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Davis, California

Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Editorial Board meets with Chancellor May, UC Davis administrators

May, administrators discuss COVID-19, sexual assault policies and student fees

The California Aggie’s Editorial Board had a Zoom call with Chancellor Gary May; Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter; Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Pablo Reguerín; Vice Chancellor of Finance, Operations and Administration Kelly Ratliff; Chief Campus Counsel Michael Sweeney; Director of Athletics Kevin Blue and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Dana Topousis to talk about COVID-19 plans for next quarter, how the university is addressing sexual assault and student fees. 

Below is a transcript of the meeting that has been edited for length and clarity

Pass times were released today and students are planning their courses for Winter Quarter. What is Winter Quarter going to look like in terms of remote instruction and when can students expect to know more information?

Gary May: I think Provost Croughan is best to answer that question, but you’ll know very soon as we were just discussing today.

Mary Croughan: So the expectation Winter Quarter is that there will be a few more courses offered in person than were offered this Fall Quarter, but that means the vast majority will still be offered remotely––especially for undergraduates. We were doing quite well on the COVID case numbers for Yolo County and Sacramento County, so we had hoped we might be able to ramp up a little bit further but unfortunately we’re sliding back a little. We always have to be in compliance with the county public health guidelines. At this point, it’s still going to be a pretty limited number, around 50 to 54 courses offered in person for undergraduate and graduate students. All of it will be noted in Schedule Builder by Nov. 9 with the first pass.

When can all asymptomatic students on and off campus expect to have access to free and easy COVID-19 testing? How is UC Davis ensuring that testing services for the Yolo County community are not being overburdened by off-campus students who are not able to get a test through the university?

Gary May: I’ll begin by saying, our first order of business with testing was to get the on-campus housing residents regularly tested and you can think of concentric circles expanding out to various other populations, until we get not only to the entire UC Davis community, but also the city of Davis community through our healthy Davis Together program.

Kelly Ratliff: I’ll start by focusing on asymptomatic students. For students that have symptoms, you should always go to Student Health and Counseling Services and testing is available and is free if you have symptoms. If somebody has symptoms, call Student Health and Counseling, testing is available for everybody regardless of where you live or where you’re at. For the asymptomatic screening program, the campus started this program back on Sept. 14, focused first on students living at the residence halls and West Village. We’ve been slowly progressing, just last week, the saliva test was validated and as of last Wednesday, all testing done on campus has been a saliva-based test, also free. There’s a new county health officer in Yolo County and she is just starting this week. We meet with her tomorrow and once we have a chance to brief her, the expectation is we will ramp up. Right now there are about 3,200 or so folks who are participating in the program. Students living on campus, Aggie public health ambassadors, students who work as Aggie hosts, our employee groups, first responders. We will next add all students who are living in public-private partnership housing on campus, so any of the other properties on campus will be working on adding. There’s about another 5,000 ready to invite by next Monday and then the plan is for the following week to open it up for everybody. All students, all faculty, all staff who are in or around Davis will be able to start participating in the testing program at that time. It will be mandatory for folks who are using or accessing campus facilities.

Amid the recent allegations that have been publicly brought forth against the fraternity TKE, how is the university addressing the issues of fraternities that stand by members who commit sexual assault?

Pablo Reguerín: All of the fraternities and sororities go through training in their advising process in order to be recognized and to sustain their recognition. They have to go through a significant amount of training that’s targeted at awareness, but also developing a culture where students are clear and the activities are centered around safety. There is some general training and they also work directly with our advisors. We are trying to clarify the rules but we’re also really trying to make sure students are thinking critically about the activities and the culture of their organizations. That’s not limited to Greek life organizations but overall I think those are critical pieces that set an important foundation. 

Wendi Delmendo: In terms of the process that we would use to address the kind of behavior you referenced, as you probably know that sexual violence and sexual harassment policy is primarily focused on misconduct by individuals and all of our adjudication framework are aimed at taking corrective action including imposing discipline on individuals. Group conduct poses more of a challenge for us, which is not to say that we don’t have tools to address it. You  probably recall last year the campus addressed allegations of misconduct involving the band. This falls into a similar category. Individuals from my office and student affairs including SJA and Greek life met recently to start discussing how to address these allegations. We are definitely mindful of them and working on it. The question focuses on how come we address the issue of fraternities that stand by their members and I think that gets back to what Vice Chancellor Reguerín said about trying to address the cultural aspects and the education that we provide. You’re probably aware that there were recent regulatory changes for Title IX. The UC system revised its policy as a result and really tried to keep as much of the prior policy as we could because the Title IX regulations only addressed a slice of the conduct that had been previously prohibited by our policy so we are still addressing everything that was prohibited before. I don’t think the regulations would prohibit us from responding to allegations in this case. 

