86.2 F

Davis, California

Thursday, July 18, 2024

The Editorial Board meets with Chancellor Gary May, UC Davis administrators

May and administrators discuss Leidos involvement, campus safety measures, an academic advising overhaul 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 Student Affairs Pablo Reguerin, Vice Chancellor for Finance, Operations and Administration Clare Shinnerl, Vice Chancellor of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Renetta Garrison Tull, Chief Marketing and Communications Dana Topousis, Chief Campus Counsel Mike Sweeney, Associate Athletics Director Heather Hunter and Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost Ari Kelman.

Below is a transcript of the Nov. 21 meeting that has been edited for length and clarity, and some of the questions have been reordered for the sake of readers’ ease in navigating the meeting content. Where questions have been moved, we have noted the change.


Q: Last month, a UC Davis faculty member shared a post on X that directly addressed “zionist journalists,” stating that they “have houses [with] addresses” and “kids in school,” seemingly intended to come off as threatening. The university has since put out a statement condemning the post and stating that the review process for instances like these is confidential. What do you consider to be the university’s responsibility towards students and other UC Davis community members who may feel triggered or threatened by this incident?

May: Yeah, great question. As you know, I strongly condemned the poster’s public statement after it was posted, after I became aware of it, just as I would with any similar hateful, revolting comments that are really antithetical to our values here at UC Davis. My responsibility is to provide an environment where everybody feels comfortable and safe and can succeed. So in a situation like this, where the faculty Code of Conduct may have been violated, we review the matter, and the provost then refers the matter to the appropriate campus offices that investigate harassment and discrimination in faculty conduct. We don’t comment on specific personnel matters, generally, as they are confidential; they’re privacy matters. We recognize these comments impact members of the community, though. We have robust resources in place to support those members of the community, including students, faculty and staff, with a holistic system that addresses mental health and cultural experience and more.

Reguerin: Also, a big part of being responsive was being able to respond to the various increases in concerns that were expressed. The Provost’s Office took the lead, and there were a lot of different constituent groups. But in terms of students and parents and making sure they feel safe, we followed up beyond the Provost’s Office with individual students through our student support team, as well as with parents.

Q: Just to follow up, you said that you don’t comment on matters like this because they’re confidential — is there going to be a time when we can expect updates on the status of the complaints? 

May: No, unfortunately, the whole process is confidential so I can’t discuss details. We do follow the system-wide policies for faculty conduct, and there are very specific procedures that are available that we can refer you to if you’d like to see them. 

Sweeney: Yeah, so just like for students, for employees the law explicitly prohibits us from discussing personnel matters. While the Chancellor prefers transparency, the law in this case does not allow for that transparency, unfortunately, and so it’s not satisfying, but we need to comply with the law in this area.

Q: Recently, events related to the Israel-Palestine conflict have generated a reaction from students on campus in the forms of rallies, protests, walkouts, vigils and more. What role does the university play in creating a safe environment for students to express their often conflicting views on these matters? 

May: First, we recognize the community wants to express their perspectives, including some very strong and divergent viewpoints. And it’s not just the students, it’s the entire community; faculty and staff are in that boat as well. While there have been some incidents of what I would call disrespectful behavior, at least at this point, the reactions have not been violent. I know that many people are really deeply personally impacted by these events. In fact, we met with a group of [Davis] Faculty for Israel and some of the [members of] Aggies for Israel this morning and talked about these issues. I’m appreciative of how our campus community members are generally embracing the principles of community until [the events on Nov. 17]. Our Student Affairs team works really closely with the student groups that are hosting the events to make sure people understand the principles of free speech and responsible speech [to host] events in constructive ways to deal with dissent and disruption. Our Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Program (HDAP) is working with anyone who has filed a complaint and we encourage people to report any incidents they feel are inappropriate, where they feel like they’ve experienced pain or discrimination.

Q: Does the university have the obligation to step in and regulate these events at a certain point? If so, when would that be?

May: Our first obligation is to support a free and open environment — a non-violent environment for speech on campus. If safety becomes a risk, we of course will respond and are prepared to respond. If policies are violated, we will respond. So we monitor all of these events very closely to ensure that safety is recognized and paramount. The Student Affairs team works really closely to monitor the groups that are having the events and campus police and others help us to create open lines of communication before and after and during the various events.

Q: Recently, Davis police reported antisemitic graffiti near Highway 113. The city of Davis, as well as the campus, have a history of antisemitic incidents according to many Jewish communities. As tensions on campus rise in correspondence with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what action is the administration taking to prevent antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents on campus in the future? 

