Editorial Board meets with Chancellor May, UC Davis administrators

Editorial Board meets with Chancellor May, UC Davis administrators

Photo Credits: AGGIE FILE

May, administrators discuss reopening campus, vaccine distribution and athletics

Chancellor May, Provost Mary Croughan, Vice Chancellor Pablo Reguerín, Vice Chancellor Kelly Ratliff, Associate Chancellor Karl Engelbach, Dana Topousis, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Michael Sweeney, Campus Counsel, Richard Tucker, Academic Senate Chair, Rocko DeLuca, Acting Athletics Director

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

How will UC Davis work toward the UC wide goal of having in-person classes in the fall?

Gary May: We’re well on our way to the goal. A lot of it depends on things we don’t control explicitly, but let me just say that we expect Fall of 2021 to look almost the inverse of this quarter in terms of in-person classes to remote classes. Right now, I think we have 50 to 60 in-person classes and the vast majority of the curriculum is still remote. In the fall, our hope is to have a few remote classes and have the majority to be in-person.

Mary Croughan: We offer about 6,000 classes per quarter. Spring Quarter will have about 100 to 120 classes that have already been approved for in-person instruction and it will probably be the flip of that for Fall Quarter. The part the chancellor was referring to being out of our control is vaccine availability. But, things there are starting to improve and if we are able to vaccinate a very large proportion of our university community, then it truly will be safe to return to in-person instruction in the fall. Even if we do so, because the vaccine is really meant to prevent with 95% effectiveness, it prevents disease and death, it does not prevent infection. So, it will be very important for all of us to continue the saliva-based asymptomatic testing and continue to wear face masks until the virus has left the human population. 

Will there be a requirement for students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated before campus can reopen?

Gary May: So right now, there won’t be an explicit requirement. For now, the requirement for employees is to be educated on the vaccine and you have to explicitly say no if you do not want to be vaccinated. There are legal issues involved in a mandate, so the system right now is not envisioning a policy where vaccines are mandated.

Michael Sweeney: The current vaccines have been authorized under emergency use provision. Most, if not all, employers and student positions of higher education have been shying away from mandating a vaccine that is authorized under emergency use. That said, more and more employers are starting to mandate it. There were a few splashes last week with some notable employers, including law firms. You may see a change in the months ahead. I think it will be important how the president wants this to unfold. 

Kelly Ratliff: In mid-December, a policy was put in place regarding healthcare workers. It then followed in early January with a policy that applies to the rest of university employees. The plan for students has not yet been implemented and just has now started to be drafted. As it relates to students, there’s not even a policy that the chancellor said. The policy for employees says you must be educated and you must either get vaccinated or actively indicate that you are not. How that plays out for students will be a separate policy that has now started to be drafted by the office of the president. 

If school does reopen for classes in the fall, will a remote option still be offered for students and staff who are unable to receive the vaccine and are concerned about risking their health?

Gary May: I think we did a pretty good job at taking into account people’s conditions and their safety throughout the pandemic and we will continue to have that. Safety is the number one priority. 

Mary Croughan: We’re working on an accommodation process. This needs to be worked out more than likely across the University of California, but we are in the process of students, staff and faculty that are unable to return in person at this time and what accommodations can be made. We’ll create a process around that and it will quite honestly look a lot similar to the accommodation processes on campus, but much more specific around COVID related reasons that people can’t return.

Gary May: This is why we’ll have some fraction of the curriculum available remotely. 

Despite five of the other 12 teams in the conference pulling out of the season, what’s the university’s thought process or motivation in trying to complete the football season given the pandemic situation in California and the high number of members on the team?

Gary May: Our student-athletes and coaches want to play. That’s the biggest factor. We think that with all the infrastructure and testing we have at UC Davis, we think they can play safely, which is our priority.

Rocko De Luca: Our guiding principle has been exactly that. If our student-athletes want to compete or opt-out, we fully support them. The second part of that is in consultation with our health professionals as well as the Big Sky Conference, if they deem it safe for us and give us the green light, we will do that. I think the teams that backed out within the league, many of them face cold weather challenges that we here in Davis are fortunate not to have. They have also not brought back their students to be back on campus, so they just weren’t able to safely practice. We feel really fortunate to be in Davis and have an environment where we can do it safely, and again prepare to compete in football this year.

