May and administrators discuss ChatGPT, Turning Point USA, expanding mental health resources and more
The California Aggie’s Editorial Board met with Chancellor Gary May, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Croughan, Associate Chancellor and Chief of Staff Karl Engelbach, Vice Chancellor for Finance, Operations and Administration Clare Shinnerl, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Dana Topousis, Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost Ari Kelman, Director of Athletics Rocco De Luca, Chief Campus Counsel Mike Sweeney and Chief of Staff to the Division of Student Affairs Lindsay Romasanta.
Below is a transcript of the March 17 meeting that has been edited for length and clarity.
Question: With the increased prevalence of generative AI programs like ChatGPT, is the university developing a way to prevent or regulate students’ use of these programs?
May: So I’ll start and I’m sure that [Croughan] and [Kelman] will also have comments. So we are aware of the fact [and we are] talking about ways to help students understand how these chatbots and content generators can be used in their academic work. I actually applaud that approach. We can’t hide from these or run from these — they’re here. People are going to use them; we should figure out how to use them in a constructive way for the educational process, as opposed to worrying too much about academic misconduct and that sort of thing. You have to be worried about that, but that shouldn’t be our prime driver in thinking about how to use these things. We had a meeting of our leadership team, the Chancellor Leadership Council, where we discussed this with the Academic Senate and we’re thinking about, you know, perhaps a working group or something like that, to think more broadly and deeply about the future of how we deliver education within this universe. Another aspect that we need to think about is admissions. You know, writing essays and statements of purpose and things like that is no longer the same as it was, right, and how to make sure that we’re admitting students in a proper way given the ability of these tools to do these things.
Croughan: Now just one thing I saw that actually was probably the most convincing aspect of an investigation into what happens with these was that ‘Chronicle of Higher Education,’ which most of us in leadership get every morning, had an article written by their chatbot and you read the article, [it] totally made sense. It was on sleep deprivation and health and encouraging people to get more hours of sleep per night. It gave data, nicely written, grammatically correct, all that. And then they analyzed it, and of the two studies, one was incorrectly cited, one was cited with an author who had nothing to do with either of the research projects, there was no link between the research that they cited and what the recommendations actually were at the end of the article. I’m like, okay, so this is a nice way to clean up the writing when you’ve actually done all the research and the background, but it’s not a way to develop something from scratch. And when I’ve talked to students and faculty about it, they’re like, “You know, for students to be able to learn like the standards for a resume or a letter of introduction or something like that it helps with the formatting but [you shouldn’t] believe the content necessarily.” So I think as we talk about teaching about it in our classrooms — what works [and] what doesn’t — I think that’s going to be important, especially around professional development, career progression. But we’ve got to be careful that people don’t trust the information there because the research is showing that a lot of mistakes get made, it’s not perfect, it’s far from it. So what I hate to see is our students rely on it. You’re not going to do very well. Whether or not you get caught is not the issue, it’s that the actual content will not be strong enough.
Kelman: I’m teaching this quarter, a pretty large upper-division history class that has two writing assignments, and we ran both of them through ChatGPT just to see what kind of answers we would get to the prompts. And just building on what both [May] and [Croughan] have said, what you’re going to get will depend to a very great extent on the question that’s asked. The answers that we got to the questions that we had were garbage. And because we asked questions that are rooted in very, very specific historical texts, ChatGPT doesn’t know anything about these texts because they’re a little bit off the beaten path. As [Croughan] said they were grammatically [correct], I mean it was very interesting to read the answers because it appeared that they had been written by someone who was well versed in the English language but knew absolutely nothing about the material, and so I think, again, there are a variety of different ways of thinking about this — some are ethical, some are pedagogical. I will say that I’m considerably less concerned about the faculty side of this than I am about the student side. I think that students need to be very, very cautious about what these programs can and cannot produce for them. And that’s the message that I think is most important really.
Q: Students are struggling to find affordable housing, with some students even camping out overnight in an attempt to secure a place to live. How is UC Davis addressing housing insecurity on campus and in downtown Davis? Does the university have plans to make changes to campus housing to make it more accessible to low- and middle-income students?