May: I’ve made many statements about this and said over and over again, and I’ll keep saying it, that hate has no place on our campus. The events in the world and Israel and Gaza have had a profound and personal impact on many in the campus community. I’ve met with students and staff and faculty who have been impacted by the conflict. I’m always committed to working closely with our leaders in these various communities — the Jewish community, the Muslim community — to ensure Davis is a place where all feel welcome and all feel like they belong. You may have seen that President Drake made an announcement last week about significant investments in all the campuses from his office to ensure there are resources to help the campuses respond and educate people on these issues surrounding antisemitism and Islamophobia. He announced that he will form an Office of Civil Rights at the system level in addition to the resources being provided, and I’ll just remind you that we’ve partnered with the city of Davis and Yolo County on an initiative we call Hate-Free Together that kicks off in January after a long delay with a series of community workshops. Last week, campus leadership shared a video with the campus community where we all sort of reinforced and re-emphasized the principles of community together; I hope you get a chance to see the video and I hope it had some impact.

Reguerin: We have a number of programs across our different Identity and Retention Support Centers for students, so there are ongoing activities and workshops with our counseling services team. We have offered to send counselors to help debrief with groups; that usually works better in what we call a push-in model, where there are student groups that may be already coming together. [And we] certainly make our counseling services available. We have a lot of education from orientation through messaging that we do on social media as well, in terms of just conversation and supporting each other. Students play a big role in supporting each other through the work of CSI in supporting students to organize informed peer groups. Support is really important and has been one of the main areas of response. Our job is not to create but to support students in organizing, getting together [and] getting spaces through CSI. We definitely feel this is a shared responsibility, both in terms of us being responsive and ensuring students can organize and get together and support each other as well.

Q: You sit on the board of Leidos, a company that, among other things, works with the Israeli Ministry of Defense. What initially went into the decision to be a part of this board and has the recent violence in the region or student gatherings related to the Israel-Palestine conflict affected how you feel about supporting Leidos?

May: First of all, I want to thank you for the question. This has generated a lot of energy around campus, a lot of misinformation, and what I would call illogical, inaccurate reactions and insulting reactions. In most of those types of reactions, in almost all cases, no one has talked to me directly, so I appreciate you asking me directly the question. I’ve always been transparent about my service on this board. In fact, it is a requirement in the UC that all outside professional activities be reported annually and disclosed, so those reports are available. I’ll just start at the beginning, and I apologize if the answer gets long, but I just want you to kind of get the context. 

So I was invited to join that board in 2015. Before I became chancellor here, I was dean of engineering at Georgia Tech. I was invited, by a person who was a fellow board member and at that time, also the CEO of a company, was a friend and a fellow alum of Georgia Tech, and he was also a generous donor to the university, so I decided to join. I think I was invited because there was a retiree board member who was an academic, and they wanted to replace that expertise. They also were seeking to add diversity to the board and they wanted someone who could help them add to their STEM diversity in the workforce, which are things I’ve sort of been championing for a long time. Service on the board of a public company is widely viewed to be a huge honor, which is something I don’t think is recognized, and my appointment was initially actually celebrated at Georgia Tech. I was very stunned when I got here and it was viewed as controversial. I didn’t really expect that or know what to do with it. By the way, these appointments are not uncommon in academia; just for example, the engineering dean at Berkeley [and] the engineering dean at Ohio State also had board appointments, and we could go on and on. There are many people that have board appointments who are academics. The primary role I have on the board is to advise the CEO, which is the role of the board in general, and the executive leadership of the company. I have served on three committees since I’ve been on the board; I’ve been on the Ethics and Compliance Committee, I’ve been on the Human Resources Committee and on the Technology and Information Security Committee. 

So to the point of the question — a few weeks ago, I spoke directly with the CEO of the company, Tom Bell, about the level of Leidos’ involvement in the Israel and Hamas war. In response, Tom sent me a fairly detailed document containing every current Leidos contract in Israel or with Israel, so I reviewed that. I was very reassured and can say with confidence that there are no current activities that involve Leidos in the conflict. None. The vast majority of the current activity involves civil infrastructure-type projects. Those of you who fly, I’m sure you’ve seen the Leidos-branded archways that you go through at TSA security — those are the kinds of things that exist all over the world, including in Israel. And without being too specific, if you add up the total dollar amount of all the projects, it’s just a minuscule fraction of the company business — that would not even be impactful to anything that’s happening in Gaza. These same types of questions were leveled at me and Leidos when the Trump administration was caging kids at the border, if you remember that, and I did the same thing then as I’m doing now. I asked the company for some assurance that the company was not involved in activities that I personally viewed as unacceptable, and they were not involved at all. The point I’m making there is that I see part of my role as board member to ask these ethical questions. I try to guide the company in the way that I think is the right way. So with respect to my fellow board members who I think are all upstanding, ethical people, I think that if I were not on that board, I’m not sure who would be asking these questions. I think it’s important to have my voice heard on these issues. 

