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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Editorial Board meets with Chancellor May, UC Davis administrators

May and administrators discuss Cow4Mascot, COVID-19, California Building Code standards and more

The California Aggie’s Editorial Board met with Chancellor Gary May, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Croughan, Chief Campus Counsel Mike Sweeney, Director of Athletics Rocko DeLuca, Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Renetta Tull, Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost Ari Kelman, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Dana Topousis, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Pablo Reguerín and Associate Vice Chancellor for Safety Services Eric Kvigne.

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

What student resources do you think are the most underused on campus and how can students access them more effectively?

May: We just had a meeting with my Chancellor’s Undergraduate Advisory Board and this was the topic. We have so many resources and so many things we can point students toward that it’s often a matter of getting the right resources at the right time because we do it all at orientation and they forget everything. Which I understand because it’s so much. But I think there’s something for almost every circumstance, it’s just a matter of how we get a student that needs a resource [to a resource] at the time they need it. 

Reguerín: As the chancellor mentioned, we have a wide array of services, from health services to housing to retention and community centers. The level of utilization fluctuates depending on what’s happening. Different weeks in the quarter, different points in time. It’s not always easy to understand exactly what you get from what department, so part of it is [that] regardless of where one student connects to one particular office or another, they have a sense of connection. It could even be at their work-study job, talking to their supervisor. It could be by joining a student organization. Once they make connections somewhere, usually they’ll get someone who can service them, like a translator or promoter, someone who can connect them into the office that they need at that point in time. So really for us, it’s about students feeling a connection somewhere. We try to describe our programs, different marketing tactics like social media or emails — although we probably overuse email too much. We’re trying to use more graphics, less words and trying to explain the values of the various services. We’re always open to getting more help in that area, so we are certainly open to feedback on an ongoing basis on how we can describe and connect services to students. Finally, I’d like to say, one issue that can be a barrier for students using services can be a sense of stigma. So, we really try to address stigma. We’re very open. As I said, our various offices will have peaks and lows on utilization at different points in time, so we try to offer them just in time so that people feel a sense of connection. 

Tull: This is something that I learned today from a couple of meetings. I thought it was really exciting to find out that every student on campus will get one free ticket to the Mondavi Center for a show of their choice. That helps keep them engaged and there are other discounts and things like that for different shows. Another thing I learned today through [Center for Student Involvement] is that they have an involvement calculator that helps students get involved with different organizations. There’s now an ambassador or mentor who can help to connect students to different things. I know that some of the leaders are trying to make sure there are more ambassadors and more mentors to help with some of that one-on-one and help those other connections. I know that our office is trying to see if we can do more with social media and other methods to supplement and partner across campus. 

How does the university plan to address COVID-19 in the 2022-23 school year? What mandates or recommendations will be in place for masks, testing, isolation housing, and other COVID-19-related precautions? If the plans haven’t been finalized yet, when should students expect these announcements? 

May: Of course you know, we’ve accurately predicted every step of the COVID pandemic. I’ll repeat some of the stuff you already know then I’ll get into next year. We’re ending our required surveillance testing at the end of the quarter. We will continue having testing available on a voluntary basis through the end of the calendar year. But we haven’t quite figured out where it’s going to be and other logistical stuff yet. But we have at least figured out the budget for it. So, everyone will be able to get a saliva PCR test as you’ve been doing through the end of the calendar year. It just won’t be required every 14 days for the vaccinated people or every four days for the unvaccinated. We do campus planning on a regular basis, and it’s not something we do just for COVID. There’s a lot that can happen between now and then as you’ve seen. It’s been a rollercoaster in terms of new variants, etc. Luckily, it appears that now things are more normal than they’ve ever been, the campus is as normal as it’s ever been. Positivity has been up, but I’m starting to think positivity isn’t the right metric to monitor anymore, it’s hospitalizations and deaths which are down significantly. For vaccinated populations, it’s a four day head cold. It’s not terrible and you get better.