May: I’ll start by saying, we’re in the midst of our biggest housing construction initiative in the history of the university. We’re in the phase of Orchard Park being finished sometime this summer. We’ve spent more than half a billion dollars to build more housing, and when that project is finished, we’ll be able to house 40% of the student body. This was about 15,000 beds that were added over that period of time (since we started in 2017-2018). We are well aware of the affordability issue. We have a need-based rent subsidy program that’s available for students with demonstrated financial need. We have rapid rehousing through the Basic Needs Center, and that program has 20 beds for students that are experiencing being unhoused or at imminent risk of being unhoused. In 2023, more beds are going to be added to that program to help these students that are having those experiences. And residents in The Green have eligibility for apartments that are available for them as well with their financial aid package. So we’re trying to address this problem the best way we can.
Romasanta: Definitely understand the concerns. We want you to know that it’s top priority. I know that from a student’s perspective, “Wow, like this is really expensive,” but a lot of our properties, in fact most of them, are significantly below market rate — anywhere from 8-55% below. So I understand that from the student’s perspective, like the sticker shock is really high. But if you were to go out to market and look at other things in Davis, what we have on campus is actually still the most affordable option for students. The other piece that I think sometimes students may not always know is we have partnerships with some of these properties that actually provide funding directly to financial aid. So for example, like $250,000 goes directly to financial aid so that students can get access to other things that help them with educational attainment and UC Davis’s efforts around housing, rapid rehousing, the things that Chancellor May was talking about, is actually often cited in the system as one of the best model practices on campus. So it’s top priority. We’re always looking at how we can build more so that affordability is attained. And in the fall, the new developments [will be] coming online, [and] we’ll be able to reach that significantly more. But we understand that and will continue to work on it.
Shinnerl: I’ll also add that we have submitted a proposal through the UC Office of the President who is submitting that proposal to the state. The state sometimes has money and they have received our proposal and we hope to get some funding at some point. Because obviously if we can get either a low-cost interest loan or a grant from the state, it lowers our construction costs and that turns into lower rents for you. So that’s all in the works.
Q: Food insecurity has been a long-standing issue for many. With student initiatives like the ASUCD Pantry being used by 1,000+ students weekly, how is the university supporting and expanding options like The Pantry for students?
May: So we opened the Aggie Compass in 2018 after a study by a task force I initiated, and since then, we have been able to make a serious dent in this food insecurity problem. We have not solved it, but we have made quite a bit of progress. One thing that’s going to happen next month is that a new food truck will be available for students at whatever [price] they can pay.
Romasanta: It’s a really innovative concept. So it’s called ‘Aggie Eats,’ which is a name that actually students chose, and the idea is that there’d be a [appointed] system in which you could place an order. And there’s been a lot of thought around it where this pay-as-you-can food truck will actually go to places on campus that might be considered food deserts. So if you think about places where you’re like, “Gosh, I’m really hungry, but I have to walk really far.” I thought a lot about this, and it’s a really innovative concept. So that will launch a couple of weeks into spring quarter, but the official celebration will be April 19.
Q: The administration has been under fire for letting TPUSA return to campus. Why was another event permitted to take place? How is the university making sure marginalized students are being heard in their complaints against the organization?
May: The university is not letting speakers [speak on campus], the speakers are invited by registered organizations and the university follows our policy and the UC policy and the Constitution with respect to free speech, to give the speakers a forum. And that’s what was done in this instance, as has been done in every other instance. Believe me, I looked for every loophole we could possibly find to prevent this from happening. No one wanted this to happen less than me. As you can probably see from events that have followed since then, we felt that we had an obligation to uphold free speech, and we did so. I understand students’ concerns, but I think we addressed some of those concerns in some video messages that I’ve put out. I understand they’re ongoing concerns, but free speech means you listen to people that you don’t agree with. Or don’t listen to them, but they have the right to say what they want to say. And I don’t think any of you wants me to be deciding who gets to talk and who doesn’t. Because a future [chancellor] may not let somebody like us, who is more progressive, give a speech, as opposed to a conservative.
Q: Are there policies in place to require that groups allowed to become and remain Registered Student Organizations [RSOs] uphold the UC Davis Principles of Community?
