big message re: Fall planning

Bill Maurer
Thursday March 18 16:04:03 PDT 2021

    Dear social sciences faculty, lecturers, grad students, staff and researchers,

    Hello again! It's me. I realize this is a long message, but it's an important one!

    As we await further guidance from the campus regarding Fall quarter
    instruction, I'd like to set down some principles and guidance for
    the Social Sciences community, so we can start to have a greater
    degree of certainty and control and so that we can look forward to
    Fall with happy anticipation.

    The UC Office of the President, as you know, has said that we are
    planning for in-person instruction this Fall quarter. For the March
    29 scheduling deadline, accordingly, the campus is scheduling all
    classrooms at 100% capacity. At the same time, we know that a fully
    in-person, pre-Covid instructional environment is not likely, at
    least not by the beginning of the Fall quarter. We hope it will be
    by Winter quarter! But probably not Fall. We will surely be able
    to do more in person than we are now--and hopefully, a lot more.
    But we're probably not getting to, "everyone teaching in person,
    all the students back in the classrooms and lecture halls," by the
    time Fall quarter starts.

    Given that assumption, I would like us to plan accordingly.

    The first guiding principle is that, the state of California gave
    us higher priority for vaccination because of our crucial contributions
    to the education of our students. We therefore have an obligation
    to provide the best educational experience for our students, mindful
    of their incredible diversity, and the particular harms caused by
    Covid and this disruptive period, particularly on first-generation
    and racial and ethnic minority students.

    The second is that: conditions might change! For the better, let's
    hope. Try to imagine how we'll feel if, by August/September, >80%
    of the country is vaccinated and new variants have not caused
    additional problems. We'll probably feel pretty good!

    The third principle is that everything we plan should be done with
    the students' needs and student access in mind. We serve the largest
    and the most diverse student population on campus and have a special
    responsibility to do right by them.

    The fourth principle is that faculty/lecturers should have a choice
    in their own mode of teaching. Everyone has different degrees of
    risk tolerance, and many have health concerns or conditions that
    warrant greater caution as we return. But we should be mindful, at
    the same time, of the trust that the state has been placed in us
    by providing us access to vaccines before almost everyone else.

    The fifth guiding principle is that TAs should be able to support
    the instructional mission in a variety of formats--in person, remote,
    hybrid--and that the School will accommodate TAs' own preferences
    as much as possible, again, mindful of each individual's risk
    tolerance and health concerns.

    The sixth is: Ahem. Social Sciences, as the largest academic unit
    on the campus, gets to call some of the shots, as far as I am
    concerned, with respect to mode of instruction and classroom access.
    So let's just begin to do so.

    I am therefore asking chairs and department managers to work with
    everyone to plan as follows:

    1) Please work with faculty and lecturers to plan for all courses
    with an enrollment >200 to be online if and only if you are prepared
    to deliver a high-quality, truly "online" (not "emergency remote")
    class. Doing so will have benefits for enhanced teaching quality
    and access beyond the pandemic, and so it's a great investment for
    the future. We will have assistance from the Division of Teaching
    Excellence and Innovation, DTEI Fellows, and other forms of support
    to help you! But again, let's remember student needs, and the issue
    of poor student outcomes in online environments for some of our
    student populations. If we're moving out of "emergency remote" mode
    and into truly "online," let's make it good. Let's make it better
    than good.

    2) If you are teaching a lecture class > 200 and want it to be
    in-person or flipped or hybrid, please discuss with your chair ASAP.
    I think we will be able to accommodate some, but not all, large
    lecture classes "in person" with density or other modifications,
    and we should discuss appropriate and feasible modifications that
    do not add work either to the instructor of record or the TAs, or
    that place additional burdens on the students. Because space is
    always an issue--and will be more so, given social distancing
    formats--early preparation will be key.

    If we can provide some large lecture classes with a significant
    in-person component and a portion of the teaching taking place
    remotely, we will help alleviate pressures on classroom space,
    ensure multiple modalities of instruction to best serve our students,
    enhance access, and assist other parts of the campus with their own

    3) Please take a close look at courses with an enrollment between
    60 and 200 and consider whether you'd be comfortable in person,
    with masks and social distancing (assuming, say, the students are
    spread out so that a larger room is at 50% normal occupancy), and,
    again, mindful of changing conditions come August/September. This
    will require larger classrooms so students can be spaced out, and/or
    flipped or hybrid instruction. Again, to the extent that you are
    comfortable in person, let's aim for a default of in person for all
    classes between 60 and 200, with whatever modifications will be
    necessary to ensure everyone's safety.

    4) Let's assume that classes < 60, which should include almost all
    graduate seminars, writing classes, and some research practicum
    classes, will be able to be conducted in person. Again, these
    arrangements will require early planning and proper safety measures.

    5) Grad students:  You should plan to be on campus for the Fall
    quarter to attend your own courses, seminars, and colloquia, and
    also to be available if you are assigned as a TA to an in-person
    course.  If special circumstances require you to be away from Irvine
    in the Fall, please contact Jennifer Gerson

    6) We will include a tickbox on the TA preference form where you
    can indicate whether you prefer a remote-TAing assignment. Given
    the large number of classes we expect to be online this Fall, we
    hope but cannot guarantee that we can accommodate your preferences.
    Again, if there are specific health concerns weighing in favor of
    a remote assignment, we will try to accommodate your needs.

    7) Safety modifications: there has been some discussion around
    campus about faculty requesting plexiglass barriers around podiums
    to help remind students to maintain some distance (the six foot
    guidance may become three feet by fall or sooner). Please let your
    department manager and chair know if you would like to have a
    plexiglass barrier available in your classroom or if there is some
    other modification you want to suggest. The Campus Department of
    Environmental, Health, and Safety has been and will continue working
    with the Departments of Public Health and OSHA to ensure classrooms
    and all of our workplaces meet public health and safety guidelines.
    More to come on this topic as the campus moves closer to normal
    occupancy over the summer.

    8) Accommodations for students who are not able to participate in
    person: The campus administration has assured the deans that there
    will be a process to accommodate undergraduate and graduate students
    with special needs, which will be handled centrally, in an analogous
    fashion to the Disability Services Center. We await further guidance,
    but let's assume that requests for accommodations will indeed be
    handled centrally.

    I know it's a lot to think about and to do. But, as we have already
    shown ourselves during this pandemic, we know that we'll get through
    it, working together to make the planning process and the transition
    to whatever Fall may bring as smooth as possible.

    Thank you, THANK YOU, so very much, yet again, for all that you are
    doing, and for the work ahead.

    As ever,