Administration recommends that students prepare to be on campus by fall, but many details remain uncertain
UC Davis announced in late December 2020 that it plans to resume in-person instruction for Fall Quarter 2021. Shortly thereafter, on Jan. 11, 2021, the UC Office of the President announced that all 10 UC campuses are preparing to do the same.
Provost Mary Croughan established the fall planning work group to evaluate all of the logistics of bringing students, faculty and staff back on campus.
“The fall planning work group is made up of leaders across the entire campus,” Croughan said. “It’s not just focused on instruction; it’s on every aspect of running the campus. So research, education, service [and] what affects faculty, staff and students.”
The group is working to plan everything from how many students can be housed in a dorm to dining restrictions and research plans for how in-person instruction will function. It is complicated and challenging to make decisions in a pandemic when there is so much uncertainty about the future.
The working group must evaluate all different scenarios, considering the county tier status, state and county restrictions and vaccine availability and uptake. While President Joe Biden has promised that all Americans will be offered the vaccine by the end of May, the UC cannot ensure students will be vaccinated because it is not possible to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations at this point, according to Croughan.
“The problem with requiring vaccinations is you’re not allowed to mandate a vaccine if it’s still under an emergency use authorization,” Croughan said. “All of the COVID-19 vaccines are under an emergency use authorization right now. We will have to see what the federal government does. If they remove the [Emergency Use Authorization] designation, then it would be possible to mandate, but the University of California has not made a decision on that yet.”
ASUCD President Kyle Krueger is the only undergraduate who sits on the fall planning work group. He explained that travel restrictions could present additional challenges for international students and is concerned with ensuring the administration hears student voices.
“Through the fall planning work group, we’re also planning to do listening sessions with some different student communities to make sure administration is not just hearing from me,” Krueger said. “I want to make sure that [the] administration hears from a variety of student communities—minority students, international students. ASUCD is going to work to make sure that those connections between administration and students are made.”
While the details of fall instruction have not been solidified, Krueger and Croughan both concurred that the most important thing for students to do right now is to secure housing for next year because some portion of classes will be offered in person.
“ASUCD is going to do everything it can to advocate to make good online options for students who can’t come to campus and make sure courses are [as] accessible as possible,” Krueger said. “Despite our advocacy, my recommendation for students would also be: If it’s possible for you to come back to campus [then] do that because [in-person instruction] probably is going to still be better despite our best efforts.”
Looking at the various ensuing scenarios and attempting to make “good educated estimates,” Croughan said possibilities for instruction could include seating students six feet apart, offering more sections, rotating who comes to class in person and live streaming lectures. The goal is to have such details figured out in time for fall registration, according to Croughan.
“The only way you can go back to having a lecture hall be full in a pre-pandemic number would be assuring that everyone had been vaccinated, everyone is wearing a face cover, everyone is practicing safe hygiene practices and everyone is doing asymptomatic testing at least once a week,” Croughan said.
Krueger said that over half of the student population who will come to campus in fall 2021 will have never taken an in-person course at UC Davis before, between first years, sophomores and transfer students.
Warren Jia, a first-year chemical engineering major, said he is worried about transitioning from online to in-person instruction, especially because most of his online exams allow for open-note test taking.
“I’m a little scared because I haven’t done a lot of the memorization in my prerequisite classes, I’m going to be behind,” Jia said. “I’m going to have to re-learn a lot of material later when I take upper division courses that require me to recall knowledge I learned this year. I’m not really scared of going back from a safety perspective because I believe in the vaccine.”
While Jia said that he looks forward to in-person instruction, as opposed to sitting at the computer all day watching hours of lectures on end, he expressed concern about social activities. He said that he hopes the university will offer support and opportunities for socializing for first-year students who lost out on the college experience.
“There’s certainly a desire to go out and once you get your vaccine to go party or do something fun like that,” Krueger said. “I think that could pose an issue if folks prematurely start commencing with back-to-normal activities, like partying or large group activities, before everyone is vaccinated. We want to send the message that some things are re-opening, but it’s not back to normal until everyone is vaccinated and the public health officials say it’s back.”
In terms of enforcing social behavioral regulations off campus, Croughan said that expectations for students are the same when students are off campus as when they are on campus.
For those who are already in Davis currently, Croughan said that students have done a great job complying with social regulations.
“I am just really proud of our students for knowing what will help them and everyone around them stay healthy and follow those guidelines,” Croughan said.
Written by: Rebecca Gardner — firstname.lastname@example.org