Croughan: The CDC is even going to move from case positivity or, for those who have taken any public health class or learned it through the process of living through the pandemic, incidence rates. Even among hospitalizations they’re distinguishing now someone being in the hospital because they have COVID, or someone who has COVID and is in the hospital. So, every single person walking in gets tested for COVID. Most of them are not there because of COVID. Our dashboard for UC Davis Health has shown that from the beginning, but that hasn’t been the case in most places. We also have always distinguished between if you have COVID, the ICU or general ward. It’s the ICU cases of COVID that are the serious ones. That’s where someone is at risk of being placed on a ventilator or dying from COVID. We have two of those right now, but we had zero for the last two months. We’ve done the calculations for the fall, we don’t know what variants will be in place but the virus is doing the mutations exactly like it’s always done in history: mutate into something that is more likely to be transmitted and less likely to kill the host. Every variant has been doing exactly what we think it’s going to do. As long as we stay on that standard trajectory, fully expect summer and fall to be exactly as it is right now and probably even lower cases, lower hospitalization, lower death rate. That’s not to say that the five million people who’ve died from COVID are insignificant, but we are also still far below the deaths that occured in 1918 which is another thing to keep into account. We do have treatments, we do have antibiotics, ventilators and things that keep people alive most of the time. So, I’m not worried about summer or fall, unless we have a very odd strain. 

Kvigne: We do stay connected to our county public health officials at minimum twice a week. They’ve been great partners with us along the way. We’ll continue to take their advice and recommendations, and if there are changes on the horizon, we get a heads up on what that might look like. We’ll certainly continue to do that. I agree with what the chancellor said wholeheartedly in that case rate is no longer a baseline measure for where we’re at in the pandemic. Our public health officials are indeed saying that and updating data and metrics that reflect that and so are we. I don’t have a timeline yet but our dashboard will be updated so that it reflects the severity of disease as best as we can manage it. Right now that means a link to the CDC page that tracks by county hospitalization rates. So, we’re going to do something with our dashboard that puts that on top because right now at the top of our page is our vaccination rates, which we do very well there, so it’s not very important anymore. That will be something that will be coming soon. 

May: And if we have to, for any reason, ramp up to full testing as we’re doing now, we’ll be able to do that quite easily. It’s just a matter of staffing and other things, but we can do that. And if there’s another booster or vaccine that’s required, the vaccination policy allows us to have another mandate for that. 

When planning new buildings on campus, what considerations does the University make to accommodate students with physical disabilities? Does the University consider building accessibility beyond just meeting baseline ADA requirements?

May: We certainly always meet ADA requirements. It’s much easier to add to new constructions than existing constructions. It’s simpler and less expensive for new buildings. There’s a California building code, which means we meet or exceed federal ADA requirements. All projects get reviewed and signed off on by the state architects for our state-funded projects. There’s campus standards and design guidelines policy manual that exceeds California Building Code and federal ADA requirements for power-assisted doors, restrooms that are accessible and all those sorts of things. There’s a campus accessibility funding committee that provides funding to install power-assisted entry doors to existing buildings. Lately, there has been discussion on neurodivergence and how we design classrooms and laboratories for neurodivergent people. It’s very early in the stages of planning so I don’t know if I could say specifically what will happen as a result of that, but our campus architect and others have been involved in those discussions and are aware of accommodation needs. That will be a part of our thinking as we go forward with new construction. 

Croughan: I’ve been talking to the campus architects about that as well. There’s Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. If you attend you either have to have a hearing impairment or be classified on the spectrum of deafness, and I’m using their terminology. They have designed their buildings so that people can always use sign language and there’s sufficient room for people to be able to sign which means, elevators have to be built a little bit larger than we typically do because you might have multiple people do it. Sidewalks are about [one and a half times] as wide. Those are the things that we’re looking at for new construction as well. Again, it’s challenging to do that in older construction but in the new constructions, making sure we have that capability as well. 

Reguerín: It’s critical that we try to create a welcoming environment for all students, including students with disabilities. To create a welcoming environment, if there are issues or parts of buildings or areas that aren’t accessible, those are things that we definitely want to hear about. We have thousands of buildings on the go-forward basis of new construction that was already discussed but if there are issues or concerns from students at specific locations, we can work with our campus accessibility committee or identify what can be done. That may require moving a program or class, depending on what the situation or the specific context is. We’re happy to follow up on specific concerns that have come up. 

Sweeney: At the risk of giving you too much technical detail, the ADA standards are like a floor. California has elected to adopt even higher standards that we are very pleased to comply with. That is called the California Building Code, which has much higher standards than the ADA. During the process of building something, at the design and approval of the plans, during the construction and before the building is open, there are stages where an ADA expert has to approve moving on to the next stage. It’s very rare for something to get through that process and not meet the highest standards for accessibility. 

When budget cuts are made, how is student feedback gathered and considered? 