May: So we should remember the Principles of Community are aspirational, and they’re not policy. But we do try to make policy that is consistent with the Principles of Community with respect to Registered Student Organizations. There is a process for that, [and] that process gets examined from time to time. We probably will have it examined again now. If I’m being honest, I’ll tell you that this particular student organization has a very small number of students. I’m not sure that we want to let an organization with three or four students invite a speaker of this sort to campus. I sort of think [RSOs] should have faculty advisors as well, something we will look at. But as the policy stands, we’re not going to make policy for particular speakers, we’re going to make consistent policy for all of our events and activities.
Q: So are there any plans to change policies surrounding RSOs?
May: We’ll examine them. Changes may happen; I can’t predict whether changes will happen or not.
Q: Can offensive language, even if not necessarily hate speech or not directly encouraging violence, ever be considered an act of violence?
May: There’s a line, right? You can say things, but you can’t incite violence. You can’t yell fire in a crowded room if there’s no fire. So words can be restricted, but that restriction does not apply to things that people find offensive, such as “hate speech,” which is not really a legal term. So hate speech is protected.
Sweeney: I think [May] and all of us feel that hateful words can feel like violence. They can have a devastating emotional impact on people. And I know [May] feels very strongly about that. And I think he’s been the victim of hateful words and he can probably speak to that.
May: Since Tuesday, I’ve received many, many phone calls, emails, texts, social media comments. I’ve been called everything from a liar to the N-word. I’ve been threatened, my faith has been questioned. So there’s been a real set of repercussions for the events of Tuesday that I have felt personally, but I think [Topousis] said it this morning that I hadn’t thought about, but maybe making me the target deflected some of the higher-ups in this group of people away from our trans and other marginalized community groups and toward me, which I’ll take that bullet for them.
Q: Please correct me if I misunderstood your response, but when you’re talking about hate speech, you seem to specify that we can’t regulate something like that on campus, we can’t identify that, so is there a line where the university would step in and say, “Okay no, this is an example of hate speech,” or can people, if they’re a club, say whatever they want?
Sweeney: As [May] said, hate speech is […] actually protected by the First Amendment. So the university, as a public university, cannot regulate hate speech. We can’t regulate civility. But there will be a point where that hate speech may cross the line and be an incitement of violence. This is what [May] referred to. It’s a pretty high standard. I won’t get into that right now because it would take up the rest of the hour, but pure incitement of violence can cross the line to become unlawful but you know, hate speech as we know it is actually protected speech under the First Amendment. And students and others cannot be disciplined or arrested for hate speech itself.
Kelman: So I was at the event. I was also at, I don’t know how many meetings, planning for the event in advance. It was dozens of meetings where various parts of the campus community discussed how we were going to deal with this and coordinated. [May] encouraged us in those meetings to disagree with one another so that we would understand that there were a number of different viewpoints, even among campus leadership, [and] that it was important for those viewpoints to be heard. It was extraordinarily unpleasant to be at the event and to listen to some of what the speaker had to say. I want to reiterate something that [May] noted earlier that perhaps didn’t land in the way that it might have. We follow the law for a variety of different reasons, in part because we are bound to, but also because process matters. We have a chancellor right now who believes in freedom of expression. And I won’t get into his personal politics; they’re actually not even my business, but he’s generally fairly progressive. In fact, I think almost always fairly progressive. We have no idea who a chancellor will be 10 years from now or 20 years from now. If we establish a precedent where a chancellor has what amounts to a veto or can act in opposition to the law, and we allow that, we open ourselves up to all kinds of abuse. When I served as the Interim Dean of the College of Letters and Science, I regularly had faculty who would come to me and who would say, “I have a student in one of my classes who’s wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat,” for example. “I find this disruptive, I find it upsetting. Other students in the class find it upsetting.” I would say to them, “I do too,” and yet, it is the very definition of protected political speech. I would never want our campus counsel telling you [what you can and can’t wear], I would never want a chancellor telling you that. That’s how important these principles are, and they have to guide our decisions. Whether it’s the chancellor or members of our community, people at this table, feeling extraordinarily vulnerable, even like they’ve been attacked, what we have to do is come together as a community in those moments. We have to reaffirm how much we care about one another. We have to make sure that everyone knows that this is a community that is very, very tightly bound together and that we can’t be divided even by speech that we find repugnant.
