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Saturday, November 27, 2021

UC Davis COVID-19 academic policies need to be more consistent and widely spread

Administrators must set standards for COVID-19 accommodations

With the return to in-person learning this fall, we are all in classrooms once again, surrounded by strangers, acquaintances and even close friends that we have not seen in a year and a half. While it’s definitely an adjustment, it’s exciting to be back on campus, and we can thank UC Davis for their work to ensure our safety. We are thrilled that 98% of UC Davis students are vaccinated; it’s because of you all that we have safely returned to campus. 

Mandating vaccines, necessitating symptom surveys and requiring frequent testing are important precautions that UC Davis has taken to protect our community. But beyond that, more work needs to be done to communicate the COVID-19 guidelines to both students and faculty. Although the administration has put public health policies and self-quarantine measures in place, this information is not actively disseminated and ambiguity remains as to what students should do when they are feeling sick.

To the Editorial Board, it seems like COVID-19 policies vary by the professor. Most of our instructors haven’t given us detailed explanations for what to do if we get COVID-19 beyond staying home. We’re told not to come to campus if we don’t pass the symptom survey, but protocols surrounding exams and mandatory attendance when we aren’t feeling well haven’t been made clear. Many of our syllabi say to follow campus guidelines, but those instructions usually end there. With some professors refusing to record lectures and others saying it’s okay to come to school with a cough, we are confused about what is the “right” thing to do. 

There have been professors who have been accommodating throughout this uncertainty by offering midterm drops or conducting quizzes via Canvas rather than in person. However, what confuses students is the discrepancy between different professors, sometimes even within the same department. The lack of consistency in implementing these public health policies forces students to navigate these ambiguities on their own, causing unnecessary stress during an already stressful pandemic. The Campus Ready guidelines instruct students to reach out to their professors or an academic advisor if they have to quarantine and miss class, but the burden should not be on already-sick students to secure accommodations on an uncertain, case-by-case basis. 

While professors should absolutely have flexibility in instructional decisions, COVID-19 policy should be set by administration. Allowing professors to determine for themselves what constitutes a fair make-up policy can be unfair to students who have to choose between keeping themselves healthy and keeping up their grades. Though COVID-19 has brought this issue to light, with the current flu season and potential future pandemics, there needs to be a standard for all professors to follow when it comes to navigating student illnesses.

Students shouldn’t need to scour the internet to find information about what to do if they get sick. It should be widely accessible, easy to find online and more broadly disseminated by campus administrators. 

Online resources exist detailing mask, vaccine and testing requirements and mandatory reporting of COVID-19. These resources tell students to stay home if they feel ill or fail a symptom survey, but they lack explanations of what to do if you actually get COVID-19. If you do, you’ll be out of class for at least 10 days. Since not all lectures and discussions are recorded, it might be challenging to make up in-person classes and assignments. Catching up on classwork is already stressful enough, and if you’re really sick, it might be even more challenging to do so while recovering. 

Getting reacquainted with in-person learning is not easy, but better communication about COVID-19 policies would help our transition. We hope the lack of accessible information does not cause people to lie on symptom surveys or come to class if they feel unwell. By informing students, faculty and staff of what to do if they get sick, people will likely feel more comfortable skipping class or work — they will know exactly what to expect. 

While UC Davis continues to be a championed leader in many ways during the pandemic, the Editorial Board believes the administration has a responsibility to create and promote clear policies during this transition to in-person learning. And it’s okay for students to be stressed or anxious about the lack of clarity surrounding certain campus COVID-19 policies — the Editorial Board definitely feels it. We are still in a pandemic, and we would appreciate feeling that the university is prioritizing our mental and physical health.

UC Davis administrators can help ease this stress by more clearly communicating about how we will be academically supported if we test positive for COVID-19 or need to miss class because we are sick. It’s vital for campus administration to provide easily accessible information and spread it to as many people as possible. 

Written by: The Editorial Board

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