Kelman: It’s been a long few weeks, and people, as [May] said, have been leveling a lot of allegations at a number of administrators, specifically at [May]. The chancellor is a public face of the university. I think that might be particularly true right now because [May] represents the university values in a variety of different ways, and he does so in ways that I think, for the most part, we’re all very, very grateful for and I want to also echo something he just said. It’s actually terrific to have the question asked directly, rather than have people making these sorts of scurrilous comments. I think the subtext, though, is that somehow the chancellor’s service on this board undercuts what he does for the campus, and it doesn’t sit well with me. The chancellor is right that this is not uncommon at all; the chancellor’s provost, academic leaders of various kinds and deans sit on these sorts of boards. It’s not atypical at all; the only thing that is atypical is that it’s hard to get on the board, and these are tough positions. So it’s not unusual. 

Since [May has] been here, we’ve improved retention and graduation rates for students by a lot, and I can give you numbers on that. We’ve added more than 6000 beds to our housing, which has made it possible for more students to come here. [He] has also improved our relationship with the city of Davis in ways that are impossible to quantify, established the Aggie Compass Basic Needs Center and has attended to the basic needs of students in ways that are really extraordinary. I mean, it’s just a level of dedication and attention that I think is remarkable. He’s still working with other people in this room, including students and the city of Davis with the COVID pandemic, in ways that the national media lauded us for almost universally and that got an immense amount of really terrific public relations for the campus, but also kept people safe, which was much more important. We were able to allow students to make progress towards their degrees and we had a remarkably low rate of infection. I don’t know how many of you were here at that time, but it was incredible to be able to go into the ARC and get tested and feel like we knew exactly where we stood, whether we had COVID or not. It was kind of an amazing thing. I don’t have the exact numbers, again, but about $2 billion in philanthropic funding, started construction on Aggie Square in Sacramento, [added] about $5 billion and 25,000 jobs to the regional economy, [Davis has] been named the number one university in the nation in terms of sustainability and diversity [and] achieved top 10 status in six different national rankings. I mean, I can go on and on. 

The point, though — actually, I want to make a few — is that, if anything, this kind of board membership redounds to the benefit of the campus, and in no way that I can imagine has undermined the chancellor’s ability to lead the campus. I want to be absolutely clear — and no one in this room is suggesting it, it’s just a connection in my own mind — when an academic leader of color is generating wealth for their family, it’s odd to criticize that. But when I’m seeing the characterizations on campus, it doesn’t sit well. This is a scholar of color who has ascended to the very, very top of his field as an academic leader and now has ascended to the top of his field as an administrator. He’s doing something that helps the campus and when people talk about it, they’re just not telling the truth about what this company does, or what his membership on that board means. As I say, it’s been a tough week, and I apologize, I obviously am somewhat emotional about all of this. But it’s really difficult because he does represent values that all of us hold dear and he’s done that in a remarkable way. I know that we’re only talking about a small fraction of our community, but it is a very, very loud fraction of our community making these allegations. It’s really been a lot. That’s all I would say.

Sweeney: I want to say a follow-up comment and I want to thank student journalists. I actually believe in journalism, and I believe in newspapers and media, the real media, because your responsibility is to go out and learn the truth and report the truth. I’ve seen statements that you know, “blood [is] on your hands.” That is made up. It is not fact, it’s rhetoric, and your responsibility as you go through your future career is to investigate fact. It’s very easy to state something that’s not true, but to actually learn the truth is hard to do, and then report it. It is not a fact that Leidos is providing weapons for the Israeli army, period. End of story. Leidos, when you go through an airport, you will see it. It’s engineering equipment for the security of going through an airport. It’s just flat-out made-up stuff. I personally appreciate young journalists going out and getting facts and reporting facts and not just defaming people with untrue information.

Q: Just a brief follow-up, you mentioned you recently re-reviewed some of the projects in Israel that made you feel okay about the situation — is there public access to that so that students who are concerned could access that?

May: No. I mean, it’s a private company and their competitors would be able to view those kinds of things. I’m a fiduciary member of the board and I can’t share the business of the company. If I could, I would, but it would be a breach of my commitment to the company.

