COVID-19 Update: Planning Efforts for Our Path Forward

May 14, 2020

Dear Members of Our Campus Community,

It is hard to believe that two months have passed since we made the initial decision to transition to remote instruction for our spring quarter, ramped down our research endeavors, and asked staff and faculty to work and teach from home. By working together, applying our creativity and adaptability, and making sacrifices, we have achieved a number of successes under these extraordinarily challenging circumstances. We have continued to uphold the excellence of a UC Santa Barbara education, and conducted limited but life-saving research. Most notably, our collective efforts to stay at home and practice social distancing have helped reduce the number of COVID-19 infections and protected countless lives.

In responding to what has become the most significant public health crisis of our time, our UC Santa Barbara community has shown tremendous compassion, ingenuity, and self-sacrifice. The abrupt changes have also come at a cost – from significant disappointments to great personal loss. We will face many more challenges in the months ahead, but our strength and resilience will come from our support for one another.

Our Path Forward – Planning for Campus Research and Instruction
We are undertaking extensive planning for a measured and phased return of our campus research operations, and, looking further ahead, to a carefully managed, phased return of staff to campus and resumption of on-campus instruction. We are consulting with our administrative and Academic Senate colleagues, faculty, researchers, staff, and students to help us understand our community’s needs, and we have also received important feedback from alumni, parents, Trustees, and friends. Our deans and administrative colleagues have been working with faculty in every department to prepare for and explore all options for fall quarter.

Given the inherent uncertainties the State and our country are still facing, we are planning for a range of scenarios for our research, instruction, and operations.

  • We have heard from our parents and students about how important the campus experience is, and we are planning for scenarios that allow some in-person instruction on campus, but still require varying levels of remote instruction, even for students in residence on campus. These hybrid scenarios will be guided by limits and restrictions imposed by public health authorities and by the recommendations of our local and campus health experts, as well as input from other members of our community.
  • We are also preparing for the possibility that our campus may be allowed to largely return to normal instruction. This is our ultimate hope and goal, but the timeline is uncertain, with current guidance indicating such a possibility is unlikely for the fall quarter. Even if we are able to resume most campus activities, we are committed to offering a full curriculum and to accommodating students who may need remote access.
  • If public health requirements and safety concerns prevent us from resuming in-person instruction, our campus is preparing for the possibility of continuing with full remote instruction for the fall quarter, ramping up some approved on-campus research, and operating predominantly with a remote workforce.

Our Office of Research is planning for a ramp-up of campus research starting as early as June, and held a town hall to discuss how to safely resume research in stages as conditions allow. Our Library is developing scenarios that would allow access for faculty and graduate student researchers, and eventually for a limited number of undergraduates, in coordination with the resumption of instruction in the fall.

We are also working on plans for our campus working environment that reduce density and allow for physical distancing in office and workplace settings. Our staff – who, along with our faculty, have worked from home in improvised conditions, often while taking on childcare and homeschooling responsibilities – make our teaching, counseling, and research possible, with uncompromising quality, and care for our buildings and beautiful campus. They are crucial to our ongoing operations, and to a gradual resumption of our in-person campus activities.

We are meeting daily with our colleagues from every UC campus, at every administrative level including chancellors and our UC President, to exchange information and share expertise. Additionally, we are working closely with state and local officials as they determine policy directives that will affect our future decisions and actions. Our goal is to make key decisions on fall operations in June.

Testing and Surveillance Planning
While we are eager to have our university life return to normal, the health and safety of our campus and regional communities are our highest priority and guide every decision we make. In the absence of proven medical interventions and treatments, we will need to rely on comprehensive testing, contact tracing, health monitoring, and quarantine protocols as we ramp up research, welcome students back to our residence halls, and start in-person instruction when we can safely do so. Our administrative colleagues, staff, faculty, and researchers have been working tirelessly to develop these plans. This approach is in line with California Governor Gavin Newsom’s reopening plans and UC systemwide guidelines.

Many of our faculty members and researchers have put aside their current research projects and redirected their efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis. One of the many projects may have a significant impact on our campus planning efforts. A team of campus researchers has been developing a fast and practical COVID-19 test that can be deployed in the field. The approach shows great promise, and an initial research program was recently approved by an external Institutional Review Board. Our researchers are working closely with our administrative colleagues and campus health experts to implement testing in a research-oriented launch over the summer. In anticipation of its success, we are also working in coordination with our local public health office to build the infrastructure capable of testing all symptomatic campus community members, as well as methodically testing a sample of individuals on campus, independent of symptoms. We have launched a fundraising campaign to support our testing program.

Physical Distancing and Face Coverings
Physical distancing will continue to play a critical role in mitigating the spread of the virus until proven medical interventions are developed. As such, we are in the process of a comprehensive review to evaluate how our students can safely be housed in existing campus residences, including quarantine spaces to isolate any students who are diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19. We are looking closely at how physical distancing requirements will affect classroom, housing, dining hall, library, office, and laboratory settings, and everywhere on campus. We are also assessing our capacity to provide the frequent and thorough cleaning services that will be required to mitigate the risks posed by COVID-19.  

Thanks to generous gifts from our donors, our campus has acquired and distributed cloth face coverings for most of the faculty and staff currently providing essential services on campus. Associated Students and the Graduate Student Association also have obtained face coverings for students who remain on campus. If we are eventually able to return to in-person instruction, we will find ways to supply face coverings to our entire campus population.

We have and will continue to carry forward our strong commitment to public health and safety for our students, faculty, staff, and campus community.

Support for Our Undergraduate and Graduate Students
Our undergraduate and graduate students are the reason we are all here. To support our undergraduate students who qualify for financial aid and our graduate students who need additional support, we are distributing $12.5 million in additional financial aid that was made available through the federal CARES Act. We are committed to raising additional resources to support our students, faculty, and staff through philanthropy and by working with state and federal officials.

Despite the significant amount of work and research we have already undertaken in a relatively short period of time, there is still much we do not know, and likely will not know for some time. We wish we could offer more definite timelines and information. The uncertainty surrounding the coming academic year is a source of anxiety and stress for all of us, and we deeply regret that we don’t have precise answers at this time. We will keep our community informed of our planning efforts throughout the process, and will announce decisions as they are consulted and finalized.

We are committed to providing our students with the quality education and research opportunities they have come to expect, and the support and services they need to be successful. At the same time, we are committed to creating safer learning, working, and living conditions for our students, staff, and faculty, which we all deserve. We are mindful of the differential impacts of this pandemic on members of our community and society, and the importance of considering issues of equity as we work together to find solutions and uphold our principles of community.

During this beautiful springtime on campus, Dilling and I miss all the daily interactions among our dynamic academic community, and the smiles and vibrancy each of you brings to our campus. We look forward to the moment we can welcome our students, faculty, and staff back to campus, and to an eventual return to the community that makes UC Santa Barbara so important to us all.

Take good care, and be well.

Sincerely,

Henry T. Yang
Chancellor