Q: This spring, the university will host commencement at the Golden 1 Center for the first time. How is the university preparing for this new graduation format? Also, there have been concerns surrounding the small chance that the Kings might play at the center on that Sunday. What will the university do in this case?
May: Let me just, for the record say, I’m a Kings fan. I root for the Kings, the owner is on our advisory board, but generally speaking, I don’t make predictions, but generally speaking, a team that has not been to the playoffs in a long time does not end up in the finals the first year after that long hiatus from the playoffs. So even though I’m pulling for them, I think the law of averages or the probability is probably low that this happens. Nevertheless, we have a contingency plan.
Engelbach: So in terms of planning for the spring commencement ceremonies in 2023, the chancellor formed an advisory committee that includes five students, three ASUCD members, including the two Chancellor’s undergraduate student advisors. One of the first tasks we undertook was to do a survey of graduating students to get their opinions and preferences back about what the commencement ceremony should look like this time. The majority of the students opted for us to move to Sacramento so they could get more tickets for their family and guests to attend the ceremony. So that’s why we’re going to the Golden 1 Center. Students also gave us feedback that they would prefer to select their own ceremony that they participate in rather than joining their own fellow majors. So we gave students the opportunity to select which of the ceremonies they wish to participate in. There is a very small chance, as you just indicated, that game seven of the NBA Finals would fall on the Saturday of the commencement ceremony. Saturday. We don’t think that’s a high likelihood of occurring, that the Kings would be there.
May: It also has to be the home team.
Engelbach: So frankly, our colleagues at Sac State probably have a bigger issue. Because their ceremonies are in May during the playoffs still, but fortunately, that’s not our problem right now. We have put together a contingency plan — we would come back to campus to hold ceremonies. We’d have far more ceremonies than we’ll have at the Golden 1 Center. We will hold the ceremonies here on campus if we have to, but we’re really hoping that this new model that we’re putting together with our students will work. Thanks to help from students, we’ve identified faculty speakers, we’re going to have a faculty speaker for each of the ceremonies, a student speaker, which that process is underway currently, and we’re looking for external speakers right now. So we’re hoping for a celebratory event for all of our graduates.
Q: And would that be at the University Credit Union?
Engelbach: It would be. That’s the only place on campus large enough to accommodate [the event].
May: We wouldn’t try outside again if that’s what you’re worried about.
Q: Would it be the same day?
Engelbach: It would be over several days. That same weekend and probably starting maybe even earlier than the weekend and extending maybe to the day after the weekend.
Q: ASUCD has struggled with low voter turnout in recent years, which has made it challenging for initiatives like TGIF that require a minimum voter turnout threshold to pass. If TGIF does not pass in the spring, does the university have plans to fund it through a different method?
May: We were just actually fresh from our meeting with ASUCD leadership right before this. In 2016, there was a referendum for TGIF that passed with 61% of the vote and a turnout of almost 22%. It passes the campus basic fee which are fees that are levied at individual campuses in the system and paid by all students to whom the fee applies. Since the pandemic, as you noted, ASUCD has struggled to have turnout at elections, at the polls. We were talking with them in this last meeting about some of the things they plan in terms of more physical presence, more kiosks, more QR codes that they can put around campus for students to vote. In fact, [Croughan] volunteered that maybe we can put these in lecture halls for big lectures. So we hope that they’ll have better outcomes with respect to turnout. They’re going to extend the number of voting days from three days to five or seven. I’m not sure what the final number will be. We’ll be as helpful as we can be. I’ve done videos for ASUCD in the past to try to stimulate voter turnout. Some might say that maybe didn’t help, but we’ll try to do as best we can and be helpful.
Q: If TGIF shouldn’t pass, will the administration then be supporting the operations that TGIF would have?
May: So we consider ourselves a leader in sustainability and will continue to be. If it does not pass, we would probably find ways to be collaborative with ASUCD on that score. I don’t want to speak for ASUCD, but maybe [Romasanta] can comment on this. There are funds available […] that could address this issue. But I don’t make that decision, they make that decision.
Q: The Monterey Park shooting on Lunar New Year was especially disheartening to the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Aside from mental health resources, how does the university plan to protect and provide support to minority communities like the AAPI community that feel targeted by acts of gun violence?