Sweeney: I just lectured you about getting information — I wonder if there’s something we can do. Maybe you can communicate with a public affairs person with the company.


Q: Public institutions in the city of Davis, including the library and public schools, were sent multiple bomb threats this fall, and many of those contained anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric, as tensions are growing about the rights of trans youth in Davis. What would you like to say to students who may feel unsafe in Davis due to these threats?

May: Those students have my utmost empathy and sympathy. We stand with our transgender and non-binary community members. We just had a reaffirming event last week to demonstrate that I encourage everyone to take advantage of the available resources that we have. If there is some sort of urgent concern or emergency, or a specific threat, obviously, you want to report it to the HDAP program I mentioned earlier. If someone in their community feels like they need support, we have resources; we have the LGBTQIA+ Center and Student Health and Counseling Services which provide resources for those communities. 

Reguerin: Just going back to something I mentioned earlier, we all have a role in affirming.  A good way of countering that chilling effect and having a warming effect is through validation, and we do that across a number of different programs. It is also meaningful from peers and students and if there are ways that we can amplify that, we’re always happy to partner in doing that.

Tull: I was just going to say that our office has been working with [Reguerin]’s office and Student Affairs and others also, to make sure that our Gender Recognition and Lived Name Initiative is going forward smoothly. There’s training available and there are a lot of resources that have been added to our websites to make sure that people are going to feel welcome on campus and that they’re being called the right names and that they have the kinds of information that they need to move forward. So I just wanted to say that there’s a lot of information that is being taken care of and there are a lot of things that are happening in the background to make sure that people are going to feel comfortable and feel very welcome on campus.

Reguerin: Also, with our mental health equity funding that we received a couple of years ago, we created a new position at the LGBTQIA+ Center, which is a trans educator position. That person, since they’ve come on board, has also started the Trans Advocacy Network. It’s really important [to be] a subject matter expert, but it’s everybody’s responsibility across the campus to be inclusive. The Trans Advocacy Network is a group of staff and faculty from a variety of different areas and we’re trying to mobilize that group. Those have been some of the more recent efforts to help address these issues as.

Q: Following from that; you’ve already touched on this, but what is the university’s responsibility to students and their safety when it comes to controversial events on campus, such as the recent Riley Gaines event?

May: Whenever we have a speaker like Riley Gaines, Charlie Kirk, whoever it might be, there are two false narratives that always emerge. One is “[the university] invited them.” A registered student organization provides the speaker, and they have the right to do that and they can have diverse viewpoints. The other one is “[the university] can stop them from coming.” That’s also false. As Mike [Sweeney] also often reminds me, this is a freedom of speech issue and you cannot restrict or constrain a speaker in any way on a content basis from speaking on our campus, so it’s going to happen again. First of all, you don’t want me deciding who can speak. Let me just assure you of that. You don’t want me to be making those decisions. This is an open environment and any and all points of view are welcome to be heard. Not necessarily endorsed, but heard. And that’s just the academic environment. That’s the way I think it should be. We always make sure safety is a priority. You know, despite the property damage that has occurred at some of these events, there has not been any, or very, very minimal violence or injuries at the event, so we want to make sure we keep it that way. It’s a part of the university environment that we should appreciate that we can hear from all points of view.

Q: This question has been moved from its original order in our questionnaire for the ease of reader navigation. No content within the question or answer has been rearranged. Reports of sexual assault and public masturbation taking place on campus have caused students to be concerned for their safety. What actions are being taken to ensure that students feel safe and comfortable on school grounds?

May: Let me first just correct one piece of misinformation in the question. The flashing incidents did not occur on campus; they occurred in the city of Davis, but I’m not excusing them. We’re continuing to investigate the alleged assault that happened on campus; the investigation has not concluded. We have allocated $20 million over the next five years for various safety measures. I’ll have Clare [Shinnerl] elaborate, but better lighting, more blue light stations, safety rides — all those types of things will be increased. So we’re going to continue that every year. Safety is not just the campus’ responsibility, it’s a shared responsibility. A lot of incidents happen because people have not behaved; for example, propping open doors at the various academic buildings lets thieves get in. So if you could just make sure you follow the safety tips that we put out, those have been recommended by UC Davis Police. You can find them on the police department’s homepage. Make sure all your contact information is up-to-date on your Aggie Alert and your messaging systems. And if you see something, say something. If you see someone in distress or in a situation that needs attention, make sure you bring it to the proper university official right away, whether it’s by phone or blue light or whatever. 