2020 was tied with 2016 as being the hottest year on record, and as the devastating fires in California last year have shown us, climate change is not going away anytime soon without drastic changes on an institutional and global level. How is UC Davis promoting other institutions, companies and agencies to consider their environmental impact while also working on becoming more sustainable itself?

Gary May: I’ll mention two broad areas. We have what we call a big idea in our fundraiser campaign called One Climate, which is primarily driven by how to better be environmentally friendly. That is how we get the word out to others, through our research and promotions of such practices. On campus, we’ve been named the most sustainable campus by a green metric magazine and we have many activities. We have the Big Shift going on to make the campus even more environmentally friendly. We have a whole department of people who work on this. 

Kelly Ratliff: Sustainability is a really important goal and we have faculty who does amazing research in so many different areas. We have tons of student involvement and student leadership as well. Just to round out the Big Shift, we spent some time coming up with that marketing campaign and it turns out during a pandemic, you can dig out big trenches around campus. We’re moving from steam to hot water in terms of major infrastructure and we’re the first university in the UC system that has taken this big step. We’re replacing old infrastructure with new infrastructure and it’s moving towards the electrification of the campus. Right now, so many of us are remotely working, so we are doing a reimagining of the workplace, seeing what we can learn from this event. It is co-sponsored by human resources and sustainability. Whatever the future is about remote work, we see it as equally important, both from an employer standpoint and in sustainability. We have a partnership right now with our office of sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion and global affairs, where UC Davis is the first university studying the U.N. metrics for sustainability. We’re trying to self-review under the U.N. guidance, both because we think it’s important for UC Davis and we want to be a leader in this area. Lastly, I’ll get into parking. We just moved to daily parking rates because we want folks to make a decision everyday whether they should drive or not. The pandemic notwithstanding and some of the challenges with mass communication, we’re the first UC campus and amongst the first universities in the nation to do this. It will make it much easier for folks to decide every day and there is a clear financial incentive in a program like that. Those are a couple examples that come to mind. 

What are all of you, and the UC Davis administration in general, looking forward to most about reopening in the fall? 

Gary May: I’m just looking forward to seeing people riding bikes, walking around and enjoying campus. It’s a little bit of a ghost town these days and it’s hard to get energy or be motivated when there’s no people around. 

Mary Croughan:  I’ll second that. I arrived as provost in July so the campus has been strangely quiet. I was an undergrad here so I know what it should feel and look like, so I’m looking forward to dodging bikes just to get across the street. 

Richard Tucker: I can say a few words from a faculty perspective. I’m really looking forward to the informal interactions that we have everyday with colleagues and students. Meeting students before and after lecture just to talk about what’s going on. Meeting with colleagues to see what they did this last weekend. These are the things that we’re really missing right now.

Rocko De Luca: You probably thought I’d say sports but I miss the 15 minutes between meetings walking across campus, getting some energy from folks. Now in the virtual world, we have meeting after meeting after meeting. I miss that time on campus for sure. 

What is UC Davis’ current role in distributing the vaccine and how is the university working to provide opportunities for students and underserved individuals in our community to receive the vaccine?  

Gary May: I’ll differentiate between UC Davis Health and Davis campus. UC Davis Health has done 26,000 vaccinations to date. That includes frontline healthcare workers, patients and others that are on the Tiers 1A and 1B list that the CDC has put out. As of this week, we are now able to vaccinate people on the Davis campus. I believe we have 500 doses per week that we are getting, that is much lower than our capacity. I believe we could probably do two or three times that if we had doses. We are also following the CDC guidelines with the tiers. I think we are on Tier 1B right now and we’ll just go down the tiers until we reach the entire population.

