts

Ralph Hexter: One example of a deadline or of a date that I know that we’re changing […] is residence halls contracts.

Emily Galindo: If a student goes on Spring Break and then they decide that they don’t want to come back, then we’re going to increase the flexibility if they want to cancel their contract, understanding then that they would have to move all their belongings and move out.

You mentioned that students will not be getting a refund next quarter, but for students who have to enroll for an additional quarter who otherwise planned to graduate this quarter, is monetary compensation something that is being considered?

Kelly Ratliff: I think we’d have to think carefully about the scenario. We’re imagining that everyone will still have the ability to maintain the same level of progress toward their academic degree next quarter as they otherwise would. In all these things, it’s important for us to say we have case-by-case circumstances. People have unique circumstances related to housing or other things, so we always have places and processes for literal case-by-case, but sort of the overarching assumption for all these things is we’re still maintaining the order, it’s going to look different.

Is the university considering how it would retain on-campus and student jobs?

Emily Galindo: That’s our challenge. That’s part of why we continue to say that the campus is open, because we know that a lot of our students need their jobs. And for our revenue-producing units — in particular ASUCD [and] our housing and dining, which is self-supporting — if the revenue doesn’t come in, then it makes it very difficult for them to pay. We all know the hit that the Coffee House took with the [Camp] Fire, and so those are the kinds of things that we don’t want to see happen. I think we’ll have to continue to have conversations about that. 

Kelly Ratliff: Fewer folks are riding Unitrans, fewer folks are going to the few venues, and so it’s very much on our mind. We have custodial staff — in some ways, their workload has gone up right now. But if we’re mostly not using classrooms in the spring, what does that look like? There’s a lot of issues and definitely a lot of thinking and planning and trying to find ways we can preserve. This is one of the things the federal government is talking a lot about and the state will as well in terms of different provisions for unemployment and those sorts of things.

[At] UC Davis, we won’t be able to backstop and be a full unemployment agency. That is one of the sort of the terrible real life impacts of these [mitigation measures], but we’re definitely going to look for all the ways we can help mitigate and leverage, including if there’s federal or state programs to make sure we’re maximizing everyone’s opportunity. Sometimes the way we make our decisions will make people more or less eligible for those sorts of programs, and so that’s something for us to also [consider]. Whatever we can’t manage ourselves, we want to make sure that how we implement creates maximum opportunity for folks to use other sorts of programs that are available.

The Sacramento Bee reported that UC hospitals will now be using their own screening tests for COVID-19. Will that apply to our on-campus health center?

Emily Galindo: We do have the test available. We are partnering with Quest Diagnostics. But we’ve got a criteria for who gets the test and there’s already been some friction with folks going in or calling in and saying ‘I need the test.’ The advice nurse goes through the questions and based on your responses, that determines whether you’re at priority for the test.

Kelly Ratliff: This will be something that’s evolving. The capacity at the [UC Davis] Med Center is brand new. We’re in two counties, and so there also will be guidelines about transporting samples. Over time, if we develop capacity and we have our own expertise, we’re going to want to make that available to our own students. It’s all quickly evolving.

If and when the Student Health and Wellness Center develops the capacity to administer screening tests for COVID-19, will students who aren’t covered by SHIP be given the test for free or at a discounted price?

Emily Galindo: I don’t have that answer.

Are there any major concerns about how a transition to remote instruction would impact the university’s finances?

Kelly Ratliff: There are a lot of concerns. There are concerns about the worldwide impact of this. There are also concerns about students’ own decision making about staying or showing up in the fall. There are a lot of places we’re experiencing higher costs to have tools to mitigate the risk from the virus. We just rented as many portable hand-washing stations as we could. We want to have those on hand and figure out how to deploy them. There’s many different examples of how the university’s finances will be affected by this situation.

Ralph Hexter: I think this will ripple for a number of years. I don’t even know. For example, those of us who are above 60 think, ‘What is this going to mean for the UC retirement fund?’ 

We’re absolutely wondering, ‘What are yields going to look like?’ We’re going out with our admissions decisions, and I’ve been in awe over many years [at] the skill of admissions professionals with knowing how to hit the right enrollment numbers, but that’s based on historic data, and the ability for prospective and admitted students to visit campus. 

Not to mention, when we add the horizon of the international students, even if they wanted to come, will they be able to? We are in a maelstrom of uncertainty.

Kelly Ratliff: We’re doing the best contingency planning we can in many places. We have reserves. That’s an important part of anyone’s financial resiliency. But we just had an emergency not that long ago — [the Camp Fire]. And this one is really very hard to predict. So there’s thinking and planning, but there’s so much uncertainty around it. We have big estimates that have a lot of uncertainty on them. While they are helpful, they’re still not something you can easily see and go, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s write a check.’

Written by: Kaelyn Tuermer-Lee, Hannah Holzer, Kenton Goldsby, Hanadi Jordan & Liz Jacobson — campus@theaggie.org

1 Comment on this Post

  1. Thank you very much for helping us relieve all this terrible uncertainty with this very informative article on what the campus administration is doing about all this. I really appreciate it!

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