Shinnerl: Yeah, just the $20 million is a substantial investment over the next five years. Lighting is a lot of it, like that Mrak example I gave you. And it’s not only LED, but the lights are much brighter and they shine down. We’re having another lighting walk in January. But it’s helpful for all of you to point out where you walk on campus, which areas are most important. Then we’re going to create a dashboard so you can follow these projects; we do get a lot of requests for information on that, and we’re still developing them. But as we develop the projects, we’ll create a dashboard so you know how many new blue lights there are and where they are.


Q: Mental health resources are advertised as being readily available to students. However, students frequently struggle to make appointments due to long wait times to see a counselor and often feel like the counseling services don’t adequately address the scope of some students’ issues. In the spring, you told us about struggles with providing competitive salaries that allow UC Davis to remain fully staffed with counselors and therapists and referenced a plan to work with UCSF to solve this issue. What progress has been made on this project or on other plans to solve counselor understaffing on campus?

May: I’ll turn to Pablo [Reguerin] to help me, but mental health resources have always been a priority for the campus since I first had the Mental Health Task Force in 2017. Currently, we have 36 [full-time equivalent] counselors with five psychology interns and four postdoc residents, one more counselor starting next month and we’re in the process of hiring for nine open positions. So we’ve provided resources to hire nine more people. Non-crisis appointments are available within two weeks and students can schedule them online, or they can call the number (530) 752-0871. Crisis visits are available immediately, Monday through Friday, nine to five in person at the Acute Care Office and can be attended by phone or secure Zoom. After-hour support is available as well by calling the same number or texting “RELATE” to 741741. You can use online scheduling to schedule a counselor with a certain specialty or language or demographic if we have those available. I will say it’s a challenge to represent all the demographics that we have on the campus among our student body; it’s an ongoing challenge but you can save those preferences when you make your appointment and try to see a counselor that’s to your choices. Student Housing and Counseling Services provides mental services to about 15% of the student body and there are also free online telehealth mental health counseling appointments via third party vendors such as Lyra. You can access Therapy Assistance Online (TAO), which is a learning module platform for easy-to-follow exercises and mental health strategies. As I mentioned, resources from the UC system are becoming available to the campus shortly. 

Reguerin: We have a couple other resources to consider; we have a number of therapy groups and that can be a good way of starting. We try to have a variety of entry points that work for some students; they are thematic psychoeducational, so it’s a different approach, but we have a number of groups who find that really helpful. Also, we have our crisis support services, so the same day, you can go and see somebody. Crisis is something where there’s not one common definition. We always tell students that if you feel you’re in crisis, that’s sufficient. There’s not some definition, like you have to be at a certain point or you have to be at a point of hurting yourself — crisis is how you define it as a student, so we’ve thought about other ways to message that, but we also have same-day service appointments available as well. And just keep in mind that crisis is whatever a student would define as a crisis for them.

Croughan: So in the question, you referenced the UCSF program. What that program is, is it’s a joint program in doctorates of nursing practice that’s specific to psychiatry. And it’s UCSF, UC Davis, and I can’t remember the third UC campus that’s involved. In that program, we’ve always been a lead, but it’s actually physically going to become ours alone. We will have Doctors of Nursing practicing psychiatry [at] the Sacramento campus, getting their degrees and they will have a required rotation clerkship through the Student Mental Health Counseling Program. For two reasons: there will be qualified people to provide services, and also, importantly, hopefully, they’ll love it, and they will be willing to stay on. Because our biggest issue has been hiring people. The money was allocated — we allocated sufficient funding to hire a lot of people three years ago, and it’s just really hard at our campus and every other university across the United States to have people do it. It turns out — no offense to students here — but I actually gave a talk on this about a year ago with other panelists. The number one area of burnout of any staff at the university is student mental health providers. From their perspectives, these are young people who have their entire lives ahead of them and you see devastating circumstances and lack of resources outside, with the family and access to insurance and other providers and so forth. People just burn out really, really quickly and they end up going into private practice where they can control their hours and work part-time and kind of recover. That’s not a Davis thing, that’s a national phenomenon going on and it was made substantially worse after COVID. We’re sorry; we’re trying really hard. We tried to get creative in how to identify people and get them interested in staying.

Shinnerl: I do want to add that since the last time we met, we officially launched Health 34. So that’s the fire department. They’ve been very busy. They are not clinicians, but the goal is to help people before they get into crisis, to avoid a crisis. They also help [students] navigate [on-campus resources]. There’s so many, it gets a little complicated where to go so they can help connect students with resources. I think it’s been very successful.