Kelly Ratliff: The vaccine clinic on campus should be able to do 1,000 per day when we are able to get more doses. We’re working closely with Healthy Davis Together so we can also participate with the county. There’s a lot of planning happening with the Yolo County public health officer to find ways in how we, the university, can assist not just the Davis part of the county, but the entire county. The vaccines that we are getting, again this is a centralized approach by the office of the president so we are following the CDC guidelines, California Department of Public Health, and there are tiering criteria. There’s information now on the Campus Ready webpage in a tab about testing and response. There is now a separate tab about vaccines. The initial tiers, Tier 1A as its called, is for healthcare workers and anyone over the age of 75. We are now in the first part of Tier 1B, which are folks that are 65 and older. Soon, we will be moving into other groups of employees. The focus right now is on our relationship with folks as the employer. When we get to a category, the category involves all employees, including student employees. For example, recently added into Tier 1A were the Aggie Public Health Ambassadors, which are all students. Because of their role and nature, they were identified as being a part of Tier 1A. We will soon be working with childcare workers and folks involved in education. We have about 125 K-12 student teachers who teach as part of our school of education, they will be a part of that tier. So it’s really based on your role as an employee and the tiers will move through some of the upcoming groups like dining room workers, childcare workers, the folks involved in in-person instruction. Those are some of the categories we are starting to plan for. Again, unfortunately we have way more people in those categories than we have vaccines, so folks are asked to make appointments and continue checking the webpage. Part of how we’ve stood up this vaccination clinic so quickly is that we have this amazing teamwork. We have nursing students, medical students, student EMTs that were all trained, they are the ones that are doing a lot of the injections right now. There’s even guidance available to have veterinary students help. Because we are UC Davis, we have this amazing infrastructure and we are able to put this clinic in place and then we’ll expand again, working with Healthy Davis Together to go beyond the campus.

Gary May: I think part of the question was about encouraging people from historically marginalized communities to get vaccinated. There is a study that one of our faculty did that you may have seen published on Dateline. About a third of our country is saying no to the vaccine, at least in theory right now. In our own operations, we are seeing less skepticism, but there are still about 20-25% that are either missing their appointments or denying it. You guys wrote an article about me being vaccinated. Part of that reasoning is to encourage people of color in particular to not be skeptical and let them know the vaccine is safe. We are actively promoting those behaviors. 

Pablo Reguerín: As the process moves along and we get to students, we have been following some of the trends and gaps we have seen in the hospitals. I know our student life area, cross cultural center, the retention centers, we do want to take a very intentional approach if we see some inequities that we have already seen in social inequity. We will be looking at those gaps and trying to address them across our team. We’re leveraging the expertise of different offices.

As testing becomes more available, will the university increase testing requirements? Some students do not know that they should get tested twice a week, how is the university spreading the word about testing availability?

Gary May: I don’t know what else we can do in terms of awareness because we are bombarding you guys with information. There’s the weekly chancellor letter, social media, emails, TV commercials and other things we are doing. It is so important to get tested frequently because that’s how we catch people who may not know that they are positive and stop the spread. That’s why we’ve been so successful in maintaining a healthy environment. We’re strongly encouraging testing twice a week. 

Mary Croughan: This has been an amazing team effort in developing our own asymptomatic testing capabilities and being able to offer it on such a broad scale. About half of our students are still in the Davis area, and as the chancellor noted, both through the campus and Healthy Davis Together, they should have been bombarded with messages. We recognize that not everyone is showing up even for weekly testing. But, once we return to in-person classes, it will be a requirement because if any of you use the daily COVID symptom survey, it is a requirement to have been tested within the last seven days. As an epidemiologist, I am not worried about students living in an apartment or home with other people and not having gatherings or exposed on a broader scale. But, as there is more activity and people come to campus, at a minimum weekly testing will be enforced for students, staff and faculty. While I am an epidemiologist and definitely believed in the importance of asymptomatic testing and all the programs we put in place to stay healthy, it’s Kelly and her team that have really done the heavy lifting to create these programs and ensure that they worked. 