Croughan: In terms of students’ roles in budgets generally speaking, it’s actually the faculty that play the largest role other than the administrators of each unit. Where students can come in is in the individual colleges for undergraduates or schools for graduate and professional students. When they do town halls on what the proposed budget is for the next year, that’s one time when students are able to have a voice. Certainly COSAF is on the student fee side of things and that is completely on students’ voice. I will admit, we don’t reach out for students on the entire $6.2 billion budget because not all of it affects students. It probably seems that way to all of you when it comes to teaching or something like experiential learning and so forth, but there’s so much of the university like grounds, utilities, facilities, maintenance and all of that that end up being part of the budget process as well. But, if you have suggestions about what we can do better or differently, I’m definitely open to that. 

This year, many unsettling events have occurred in the U.S. and throughout the world. How does the University view its responsibility to support students during these stressful times? How much of the responsibility is placed on individual instructors, and how does the University advise them to support students? 

May: At the highest level, we have a protocol for if and when we should make university statements. Whenever we do make such a statement, we make sure we list all of the resources available for students that are feeling anxious or stressed. In terms of the individual faculty, we try to remind them to be supportive and to be appropriately accommodating to students. It’s more challenging in some cases than others. 

Kelman: I’m going to sound defensive but I don’t mean to. The overwhelming majority of the faculty, as most of you know, are pretty good about this. It’s just that every now and then, there are one or two people who are much less good about it and it’s awful. I don’t know what to say about that other than it’s terrible and I’ve seen the impact it has on students. It’s very challenging. As the chancellor said, we work very hard to communicate with faculty that students are facing extraordinary stress at the moment for a variety of different reasons. Some predate the pandemic, some independent of the pandemic and some having to do with the pandemic. Most faculty hear that and understand that their students have a lot of need for support right now and are eager to provide that support. Some don’t hear it and why they don’t hear it can be for a variety of different reasons. I’m not asking you to be sympathetic for those members of the faculty that are not doing their job in a way we might want them to, except to say that they’re also under a lot of stress. They’re dealing with a difficult set of circumstances. Their children aren’t in school because of the pandemic, they haven’t seen their parents for a long period of time so their capacity for empathy might be somewhat diminished compared to what it otherwise would be. Again, that’s not a plea to feel sympathy necessarily, but just understand that they’re human too.

Croughan: If I might add, one aspect we learned last week is that summer school enrollments are down about 7-8% this summer so [Kelman] and the team really dug in to look for why. Is it that we have fewer classes offered? Which turned out to be part of it and I think that speaks to the fact that the faculty is just exhausted and burned out. Having a summer off sounds better than what they might be paid to teach a summer school class. It’s an opportunity to have a vacation with their family or friends that they probably haven’t done in at least two years. The other part is that fewer students have failed classes during the pandemic than pre-pandemic. I think that’s pretty interesting that our fail rates are significantly lower than they were pre-pandemic, and I think that speaks to some of the empathy and flexibility that faculty provided. Honestly, there are probably a lot of other things we need to study and learn from this, but it may be that in fact we can turn to the faculty and use that as partial evidence for looking at what we can do looking forward as well. We’ll do a deep dive. 

Reguerín: We’re adding some additional positions both in our counseling area and in other areas through our equity mental health funding. We’ve been putting in some resources into ongoing training support for faculty. Last fall, we did a training that was well-attended for faculty around supporting students in crisis. They too need support and instead of doing it only when it’s requested, we’ll be able to offer regular and ongoing training. It’s going to be more like what’s called mental health first aid. Common information everyone needs to have at a base level. There’s also a CARE educator position to do outreach. There’s a number of investments we’ve made this year that we’re just beginning to roll out in providing support. 

Many students are experiencing distress about the recently leaked decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. What do you view as the Student Health and Counseling Services and the University’s responsibility to support students and ensure access to reproductive healthcare? 

May: It’s the position of the University of California that all of our students should have access to comprehensive, affordable, convenient reproductive healthcare of their choosing. Now, it won’t change no matter what happens with this opinion. [Sweeney] might want to comment on the legalities but California is not a state that is in danger of changing its stance on reproductive rights. The only possible risk is if eventually things go down the road and there’s some new law that prevents abortion, but that’s not where we are now.

Sweeney: I had a conversation with Margaret Trout, executive director of our Student Health and Counseling Services. You have a true champion as the executive director. Whatever it is, she’s going to do the max. 

Reguerín: I know through the Health Education and Promotion they are doing a campaign. We’ve been looking at what kind of communication we want to put out to reaffirm this message to students. We already have comprehensive services through our health center. We’re also going to be adding medication abortion this fall, as compliant with California state law, so that’s not going to change. We’ve been trying to promote the term medication abortion and not medical abortion because people confuse the two. We’re using that term intentionally and those services will launch this fall quarter. We are looking at how we can get this message out there better in terms of reassuring what services are available. There’s no big changes but it’s one additional tool. We already have comprehensive services and referrals set so we don’t think access to abortions has been in any way limited. This is just going to add to it and what’s available.