Pablo Reguerín: I think not just what activities and what is promoted in these organizations, but ensuring that students feel comfortable reporting. What we can do is directly related to the information that is provided. Making sure that students feel comfortable and safe reporting information. That allows us as a campus to be responsive to the reports and to go into investigations. It’s not just within the organizations, I think it starts there, but setting up a safe and comfortable process for reporting and being responsive to those reports. 

Wendi Delmendo: I really want to highlight that because the campus can only respond to information that we receive. As has been the case in the past, we have received reports of misconduct involving fraternities where we haven’t received specific information. We hadn’t learned what happened, who was involved, and that really makes it difficult for the university to respond so the more information the university can get, the better. There’s been several individual allegations against fraternity members where the campus has had that information, has been able to investigate and has substantiated the allegations and has taken action. 

Michael Sweeney: If I can add one piece––within the last year, organization conduct cases have been transferred to the office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs. The same office handles individual conduct, whether academic or social misconduct, will now also be handling organizational conduct cases as well. 

We understand the Title IX process. Often times, fraternities have several members who are accused of sexual assault. Even if it’s not an individual, it’s a group of individuals from that fraternity. Is that different than if it’s just one individual? Because then it’s more of a reflection of the organization. 

Wendi Delmendo: The way we’ve approached it, is to treat each case individually. If there’s four fraternity members accused of sexual misconduct, then we would investigate those cases separately. If you remember the band situation from last year, we decided to do a climate assessment because we didn’t have specific accusations of individuals. That was better useful to understand the culture of the band and the university was able to take group related actions as a result. I’m not saying that is what we’re going to be able to do with this fraternity issue, but we’re certainly trying to come up with a good approach to address that so that we can hold the fraternity accountable. 

Michael Sweeney: The hazing process is not entirely different. There’s a very comprehensive sexual harrasment and sexual violence policy. Hazing is a much simpler policy. But, allegations of hazing by an individual are handled from a due process standpoint, very similar to the Title IX process. For group conduct, it would also be very similar. We would collect the evidence through a comprehensive investigation through reliable information. It’s easier for us to take action against a group than an individual because of due process. 

Pablo Reguerín: Somebody can submit a report online, be interviewed or call. They would submit their report and then proceed to an investigation based on the information. Our ability to respond and address issues is directly related to the evidence we are able to collect. The quality of information that we receive largely dictates what we are able to do and what type of response and to understand what kind of case it is, whether it’s a pattern. All those things are important. The office would work with the complainant to make it as easy as possible. The quality and comprehensiveness really matter and we want to make sure the community and students understand that.

Michael Sweeney: When we’re on notice of concerns, we do outreach, but sometimes people aren’t compelled to answer back. They control that agency and may prefer to go through the CARE office instead. 

Changing gears up a little bit here, we understand that the university plans to eliminate PE courses at the end of this quarter and beginning in winter. It could result in almost 30 lecturers losing their teaching positions. We were curious, who made this decision? Who did you consult on this decision? And why was it justified? What PE alternatives does Davis have going forward? 

Gary May: There had been a number of reviews over the years about PE that led to the recommendation that we discontinue the program. We have not made this decision because of COVID. However, before COVID started, the university was already facing about a 2 hundred million dollar problem over the next five years that we need to solve. That has only been compounded by the 200 million dollar problem that COVID has caused. If you look around the country, some of our sister institutions have discontinued entire departments and other drastic measures. We’re in a situation here where we are trying to minimize damage. Students don’t want their tuition to go up, staff doesn’t want salaries to be cut, nobody wants to be laid off or furloughed. We have to make some changes to try to maintain our level of efficiency. As I said, we didn’t make the PE decision because of that, but it certainly contributed to some of the thought process. 