Kelly Ratliff: The capacity has steadily increased. When we started relying on this saliva-based testing upon returning this school year, the capacity was 2,000 tests per day. We are now at a capacity of 8,000 tests per day, so our capacity has slowly increased and how we are making the testing available has also increased. We have the testing centers you’ve heard about with Healthy Davis Together, at the Mondavi Center, at the senior center, veterans center and the biggest one that you’ve probably been to is the Activities and Recreation Center. We also have mobile testing that is going around to local Davis schools. We have a van that goes out to the vet med district and starting next week, the Sacramento campus will have that happening at three of their clinics. We’re really trying to make this convenient and be able to collect samples from where people are within reason. The Activities and Recreation Center has been collecting about 14,000 samples a week consistently and if needed to, they could do double that. We could change the staffing model and move people through. We would love to improve the capacity.

Pablo Reguerín: We were also able to implement text messaging, which was also done at very specific points in time. It focused on students who were coming on campus. We are trying everything and trying to make it all very timely for students. 

What advice would you give students who live with people that are not following CDC guidelines? Are there resources available for students who are facing COVID-19-related housemate conflicts?

Gary May: We did establish some policies very early on around behavior, not only for students, but for employees as well. That’s also a mandate from the Aggie Public Health Ambassadors, to use peer pressure to encourage good behavior. In addition to that, we have some specific policies to make sure that people are adhering to what we feel is safe behavior. 

Pablo Reguerín: I will say, students have been very cooperative in following guidance. They also have been letting us know when students are not. There is a reporting mechanism through the office of judicial affairs. We’re trying to do as much education and want as much to be directly supportive of students to come to a resolution on their own, which is the first approach. We’ve also focused on areas where there’s more density in the housing in terms of the strategies we take, but through the community assistance, educational support, we have done some things on the proactive side. We had an incentive based program for Halloween because we knew that was a potential issue and we’ve continued to have more incentive-based programs to do things within their household. In the cases where there is higher risk if there’s increased density in the housing, we have taken action and followed up. We have increased our capacity to respond to those as well. One last thing I wanted to mention was that in terms of our cooperation with our contact tracing, we have streamlined the process. The window of time and possibility happens so quickly, so we have tried to streamline our accountability process if students are avoiding or not engaging in the process. The more encouragement we can get to responding to those calls, the better we can do to help keep our community safe. 

Gary May: We have had some SSJA complaints and hearings and discipline that we’ve had to give out. Not that many though. I am not dissatisfied with students behavior in general but there are a few we have had to deal with.

Since the week-long hiatus due to a high number of COVID-19 cases within UC Davis Athletics, what active measures has the university taken to limit COVID-19 cases among athletes and make sure that athletes are following safety protocols? 

Gary May: Rocko answered quickly and decisively in the situation you mentioned to halt practice and competition for seven days, but I will let him talk more about it. 

Rocko De Luca: We have implemented more frequent testing. We’ve taken advantage of the increased capacity of testing. Most of the high number of cases were in early January when they were coming back to campus. We are one of the few campuses that have practices back and competing. They are doing remote instruction, but not with athletics. We feel really good about the policies and protocols we have in place, but certainly when everybody came back to campus, the numbers went up. I can tell you that the numbers have gone back down considerably and with the additional testing we’ve been doing, there have been no transmissions as it relates to practice, competition or doctors. Our sports medicine staff has been very vigilant in our practices and we are doing everything we can.

How is the university helping students who are struggling financially due to economic burdens caused by the pandemic? Where are these funds coming from?

Gary May: In general, raising funds for student relief is something I spend a lot of time doing. We’ve raised 187 million dollars since I’ve been here. Specifically to the pandemic, in March, we started an emergency relief fund not just for students, but also for staff. Another thing we did was give out laptops and other types of emergency relief. We took advantage of the federal government CARES Act and now the most recent COVID-19 relief stimulus. In the initial CARES Act, we were restricted from giving it to undocumented immigrant students and international students, so we went above and beyond and used resources for those student populations so they got the same financial aid that domestic students received. 

Pablo Reguerín: We have been working with Aggie Compass in particular as an entry point for any needs that come up. They have a strong role in financial aid so as needs have been coming in, we’ve tried to be responsive. Each student situation is different, so we’ve been as responsive as we can. There have been students coming in to get hardship funding support. We’ve been using basically every resource and also using our different offices to reach out to students as a point of entry so we can respond as quickly as possible. 