Does historically low voter turnout (close to 12% of undergraduate students voted in the ASUCD elections this spring) impact the way in which you consider measures and referenda and input from the ASUCD Senate?

May: I would say it this way. We certainly respect and value the input from our student government, ASUCD. But, there are hundreds of student organizations and all of which have student leaders. We look for input from all students across the spectrum. The voter turnout does not impact our desire to be supportive and responsive to student needs.

Since the Cow4Mascot measure passed in the spring ASUCD election, if the alumni association approves the change, will UC Davis change its official mascot? How do you feel about some students’ push to change the mascot? 

May: I met with that group, the Cow4Mascot students, this morning in fact. Let me just say a few things. You’re correct, the Alumni Association is generally not in favor of changing the mascot. Gunrock is the mascot. The same ballot measure we were just discussing, only 12% of the students voted so even though it won by 70-80%, I wouldn’t say that’s a mandate electorally. I do applaud the spirit, enthusiasm and passion students had and all the work they put in to generate those promotional items and thought process. They are coming from a good place, they want to generate more school spirit around that mascot and that’s wonderful. But, it’ll be expensive to do that. We have 290,000 alumni and I’m pretty sure most of them would question that decision. What I encourage the student group to do is to meet with Cal Aggie Alumni Association leadership, with Intercollegiate Athletics leadership and try to come up with a compromise that works for everyone. Maybe we have a secondary symbol or mascot. Many schools have multiple mascots. I came from one at Georgia Tech that has Ramblin’ Wreck and a Yellow Jacket, and it works fine. So maybe we might do something similar here, but I encourage them to work with the people that are stakeholders to come up with a solution.

DeLuca: We’re open to working on some solution where Gunrock is still involved. I think our alumni, fans and donors were actively watching the news articles whenever things came out that Gunrock was on his way out. We did hear about certain people who were worried about what we were doing. I think we’ll be able to strike the right balance without having the entire barnyard on the football field. 

May: By the way, I’m not opposed to the cow. I don’t really have a personal position. I just know when you try to change traditions in institutions like this, alumni have really strong feelings and you have to respect them. 

Students enrolled in spring quarter 2020 received a small refund of up to $7.76 due to the modification to campus services during the pandemic. How did the administration reach this decision? Why were students not refunded for other quarters disrupted by COVID-19?

May: This wasn’t a campus decision, it was a system wide one. I’ll let [Sweeney] answer this question. 

Sweeney: A lot of lawyers got on a Zoom call and argued that some services were not being provided, but students were paying for them. The converse was, actually the services were more expensive under the circumstances. So, you had this massive increase in expenses to deliver services, but students weren’t receiving some services. We argued over it and then, working with the president of the University of California, came up with this plan to go through each program and identify where there was unspent money and where there was not to come up with that number. On a positive note, UC Davis tried hard to adapt to online, but it was very expensive and not all students were able to benefit from that, but it used those fees.

Reguerín: There was an agreement of a process and formula that happened systemwide around unencumbered, unspent campus-based fees. That was applied and there was a third-party accounting firm to validate the results in the review of those fees. Our budget and institutional analysis team went through and worked with all the departments to identify that funding. We could see what was spent in that quarter and what was not. From that, the accounting firm did the validation to confirm the process and how that was done. I convened student leaders from ASUCD, GSA, the law school, COSAF. At the time, we knew there was an approximate amount and so we consulted on what we might do with that money. Overwhelmingly, a number of different student leaders wanted to, rather than give the $7.76 refund, invest it in The Pantry or some kind of service for students that would benefit all students. Based on how the criteria was developed and the process, we were not able to do that so our remaining choice, although it wasn’t really a choice, was to give it back. We also had to make a decision. We thought about going through each student’s account and identify for example, if your fees were paid by the Veterans Administration or through CSAC for a Cal Grant. Some campuses were only giving back to the students if they had actually paid it, so we made a decision here. Also, with the NCAA after they said we can give the students the money back without any challenges or issues. After we cleared up all the issues around that, we gave every student back that refund. It was actually less expensive to give everybody the refund than to go through account by account. I think our process wasn’t what we wanted to see overall and what we heard from student leaders, but it was done through a process that was validated through a third party. 

Sweeney: I will validate that the Student Affairs leadership wanted to give it to The Pantry, but the lawyers intervened and said legally, you can’t do that. 