Mary Croughan: It’s been 13 years that this has been considered. The last major report was issued in January 2020. It was an analysis from the whole budget framework analysis committee, institutional analysis group, that looked at enrollment of students in PE activities over the years and how significantly those numbers have declined. That was a major aspect of looking at it. Also, there had been a coach/teacher model over the last couple of years and I think that is the area of confusion around most people because it is not 30 lecturers. 12 of those people are coaches that will be going back to 100% coaching. The people who are losing their positions with the program closure are lecturers who are not members of the academic senate and most importantly, these are not academic senate approved course work, even though students get an academic unit for taking other courses that have been offered through PE. Looking at what we can do with two and a half million dollars in the budget that was spent on PE, a portion of that will go to paying full coaches salaries. The remainder of that will be used for academic programming on campus including some additional funding to campus recreation activities at the ARC. The one student request I have received was that the martial arts program on women and self defense offered through PE was 10 weeks, more extensive than the self defense course offered at the ARC. So, we will now have a 10 week self-defense program offered at the ARC to ensure that that training continues to be offered. There will be increased opportunities for financial aid for any program that has a fee associated with them at the ARC. With the removal of the PE programs in Winter Quarter, students who declared or were preparing to declare a minor, will be allowed to complete and the College of Letters and Science will ensure they can complete those courses this year.

Pablo Reguerín: Our recreation program will be doing assessments, student surveys and  broadening their offerings to make sure they expand their student offerings. We’re looking for an opportunity to expand and beef up some of our offers to the recreational program as well. 

Gary May: The goal is that the only thing that gets lost is the academic credit part of physical activity. You will still have on-campus rec and we will still encourage fitness and wellness and mental health activities. The only thing that will happen is that you won’t be able to earn the one credit for it. 

On the topic of tuition and fees, why are students paying more in student fees this academic year when they may not be receiving the same services during the pandemic?

Gary May: I don’t think anybody is paying more unless something happened that I don’t know about. In general, tuition is paid because everything about tuition is still happening. Courses are being offered, people are earning credits, graduating, getting degrees, all of that is still happening. With respect to campus based fees, I would encourage you to look at the COSAF website for descriptions of all our fees. Most of our fees are not paid as you go. They are bundled together. The only fees that do not fall into that category are housing and dining, which have been refunded for students who are not present. 

Kelly Ratliff: Tuition and student services fees are held flat. Campus based fees were all held flat. There were two fees that the students voted for that were implemented in fall. The ASUCD and increase in Unitrans voted on by students that were planned for Fall 2020, were implemented. Everything was held flat and those fees were started in fall. Many services are being offered virtually. There is a whole webpage dedicated to our services. In many cases for students that aren’t in the area, there are other programs available throughout student affairs. We tried to put programs and services in place. Medical services, mental health services, all those things are still being offered virtually so even if you can’t be here, a lot of work has been done to include the provision of services. This is an area we are continuing to try to do more. In addition, the fees in many cases pay for staff. We’ve been very careful to manage layoffs as a very last resort so staff time has been redirected to support both programming here and virtual-type programming. 

Pablo Reguerín: Our campus fees have a 25% return to aid, so 25% of those fees are going to financial aid for students to offset those fees. We try to find as many of the fees that the students might encounter and try to offset them to mitigate the increases. We took a broad and comprehensive approach to looking at fees that students would experience in this new environment.

What advice do you have for first-years and transfer students who are new to Davis and may feel disconnected from the campus community during this time?

Gary May: The connections that are online allowing students to get together, network and meet. It is important to not isolate yourself and become so wrapped up in what needs to happen because of your studies. You need emotional, social and mental health outlets as well. We got the tents outside, grab and go, meet your friends, stay six feet apart with your masks on except when you’re putting the food in your mouth. I would just encourage students to find each other and more importantly, find help and not wait until you’re too stressed out. 

Mary Croughan: There is the strong need to reach back to family, other friends, people you might’ve grown up with or others in your social network that you can stay in touch with and help you get through this. Everyone’s facing this, so reaching out makes a big difference too. Virtual dinners, where everyone can meet together and have a meal at the same time. If you’re over 21, virtual cocktail parties or pizza and beer. Things like that have made a big difference. For our outdoor yoga classes, we’ll figure out how to move those indoors when the weather gets bad. Talking to some of the students I’ve met who are living here on campus, they’ve found things like developing reading groups have been helpful.

Pablo Reguerín: For students that are feeling isolated, applying to work with a tutor can help. You don’t need a lot of help to simply meet with a tutor. I highly encourage studying with somebody and if you don’t have anyone to study with, apply for a tutor. 