How does the university administration make decisions regarding canceling classes at a university level — ex: the fires in fall 2018 vs davis-wide power outages last week? 

Gary May: In general, we have a group that’s convened. It’s a group of campus leaders that get together immediately to try and make decisions. We make a collective, consensus decision on what to do. In the case of the wildfires a few years ago, that was a new event for us. We were scrambling and there were some ups and downs. Since then, we have a very well-thought out algorithm in the form of a matrix that helps us make air quality decisions about opening or closing, and what to open or close. This helps us make decisions without having to do so much subjective judgement. With regards to the power outage last week, which by the way, my power was out for two days too, so I stayed at the Hyatt Place. Anyways, the campus power was not out, except some of the housing that was affected so we did not make the decision to cancel classes. We do realize in retrospect that it did impact students who had issues with internet connectivity and other things. In many cases, we try to make the best decision we can with the information we have. We are looking at that and trying to figure out where the gaps may have been to try and figure out how we could do this better next time. 

Pablo Reguerín: We did work with a number of departments on campus and the academic senate to remind folks about the academic flexibility options that are in place as well as rethink our services for the students that were impacted like free blankets and free food. We had to make sure students could access the dining commons. There are a number of efforts in place to respond as quickly as possible for students that were impacted.

Karl Engelbach: The committee the chancellor was referencing was the Event and Crisis Management Team. 

What budget cuts will staff be facing this year? How will this affect students who may face even larger classes (if professors and other faculty are being laid off)?

Gary May: No faculty will be laid off. I’m very proud we have had minimal layoffs on our campus. We have been working very hard by trading jobs with the folks on the health campus and other things we have done to maintain our level of staffing and keep from laying off, particularly our most vulnerable employees. We do still have budget challenges that we are facing. We get some relief from some of the federal sources and some from the state. The governor recently announced that they were going to refill some of the hole he and others dug for us, not completely by the way, but helping a little bit. We think we’ll be able to manage our way through this. A lot of the losses that we have seen budget wise has been in housing and dining, something that will come back when we get to regular operations. This is more a temporary situation and not a long term thing to be concerned about. Some of the pandemic related challenges will be gone soon and I think so far, we’ve managed through it well and hopefully we will continue to do so. 

Mary Croughan: The state of California in general has not been funding the University of California to the level that it used to. So in terms of real dollars, UC has taken cuts year after year. As the chancellor said, we are managing those the way that we can do to our best, noting the student services, teaching, resources available for students and so forth are our first priority around student success and graduation. We look programmatically to see what we can do differently that may result in more savings, whether it’s simple things like procurement of licenses being done campus-wide or university-wide across UC as compared to individual license agreements. Things like that that are operations focused, looking at what we can do better to save funds. One of our goals is to look and see whether one of the programs being offered for students on campus, are there some ways we can do that where we standardize everything to the highest level based on evidence, and then possibly remove the programming that’s not working well or not working students’ needs. That way, we may actually be able to offer more resources and more programming for students at a lower cost and higher quality. 

Kelly Ratliff: I’ll round off by saying that there will be some consequences. As the chancellor mentioned, most of what we’re dealing with related to the pandemic itself is short-term in nature, but the price tag is big. We’re well over $120 million now on the main campus and we have received some federal funding but not nearly that amount. We are looking for solutions towards multiple years, so that puts a strain. The most important challenge is the idea that we started this year that we’re in. We’re trying to get $80-100 million over four to five years. The state cuts, only about a third is proposed to be restored in the governor’s budget proposal, without any new money for costs in the new year. That puts pressure and increases that structural challenge by another $50-60 million so on top of $80-100 million, that’s a big change. What we’re trying to do is be as strategic as possible and solve this over multiple years. We didn’t necessarily get here overnight, so we want to solve it so people can be thoughtful and we can mitigate some of the impact. In the end, we need to develop sources separate from the state and there are places where there will be fewer positions. University’s budget is mostly people and I don’t want to pretend like that won’t happen, but we hope we can do it in a way that mitigates as many of the negative consequences as possible. 