May: We always try to make a statement following such events. You’ve probably seen our statements that we provide resources for students to access for mental health and other reasons. Numerous services are available through Student Health and Counseling Services, the Cross Cultural Center and others that cover wellness in various forms. You know, these incidents are distressing to us all, not just a particular community affected directly, and we try to be vigilant around our own communities within the bounds of the campus. We try to look at our preparedness for such events to make sure that we can prevent to the extent possible these things from happening here on the Davis campus as well as our Sacramento campus. There are regular active shooter drills and training that the police department runs. The WarnMe system on your phone that has notifications for emergencies. There’s all sorts of things happening to try to address this issue.
Q: Often, in statements the university releases following tragedies, you direct people to mental health resources on campus — which is a great pathway — but many have struggled to make appointments with these counselors due to extremely limited availability and a limited scope of services. Does the university have any plans to expand the number of providers or services in general?
May: We already have provided resources to hire an additional 12 counselors or therapists. The problem is not the funding. The problem is finding the people that can do it, as [they’re] a really scarce resource; particularly to find therapists and counselors who reflect the student body in terms of ethnicity and background. Those are just hard people to find. And I’ll also add that at a public university, the salaries we can offer often struggle to be competitive with what they can achieve in a private market. But we’ve made some resources available, and we’re just trying to find the people. There’s been several searches that have not been as successful as we would like. Now, in addition to the face-to-face in-person counseling, we do have telemental health services available and we’re trying to think about better ways, other ways, more creative ways to make those services, as well.
Croughan: We try to be creative. Also, we have a psychiatric nurse practitioner program that’s joint between UC Davis and UC San Francisco (UCSF). We’ve actually done better than UCSF has at recruiting students into that program. So we’re going to become the central hub for it next year. And working with the dean, they took us up on [our plan] to have a required internship placement for all those nurse practitioners with our Student Health and Counseling Services. So that will be a whole group of people with psychiatric backgrounds as nurse practitioners who essentially make some equivalent to anybody who’s a licensed psychotherapist. So they will start rotating through, and our hope is once they’re there, they will learn that they enjoy doing that work and be more likely to be some of the people we can hire into those roles as well. And it’s not just Davis; every single meeting I go to in higher education everybody’s like, “Does anyone have any ideas? Can we get more people to go into this field?” As [May] said, one issue is the salary, but it turns out, I was on this panel, and one of three speakers addressing this a couple months ago [said] that the highest rate of burnout of anybody within the counseling field is higher-education counseling, because it takes more time and energy and according to the surveys of people doing it, you’re talking to and working with younger people and people find it really challenging and discouraging to see whether or not they can actually make a difference for somebody. Not just the resources available, but somebody in their 20s or early 30s facing some of these mental health issues, can you actually get them the services they need? And they look at that as they’re going to have to deal with this for the rest of their life, and it’s apparently discouraging to counselors, so they last like 12 to 18 months at a very high burnout rate. And that doesn’t help in recruitment or retention. I wasn’t aware of that until research started being done because every university is faced with these same challenges.
Shinnerl: The good news is that our fire department, Station 34, is launching “Health 34” in the fall quarter to support behavioral health. And so their goal is to really help students navigate behavioral health resources as a support system. So there’s a nurse navigator who’s here already hired and being trained along with support staff. So you’ll see that available this fall. It’s really the first in the UC system, one of the very first in the country.
Q: Alarming news of the firing of a UC Davis chemistry professor for sexually assaulting a high school student over 10 years ago broke this quarter. What has the administration changed or plan to change to ensure the safety of all students in academic settings and prevent cases like this from happening again?
May: Yeah, it was alarming. Just to be clear, the student was not a UC Davis student when the behavior occurred. She was in high school and was a part of a research summer program or something when the professor initially met the student. We have a full detailed accounting of what happened in the case available online. I don’t believe we’ve had a dismissal, maybe over 50 years ago was the last time it happened, long before our time, [of a tenured professor]. Anyway, at the end of the case, I requested an external review of our procedures internally for youth programs, so we make sure that we’re aware of gaps in our background checks etc. for people who participate in these programs, and that review is ongoing. I don’t have a report yet but we will make sure that we minimize the possibility of this happening. The unfortunate victim here did not report the case until long after it happened. She was, I believe, a student at sister campus, Santa Barbara, and when we found out about it is when we initiated our internal investigation, a Title IX investigation, followed by the privilege and tenure committee of the Senate hearing with the faculty member with respect to dismissal. The dismissal of a faculty member with tenure has to be approved by the regents. So we eventually went to the regents and we had a hearing before the regents with the faculty member and his attorney and myself and our attorney all present to finish up the case and fortunately the regents sided with me and dismissed that faculty member.