Regarding Thanksgiving Break, what is the university doing to minimize the spread of COVID-19 post-break for off-campus students? Are they going to be offered testing before and after the break like on-campus students?

Gary May: As Kelly just said, within the next two weeks we expect all students to be able to participate in the testing program. We’ve talked about two tests the week before Thanksgiving for all students and two tests the week after they return. We are considering making every class, including the ones that are currently in person, remote after Thanksgiving for the rest of the quarter. 

Mary Croughan: We have such a small number of people doing the courses in-person. Even when they are doing them in-person, in some courses there’s only about two weeks where they are in-person and they are remote the rest of the time. When the chancellor says we’re considering whether all classes after Thanksgiving should be remote, it might truly just be that everything just stays as it is because the Engineering Senior Capstone projects are the only ones that had already planned to meet in person. We are going to take a look, but I think we are going to be fine keeping everything on schedule. The testing will be the most important part and everybody wearing face coverings. 

What criteria must be satisfied before campus is reopened for in-person instruction?

Gary May: Most of the criteria has to do with, as Mary alluded to, the county guidelines and whatever guidelines the state imposes. Our posture is to do as much as we can within the envelope that the county and the state allow. 

We’re glad that training was brought up as a tool to combat sexual assault. However, since assault is still happening in the years that this training was implemented, is there anything else that the university is doing to prevent sexual assault on and off campus and also educate students, particularly those who are in these organizations that we’ve brought up where it often occurs?

Gary May: The key word you said was education. I think training and education starts from the beginning once students arrive on campus for orientation and have various mechanisms throughout the stay on campus. I personally meet with victims and with victims’ parents, which is reactive not proactive. But we do participate in various activities like Take Back the Night and all other social events. 

Pablo Reguerín: Having services that are responsive for students who are victims, whatever process they want to go through. The CARE office provides support but also education more broadly which is critical. They partner with different offices, they educate staff members who can have an influence on student activities and programming advising. It really is about being proactive culturally across our offices and services. But those forms of training are essential. All the staff are required to report directly to Wendi’s office so the individual training, the organizational culture and then the communication are within the offices to coordinate. Those are the areas that we try to make sure we’re clear about and constantly reconnecting to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks. 

Wendi Delmendo: We’ve also engaged in a number of awareness campaigns over the years and Pablo mentioned reporting and I know this is a reactive, not proactive measure, but the campus does promptly respond to all reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment we recieve. We make our case statistics publicly known. Individuals who go through the investigation process are informed of the outcome and discipline, if any, is received so I think that transparency also goes a long way in informing the community of the consequences of sexual harassment and sexual violence and hopefully helps to prohibit it as well. 

The university seems to have cracked down on hazing — AEPi being a recent fraternity to have its registration revoked earlier this year. Given that numerous women have sexual assault allegations against members in other fraternities, why has the university seemingly made cracking down on hazing a priority but not sexual assault?

Gary May: I just want to push back a little bit on the question. I think it would be wrong to say we prioritize hazing over sexual assault. The challenges in discipline to organizations versus individuals in this domain and there’s issues of policy, confidentiality and law that often impede things that we like to do. But, there’s due process for the accused as well, so there’s many challenges in this area.

Wendi Delmendo: It goes back to the quantity and quality of evidence that might be available in a given matter. We get a lot of vague reports regarding sexual harrasement and sexual violence so we aren’t always able to follow up because we don’t know who the complainant is, who the accused is, or we might not have enough information about what actually occurred. It could be that in instances involving hazing, we have a lot more access to evidence in order to be able to take action. 

Pablo Reguerín: There is definitely a sentiment of beyond compliance around sexual assault. Hazing is also an issue that is treated very seriously and we also look into information as we get it. We don’t consider one to be more important than the other. They are different issues but how they are looked at, beyond compliance approach is definitely an aspect to how we approach our work as practitioners. 

Gary May: From a personal standpoint, I have someone very close to me who is a sexual assault survivor, so I take these issues very seriously. Don’t think we don’t prioritize proactive education as well as the reactive consequences of such behavior. 

I know you mentioned that the processes are a bit different for hazing and sexual assault. Can you describe what the differences are between those two processes?