Q: The Pantry is closing its doors to non-student community members. Although The Pantry is an ASUCD unit, what do you know about what inspired this decision? What do you think we owe to the community of Davis as a public institution regarding food security?

May: The decision to only support students I think is rooted in the understanding that the funds used to purchase the food were generously donated with the specific intention of supporting the student community, so I think that’s where they were going with the action. You know, we always deeply value the support we receive from donors and we want to ensure that [the use of] those contributions respect the intention behind those contributions.

Reguerin: We know that our Pantry, the capacity and the location is insufficient for the demand. We’ve been working with ASUCD and we have a new space, and it will be a better experience overall, but a little bit more of a shopping-type of experience and a better-suited capacity. They work very closely with Aggie Compass and they look at the utilization data regularly. I think it’s going to take a little while to get everything in place, but certainly by this academic year we would anticipate that being launched and to have a new and improved experience. But this is an ASUCD program and certainly we respect that. We appreciate the ability to partner with them because it’s had such a big benefit across the campus.

Q: The Menstrual Equity Act asks CSUs and UCs to provide “an adequate supply of menstrual products, available and accessible, free of cost.” However, product dispensers on campus are frequently empty and student organizations often hand out free products to compensate. What is the role of the administration in providing menstruating students with products, and what steps are being taken to mitigate this problem?

May: So we’re talking about AB 367, which passed in 2021, and it requires all the CSUs and community colleges across the state to start offering free menstrual products for students, at least at one central location on the campus. The bill encourages private UCs and private [colleges] to follow suit but does not require them [at those places]. Here at Davis, we have dispensers. We have free pads and tampons at 23 campus bathrooms. We have a menstrual product section of the UC Davis Sexcess map, which I didn’t know we had before this question. So the products can be found in various women’s restrooms as well as the gender-neutral restrooms at various centers and The Pantry. Back in 2019, Student Affairs funded a project, a pilot project, proposed by students, and partnered with custodial services to implement the project. Following the pilot, full-funding finance operations administration committed to funding this through the end of this academic year. So we’ll be revisiting this pilot soon. 

Shinnerl: I appreciate hearing that you thought they were not well-stocked. I think we’re looking into that, I think some are more popular than others. So maybe it’s just adjusting the supply in the right location. But we are monitoring and evaluating. 

Q: A common problem among students around pass times is that they can’t schedule academic advising appointments less than a month out. Does this have to do with the fact that the university is understaffed in advisors and are there measures that can be taken to prevent these problems in the future? 

Croughan: We are doing a ton of work around advising right now, both in terms of numbers of advisors and how long it takes to get appointments. Some people prefer to look at advisor-to-student ratios. We personally think that the length of time it takes you to get in to see an advisor is the better measure. So anybody who disagrees with that, tell me now because that’s what we’re really trying to address. Pablo and Ari, as co-chairs of our Student Success and Equitable Outcomes Task Force, brought forward three related proposals on advising to me. We’re looking at those in their entirety, trying to come up with one whole from those three. And that’ll be the first phase of increasing the numbers of advisors and changing some things about the approach. But after a few more phases, I’m thinking, it’s probably going to end up being a three-phase approach, landing in a place where we have holistic advising available to students. So that if you go in to meet with an academic advisor, they’re helping you with all those aspects; if you’re having issues with financial aid or you need mental health counseling, you need help with internships and career advice, that will be co-located and you can literally walk two feet over to the next person to receive those services. I think the critical things that come up for students, some of it has to do with software we have called the degree audit software. Both between our advising members and students, we find that it doesn’t always give somebody the same answer. An advisor might see one answer on one day and a different answer on another, for example, about how many units you have left to complete before you can graduate. That is a problem of the software, not of the advisors. So we’re also doing a whole-scale examination to see what new software we can implement on campus so that it’s done correctly, you get the right information and it’s also visible to students more holistically as well. So it’s a pretty big overhaul, honestly.

Q: The AggieEats food truck was initially funded by a donor, but only for a year — are there any updates on plans to keep the project going or updates on plans to make it available to faculty and are there any other updates on the project altogether?

May: I will just say that it’s been a huge success on campus. I’m very proud of it and I was really happy to drive the truck on the first day.