Q: Earlier this quarter, a student organization associated with PETA staged a protest on campus calling for the shutdown of the California Primate Research Center. Recently, PETA also ran an ad in The Aggie calling for the same. Is the university planning to keep this facility open? Why or why not?
May: So this is a really timely and complicated issue as well. Animal research that we do benefits human health and also benefits animal health. Our center is a resource that’s used nationwide by other universities and other organizations that are involved in human and animal health. It’s dedicated to discovering causes, prevention, treatments and cures of various diseases. As an example, the drug Remdesivir that was used for COVID cases was initially a cat medication. So just saying that to illustrate the work that we do for and with animals. It’s often critical to what we do to benefit human health. But anyway, our center is strictly regulated by federal law and receives regular reviews of its procedures. In fact, they just had one a month or two ago.
Croughan: We just underwent the re-verification process which took over a year.
May: And came through with flying colors in terms of following all the procedures to be as humane as possible, and treatment of the animals. And we have dedicated staff that tries to ensure that happens, and takes the best possible care of the animals that are in [our] charge. I say all that knowing that some people still don’t think animal research should be done and accept that there’ll be differences of opinion, but we have no current plans to close or restrict the center.
Q: What is the progress on Yolo County, UC Davis and the city of Davis’s Hate-Free Together campaign? Can you describe the scheduled workshops that were to be held early this year to gauge community needs?
May: First, I will mention that websites are up for Hate-Free Together on our [own] as well as [the] Yolo County and city of Davis websites to give you more information. The workshop planning is underway and funding of such is also going to be identified. They’re going to be workshops for our faith-based communities and also for college students, K-12 students, parents, seniors, non-English speakers, nonprofits, etc. And various cultures will be focused on in these workshops.
Engelbach: The city, the county and Davis campus staff are working together to create the programming. Each of us has brought our own ideas to the table and we’re trying to work together to figure out the most efficient way to launch the initiative that’s as inclusive as possible. In addition, each of the entities are attempting to identify resources that help support the effort.
May: And I think on the websites, there’s a link on the UC Davis leadership page that you can go directly inside to see what’s the latest.
Q: Lecturers filed an unfair labor claim in January in response to being asked to grade fall quarter work during the winter quarter as a result of the UAW strike. How has the university been working with lecturers to ensure that they do not have to work without compensation to make up for time lost due to the strike? What does the university plan to do for students whose grades were not input by the Feb. 13 grade deadline?
May: [Croughan] already might have other information but I’m not aware of any grievances on our campus from those lecturers. And I know some have happened at other campuses at the end of the quarter, a lot of grading still had to be done. And so we made some funding available to hire or rehire people just to do that grading. All but a very tiny handful of grades were submitted by the deadline, maybe all of them were sent by the deadline. So we’re happy about that. And kudos to our Academic Senate members and the people that were hired to be readers and graders.
Kelman: I mean, as [May] said, [Croughan] directed during the work stoppage that we should make funds available to support instructors of record, who were not going to have the grading support that they were used to and that they deserve and that frankly, they need, to be able to deliver the curriculum appropriately so that all of you and your peers have good experiences in your classes. As a consequence of that, the overwhelming share of the grading was done honestly, before the end of the quarter. We did have some people who did not have their grading done. I could give you the exact numbers if you want but it was a very small number. As [May] said they, all the three of them, have their grading in by the Feb. 13 deadline that [Croughan]sent out. That deadline was determined because it provided the instructors of record the amount of time that the work stoppage took, so in other words, the amount of time that they might have lost during the work stoppage. Again, it was a very, very, very small number who did not hit the deadline and all of them hit it by the end of that week. So we got grades in and I won’t speak for [Croughan]. I’ll just say we’re very, very sorry for students who didn’t get their grades in by the end of the fall quarter. It was very, very frustrating, we recognize that. But we did everything we could to first of all comply with the fact that this was a legal strike, it was a legal work stoppage. And to make sure that people were not being asked to work outside of their contract, we were compensating them additionally.