Michael Sweeney: It’s easier to describe the differences between an allegation versus an individual, as compared to an allegation against an organization. Allegations against individuals: individuals have due process rights and those due process rights are clearly spelled out in the law. So when Wendi is investigating a Title IX complaint against an individual or OSSJA is investigating hazing by an individual, that individual has all kinds of rights. They have a right to hearing, a right to know the complainant, the allegations and they get a right to have a lawyer and a decision and an appeal. With group conduct, they don’t have due process rights. Sometimes it is easier to take more severe and swifter action against an organization because of their status than against an individual. 

How is the university working to protect and support students who experience sexual assault off campus and hold establishments where it takes place accountable?

Wendi Delmendo: If the person who’s accused of engaging in this behavior is a student or an employee, then our policy would still cover that conduct. Of course, CARE would still provide resources regardless of where the instances occurred. 

Michael Sweeney: I can think of circumstances where we have precluded internships, establishments or put them on the “do no call” list because we have decided that this is not a safe place for our students or employees. 

Pablo Reguerín: A lot of it depends on the site, the situation and their level of cooperation. We would have to be convinced that there is a future risk for injury of students. Multiple factors have to be looked at before we continue a relationship with an internship. If any of those are not met, we would discontinue it. Our focus is on protection of students first and foremost. 

UC Access Now, a coalition for disability rights, has recently published demands for a change in disability services at the UCs. Do you think UC Davis can do more to improve accessibility? Is the university taking steps to work towards a more accessible and inclusive campus? 

Gary May: The short answer is yes we can always do more. We’ve been on a long term plan to increase accessibility on campus for many years. As you can imagine, it’s been many renovations over a period of time. By and large, the campus does reasonably well in accessibility, but we are not perfect. There are some measures that we still need to take. 

Wendi Delmendo: We have a couple of committees that are devoted to improving disability access on campus. One is the Disability Issues Administrative Advisory Committee which is managed through our University Equity and Inclusion Department. We also have a committee that receives some funding to improve physical accessibility on campus. That committee meets regularly and we either fully fund or share in funds for physical improvements on campus. Of course, we have disability and management services to help employees get accommodations if they need them. 

Pablo Reguerín: This past summer, there was a permanent funding investment made in the testing center. We are revamping for students who have a testing accommodation. The testing center is being developed, furnished and better designed. That will result in better student  experience overall. This is an ongoing issue to continue working at. We have a mindset of looking at the assets and trying to approach it from that perspective.

What guidelines are in place for professors and TAs to follow regarding remote learning? Are there any guidelines regarding leniency, deadlines, lecture length and whether classes will be held asynchronously or synchronously over Zoom?

Mary Croughan: Number one, allow remote instruction because otherwise the rule is everything has to be in-person. We also had to get permission from our accrediting body WASC to allow remote instruction for the rest of this academic year as well, so that’s one aspect. The senate is encouraging faculty to offer courses asynchronously. Unfortunately, that’s not something that can be mandated by me or the chancellor or anyone else on campus. But certainly faculty are strongly encouraged to do that, including offering exams and office hours at different times to accommodate our international students. We have students that are on the flip side and 1 p.m. offering here is 1 a.m. offering for them. Trying to make accommodations for that has also been strongly encouraged as well as the same accommodations for pass/no pass or satisfactory/unsatisfactory and quite honestly allowing some greater leeway for students. There’s a lot of stress that people are under right now between the elections and COVID numbers going up and so forth––people learning remotely and sometimes being under more chaotic and challenging circumstances. So asking the faculty to be more compassionate is probably a good way to phrase it towards students and thinking about the different circumstances under which students are trying to learn right now has been a component request from this office and from the academic senate. 

Gary May: Just so you know, ASUCD has also made similar requests and I think are actively working with the senate leadership. I believe there is a meeting going on right now to see what kind of accommodations can be made and take place during the remote instruction period. 

How are basic needs and services being prioritized this quarter? How has the pandemic affected the distribution of relevant funds?

Pablo Reguerín: Aggie Compass is open and operating and they have added a Zoom reception desk to have the ability to connect to our services. The key is we have been trying to be as responsive to issues as they develop. We added some funding to the ASUCD program that allows students to have legal consultation so they could have legal support. We increased the number of slots and times per slot. It’s been an area of investment. We haven’t reduced our investment. It has definitely been an area of expansion and rethinking the delivery of our services. 

Written by: The Editorial Board


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