The average salary for women administrators at UC Davis is $35,000 less than the average salary for men administrators, with outliers removed—with an outlier, the women’s average is nearly $130,000 less. We understand that not all administrator positions are the same, but can you speak to concerns that women are not being as seriously considered for these higher paying positions.

Gary May: I’m going to try to answer it but I am also going to punt because I haven’t seen your data set. I’d like to see who’s in the comparative groups because that would inform me on who you are calling an outlier. That would inform me more to give you an answer. Let me just say in general, what we always do when we hire someone is to look at the UC people in similar positions. We try to be somewhere around the median for those positions irrespective of gender. It’s hard for me to believe that we would be that far off, with administrators. For faculty, academic affairs just recently did a gender equity study on salary and found that we were in a pretty good line between men and women in faculty. I think we generally do a pretty good job of salary equity on campus. 

Michael Sweeney: I also would be interested in seeing the data. Historically, this has been a problem, but I think our university has done as good of a job that you would find at any university in trying to have an equal playing field for men and women and the salaries they get for doing similar jobs. 

Are there any resources available for students who feel as though there is an overwhelming amount of COVID-19 news and information, and is there any advice you would give students who feel this way? 

Gary May: We always struggle with this because sometimes we are not giving enough information and people get mad. Now this question leads me to believe that we are giving you too much information. Finding that balance is really hard. Pablo talked about the texting, the new thing we are doing, a group of your peers a couple of years ago was one of the groups that told me that they weren’t getting enough information and we need to do more direct emails to students so we starting doing these weekly emails and now people are telling me they aren’t really reading all of it. We’d really love to have some ongoing advice about how we’re doing on that score. 

I just wanted to clarify that the question was about the news in general at a national and global level. There just seems to be a lot going on right now and I think I can speak for the entire Editorial Board when I say we definitely appreciate the communication and getting those weekly emails as well as being kept up with what is going on. 

Gary May: The external stuff is a hard one. I tell my mother all the time, you watch too much news because all she does is get aggravated. You have to have some sort of filtering and know what is important. I will say, the news over the past month has been mercifully more boring than prior months so I think that may help.

Mary Croughan: I recommend only two places, go to CDC.gov if you want good, solid and accurate information about COVID-19. They even have it broken down now to almost like an FAQ in the postings. They have all of it there now. It is very different from what CDC.gov looked like a few months ago when quite honestly, our then president was banning them from posting information. It was not accurate and now it is back to being accurate, unbiased and scientifically based. If you’re looking for anything health related, I think it is one of the best sources. In regards to the campus and anything related to COVID-19, go to our Campus Ready website. It has all testing, vaccinations and everything. It’s kept up to date. 

Dana Topousis: I would just add that I totally appreciate being overwhelmed with everything going on in the world. I think the campus mental health resources are really strong. I know that Pablo and student affairs has done a lot over the years to improve that and I just encourage people to take care of your mental health and reach out for resources if you need that. It is so important and it is so easy to get stressed out by everything going on so keeping that in perspective and asking for help is important. 

Pablo Reguerín: I would also just echo Dana’s point. We know that students who reach out do much better than students who suffer in silence. Having many entry points is something we’re trying to do for some students, that would be reaching out to counseling services. For other students, it would be working out or doing something with Campus Recreation. There are still things students can get involved in doing and we also have our counselors spread out in different areas. I think reaching out is really critical and we recently launched the mental health task force to look at how we support students when they do come in and also we are trying to pose the question of what are sources of stress. What are the things on campus that are stressors for students and how can we also reduce those. Both try to offer support and try to reduce stress. We just had a campuswide group that was a wellness community of learning. They came up with some recommendations about looking at wellness more broadly. We’re trying to think of all those different outlets and providing those for students while also wanting to increase the coping skills and responding to the news and larger scale events where one can feel hopelessness. We are trying to have an array of opportunities to cope better and process how folks are feeling. Particularly, some things around the inauguration for specific groups with our campus counselors. Just trying to provide many spaces and opportunities, getting creative with the remote element as well.

Written by: The Editorial Board