Reguerin: It’s been, as Gary [May] mentioned, very popular. It’s serving about 579 meals per day and I know we’re looking to increase that, so there’s no concern or risk of the program going away. There was some seed funding that helped the project get off the ground, buying the truck itself, but we’re actually looking at our capacity. The big part of the pilot was to test the connection between what we can produce in the dining commons because that’s where the food is made, and then the distribution. We would love to serve everybody, but at this point, we’re running out of meals for just within students on some of the days. We don’t have plans until we can increase the capacity, expanding it beyond students at this time, but it’s definitely something we’d like to look at. It’s also been very popular with donors in terms of sustaining the program, as well as our own Aggie Compass budget. So we are looking at trying to figure out how to expand it, but it’s not even in question [if] the program [will] continue. If it were to become ineffective or not useful, of course, we would re-evaluate it, but it is not a resource-based issue.

Q: This question has been moved from its original order in our questionnaire for the ease of reader navigation. No content within the question or answer has been rearranged. There’s currently an ASUCD survey being held to gauge both student and faculty opinions on requiring mandatory lecture capture recordings at UC Davis. What is the university’s current stance on enforcing mandatory lecture recordings in every class and are there limitations to doing so? 

Kelman: When the campus pivoted back to in-person instruction in the wake of the COVID crisis, we, meaning the administration, created a program that allowed faculty to opt-in to lecture capture. The provost funded it and in its initial iteration, we had between 80 and 100 courses per quarter in the program, and that program is still in place. The faculty that want to do that are still able to do so and students are able to request that faculty would do so, knowing that this support is in place. In-person instruction has a lot of benefits, probably the most important of which is that learning is a social process, right? We take cues from one another when we learn, we sit next to each other — you just nodded your head at what I said, which I appreciate. That affirmation meant a lot to me, but also it cued other people that they should be paying attention to what I was saying. And when I lecture in courses, this is a social process. Not to mention that when you’re sitting in a classroom with peers, you find other people and say, ‘Do you want to study together? Do you want to hang out? Do you want to spend time together?’ and one of the most difficult elements of the COVID crisis was that it led to a lot of feelings of isolation, and we’re trying to move past that as quickly as we can. And then finally, to make something like this mandatory runs up against one of the elements that some people would say is kind of the bedrock of the University of California system, which is shared governance. You’ve probably heard people talk about this. It means that the faculty control the curriculum; the administration doesn’t get to make decisions about how the curriculum gets delivered. So earlier, the chancellor said that you don’t want him making choices about who gets invited to campus because it would just be the cast of Star Trek over and over and over again. We want a diversity of perspectives. You don’t want me or the provost or campus counsel or any administrator deciding what’s good, what gets taught in classrooms. Faculty are the subject area experts. They know what they’re doing and so they make these decisions. So ultimately, if we were to try and make anything like this mandatory, we would have to work with the faculty and with the Academic Senate, and they’ve been very, very clear to date that teaching in two modalities — simultaneously teaching in-person and remotely — represents twice the work, so they’re not eager to do that. Also, they think that the social dimension of teaching and learning is so critical to what they do. 

Croughan: We added to all the structure that was already talked about that IET put together, and then we actually pay a student to be there to oversee the lecture being recorded, and you’ve got to have a classroom that has the right technology and so forth to do that. While it was about 80 to 100 faculty per quarter initially, now it’s down to 25, 27. I was actually asked by IET this year, ‘Do we want to even keep offering this?’ and I said yes. But what most faculty have turned to is putting their laptop in front of them and just pushing the button to record themselves on Zoom and then uploading a recorded Zoom lecture. It may or may not be the same quality and probably isn’t; you don’t have to go very far off camera or move very much, and now you’re off-screen and you’re just staring at a blank screen. I’m sure everyone in this room has experienced that when going back to look at a recorded lecture, but you’ve got the content as long as the audio still picks up. So the faculty see this as purely backup for students who have missed a lecture, not instead of coming to lecture, so they have been incredibly hesitant — I wouldn’t say adverse, but hesitant — to requests from students for moving everything to be remote or online. 

There are a lot of things you just can’t learn besides the social aspects. [Think about] the amount of money and time we spent mailing everyone their art supplies and their laboratory supplies during COVID. Raise your hand if you’re somebody who was here to actually get all of your chem lab experiment material so you could do it on the kitchen table or the bathroom counter. That wasn’t a good way to learn chemistry and lab techniques. You really kind of have to be here. Having said that, summertime is a really good time to actually offer online courses — quality online courses, not lecture capture — because many students need to be working in the summer or they have an internship or they have a co-op position, something like that. So we’re trying to build those up and we have six new online courses that will be developed by this summer and another four by summer 2025. We selected the courses to be ones that students have trouble getting into in a timely manner during the academic year, so that you can use summer. Just even taking one or two courses, you can really move your time-to-degree forward very well by doing those courses, but they are online-approved by the Academic Senate and will be the higher-quality courses too. So I think we’re trying to approach this from multiple ways.