Croughan: If I can just add to it too, unfortunately, because of the strike there were TAs who canceled office hours and some faculty did as well. You guys were going into finals when that really became a pretty acute crisis. So there were students who wrote directly to us and said, “Look, I can’t get any help. I don’t have my midterm back and am going into finals. I have no idea if I know this material or how I’m doing right now.” And we would directly work with that student to get help for them, quite honestly. We also had those rare circumstances where grades hadn’t been entered and they were usually entered in as an NG which means no grade. Faculty would put that in as a placeholder holder and that’s different than an incomplete. To issue an incomplete,a faculty member has to have actually met with the student. You agree upon a contract effectively of, “I will get this work done by date X,” and then when you’ve submitted it, the grade gets changed to a new grade. It might be lower because it didn’t happen during the quarter, but depending upon the reason, it might be the same grade it would have been. But we did have some students who were applying for medical school, law school, fellowships, scholarships where they really needed grades by December 30 or January 1 or 2. And if they reached out on that, or the faculty knew, they just literally went in and graded that for that student, even if they didn’t have everybody else done. Last, our emeriti faculty stepped in, so this is our retired faculty, and they said they would volunteer to help. They said, “If faculty need more help with grading, I’m happy to step up.”” We also had faculty who did all their own grading, [Kelman] being one of these who did all of his own grading and then turned around and helped other faculty grade their materials. So I don’t mean to be pollyannaish about it, but it was yet another time where this Davis community stepped up and really helped each other and I was really proud of that.
Q: The academic advising departments in many majors and colleges seem to be understaffed or overbooked, especially around course registration times. Is the university taking any steps to ensure that students are able to see academic advisors when they need to?
Croughan: So I’d already made a commitment that we would increase the number of advisors on campus, we will do that going forward. But simultaneously, we’ve launched a Student Success and Equitable Outcomes task force to really dive in and look at the data of where are the problems? Is it the number of advisors? Is that the only issue? Is it the resources they have, like the software that turns out to be problematic? I didn’t understand personally that the software was such a bad thing until one of the advisors who graduated six years ago pulled up her own MyDegree and showed me that she was still two classes shy of graduation even though she graduated and the registrar shows she has graduated. So we’ve launched multiple aspects; one will be the next three to five years developing new student information systems. There’s literally about two dozen systems that need to be fixed and need to be integrated, and then hiring the additional advisors and then the third component which the task force will really work on is how do we do better quality control and professional development for all of our advisors. And part of [improving advising services] will be with our central advising program that sits in the Office of Undergraduate Education and having every advisor on campus have a dotted-line reporting relationship there so that we have standards, professional development and opportunities for them to grow and improve with onboarding and ongoing training. So it’ll be multifaceted. Just hiring more people is part of it, but it’s not going to actually solve all the issues.
Q: So for seniors in their last heading into the last quarter at UC Davis, do you have any advice for avoiding burnout while applying for jobs and finishing your final courses?
May: I would say, have confidence that UC Davis has prepared you for your career. I would just say kind of relax and don’t stress out about it. Do all the interviewing and filling out the applications, etc. But don’t stress out feeling like you’re not going to be able to get a job or get the career you want. You will in time. It may not be immediately. We do have our Aggie Launch program that’s been ongoing for a couple years now to help people start thinking about that earlier than the quarter they’re graduating. But I think I just want you to feel very confident that you’ve had great preparation and will get the career that you want.
Croughan: I would say take every advantage, as [May] said, of our Internship and Career Center. That can help with developing resumes, finding internship programs. Honestly, you know, you don’t want to get caught in that cycle of “you don’t have experience so you can’t get a job but if you can’t get a job, you don’t have experience.” Internships are one of the great ways to take care of that. They really are seen by employers as an employee situation and it often gives you insights into what you’d want to do and importantly, what you don’t want to do and gives you some of that work experience. There are a lot of employers who hire their interns because it kind of gave them a chance to check you out. And oftentimes they don’t hire anybody that didn’t intern with them. And Davis has a long history of placing students in internships, and employers at our Career Fairs and really appreciate coming and learning about our students and who wants to work for them.