Reguerín: Even for students who left, if they had already set up direct deposit on their portal, the money went back to them. I think there’s a 180-day rule. Anytime we reimburse money, if there’s a stale check for 180 days we try to find the person. It’s an expensive process to even give the money back but I think we added our UC Davis values to honor the results of the process overall. 

Given that the 2022 UN Climate Report suggests that global emissions need to be cut in half by the end of the decade, how is UC Davis prioritizing this goal and preparing to adapt this campus and its operations for a warmer, drier future? 

May: In higher education, UC Davis is a national and probably global leader in sustainability. We won the Green metric, number one in North America for the sixth straight year this year. That includes everything relating to carbon neutrality. The Big Shift, as you all have seen, is a $50 million project to change from steam to water heating, which will have many benefits. We had a 40% reduction in business operations relating to greenhouse gas emissions since 2007. We’re using less energy today than we were 20 years ago even though we’ve added 4.4 million square feet in business space and 11,600 students over that same timeframe. We have the nation’s largest solar installation around the university campus and I recently formed a campus advisory committee on sustainability in response to the Fossil Free UC movement and I will get a briefing on their current activities next week at my chancellor’s leadership council meeting. One of the things I asked that committee to do is could we realistically be fossil free by 2030 and how much would it cost. I’m not one to say let’s set arbitrary goals like we will be fossil free by 2030. For one, there’s nothing magical about 2030, it’s just a year with a zero at the end. It could be 2029 or 2031 that we could do it. But, the committee is charged with evaluating all of that and reporting it. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done. [Regarding] the UN’s sustainability goals, we were the second campus to have a comprehensive review. 

Tull: That particular report is called the VUR, the Voluntary University Review. One of the nice things about that is that UC Davis has been recognized not only in the U.S., but around the world. I was actually online at a UN conference and there were researchers from Spain and Italy who were talking about what UC Davis was doing in that regard. I think we can be really proud of our university. 

Reguerín: The Green is a net-zero energy housing community and adding 3,300 beds and having it be net zero is very impressive, and we’re really proud of that. 

As you are all aware, an assistant water polo coach was arrested last Thursday by the FBI. When can students expect the results of the investigation into the coach’s activities to become public and will the university be taking further action beyond this investigation?

May: Most of what I would say was in our statement; I hope you had a chance to read it. We can’t really comment on personnel matters anyways as we’ve said in the past. Mr. Noble has been terminated. The FBI investigation continues, and we’ll cooperate with that investigation. 

Sweeney: Chancellor May and Chief Compliance Officer Wendi Delmendo have appointed an outside investigator to review his activities and determine if anyone in our community was harmed by this behavior. Chancellor May is completely committed to transparency of these reports. They will be posted on the UC Davis website to the fullest extent that the law provides. I don’t want to pigeonhole them into a timeframe because I want them to do what they think is necessary and have complete access to everything they feel is necessary. I can assure you that they started on [May 20] and they are on it. I don’t know if it’s going to be a week or a month, but they’re committed to expediting this and I know Dana is going to post the report as we receive it. Hopefully no one was harmed, but there’s a possibility that individuals were and we care very much about that. 

DeLuca: We’ll continue to work with [Sweeney’s] office and law enforcement. I met personally with the water polo team on Friday before the news was public and we’re just trying to provide the support we can because we don’t know what we don’t know yet so let’s see how it plays out.

Given the recent spike in student-athlete suicides across universities, there has been a greater discussion about student-athlete mental health. Is UC Davis Athletics planning on further supporting student-athletes and ensuring they are encouraged to prioritize their mental health? 

DeLuca: That’s been a big focus for everyone and they have provided an opportunity for us to try and destigmatize mental health and make sure it’s something we talk about and continue to talk about. Tegan Adams, our psychologist for ICA, has been very active this spring quarter. We’ve had her meet individually with teams and I’ve also sent out emails directly to student athletes, encouraging them and making sure they’re mindful about their mental health. Our student-athlete group that’s focused on mental health awareness among our student-athlete population just had an event last Friday where they were trying to support each other. Again, as we head into the final quarter, we want to make sure that there’s support there. Jennifer Chow and her team through OSSJA also do a really nice job with their case managers providing support for student-athletes when it reaches that level. We recognized [Chow] and her team as our external teammates of the month this month just because they’ve done a great job supporting the student-athletes. It is something that I don’t know if it’s something we can ever do enough, but we can continue to lean in as much as we can in supporting them.

May: I wanted to tell your readers that [May] is Mental Health Awareness Month and we have this RELATE hotline you can text RELATE to 741-741. It applies to everybody, not just student-athletes. 


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