Q: The Fossil Fuel-Free Pathway Plan has faced some delays in completion and in gathering feedback. Could you give us a status update on what it entails, where the plan is currently at and what the next steps are?

Shinnerl: This was written by a lot of people and was very inclusive. I think when you’re inclusive to students, faculty and staff, things might take a little bit longer, but they’re done the right way. Also, we opted for a public comment period. That was the right thing to do. It was a public comment period kind of over the summer. And then we thought, we wanted to make sure all the students were back and the faculty were back for October, so I think the delays are resulting in a better, more inclusive process. But I just explained kind of why it’s a little bit longer. We expect to have it on the chancellor’s desk early in 2024, so that’s our goal. I think it’s great, it’s a very long document, a lot of great ideas. So just to highlight what it’s going to say, I’m sure you have seen the draft, it’s a public comment period. So you’ve probably seen it, but it’s to be 95% fossil fuel-free based on a 2019 baseline because that was our most recent kind of full operation, pre-COVID year, by 2040. That’s what the document entails for all of our campuses. So not just Davis, but Sacramento and our outlying areas. We’re a leader in the UC; we’re far ahead of other campuses. 

Well, Santa Cruz just published theirs, it was written by a consultant. I don’t mean to criticize my Banana Slug colleagues, but we did not have a consultant. This was written by experts here. But they published it and I’ll just also tell you that their plan is not very realistic, either. They want to be fossil fuel-free by 2030; that means their whole campus would need to be dug up at this point. So probably a little over-ambitious. I will say, though, that the chancellor has endorsed the use of another $55 million for the next phase of the Big Shift. So that’s on top of about $55 million that was spent two-to-three years ago. This is just an example of our commitment to reducing fossil fuels. That is our biggest use of natural gas on this campus and will be the biggest driver to reaching those goals. I can give the thirty-second, high-level overview of the Big Shift. So to create steam, you need to use natural gas, and that is our fossil fuel-free drainer. But now we’re converting to heating this campus and cooling this campus with hot water, and to create hot water you can use electricity. So it’s really just a complete conversion, but there are many, many phases. So the first is finished. The second is underway, and there’s probably about six. It’s pretty expensive to get it all done, but every building has to be re-designed to connect differently.

Q: If there’s anything else you want to cover, what other measures are being taken to ensure that UC Davis stays this sustainable green campus other than the plan?

Shinnerl: Well, I think we’re number one in the country. But that also means we have a lot of competition to stay up there. I think one of the big things that we’re working on right now is getting rid of plastic by July 1 of next year. I’m working with Pablo [Reguerin]’s team. It’s challenging, but we’re committed to doing that. So we spend a lot of money on things like old air conditioning units or conversion of lights, but when you leave here today and you walk down Mrak Mall a month ago, those were different lights, and now those are all LED. So around campus, it’s not only improving the lighting, but it’s also far more energy efficient. 


Q: Being part of a large public institution, it can be difficult to feel like there’s a sense of unity and community with so many students and staff. What have you done in your collective positions to foster a sense of togetherness and a close-knit community, and what do you think you could do to better support this kind of environment?

May: Yes, great question. It is difficult in a large, complex university like we have here. I try to set the tone myself by being as accessible as I possibly can: I give you access to us at these quarterly meetings, have my Checking in With the Chancellor email once a month, lots of social media presence — though this has become more and more dangerous for me recently — I take students to the movies; I took our Native students to see the “Killers of the Flower Moon” movie a couple of weeks ago. Actually, the data, believe it or not, shows that UC Davis is a place where students do feel at home. According to the 2022 UCUES survey, the University California Undergraduate Experience Survey, 86% of the respondents said that UC Davis at some level gave them a sense of belonging, so we feel good about that. And we’re going to continue to do what we need to do to keep that momentum going.

Reguerin: So I would say, just building off of that, the UCUES data is taken every other year, so in 2018, 2020 and 2022. We’ve also seen some narrowing of gaps across different racial groups and different groups overall. I think the work we do around the community centers helps with that overall, and then of course supporting students, building a sense of connection through the student organizations. Our work through CSI continues to be very important in that process as well.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the dean of engineering at Iowa State sits on the board of Leidos. The quote meant to state that the dean of engineering at Ohio State sits on this board. The article has been updated accordingly.  


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here