UCSB officially announced its plans for the upcoming fall semester, deciding to offer remote instruction for nearly all undergraduate classes and limiting undergraduate student housing to those with “special circumstances.”
The announcement was made Friday by Chancellor Henry T. Yang in a letter to UCSB’s campus community.
“In order to comply with Santa Barbara County, California Department of Public Health, and University of California guidelines, we have decided to offer nearly all undergraduate fall courses via remote instruction, and to limit our undergraduate student housing for fall quarter to only those students with special circumstances,” Chancellor Yang wrote. “We recommend that all other undergraduate students stay home to receive remote instruction. Full refunds will be offered to undergraduates for fall housing contracts. These contracts will be honored in winter quarter or whenever we are able to have our undergraduate students move in.”
While acknowledging the decision may be a “great disappointment” for students who hoped to return to the Isla Vista campus next month — notably for first-year and transfer students — the chancellor said the college is looking forward to virtually welcoming students at UCSB’s New Student Convocation on Sept. 29.
“We also acknowledge the weight of our decision for our most vulnerable students and their families,” he said. “And we deeply regret the burden this situation presents for our international students, who will be receiving more information soon from our Office of International Students and Scholars. We remain committed to engaging with all of our students virtually to support their academic progress and personal growth.”
While it remains unclear when the pandemic will end, college officials hope the remote learning this fall will “mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and increase the possibility that we will be able to offer in-person instruction and activities, as well as campus housing, in the winter or spring quarters,” Chancellor Yang said.
The college has developed a comprehensive COVID-19 mitigation plan that includes mandatory and frequent testing, physical distancing, reduced classroom occupancy and enhanced cleaning, though there have been “a number of factors outside of our control” that led the college to decide to offer remote instruction, the chancellor said.
“After complying with the California Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 requirements for higher education operations, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department guidelines, and the County’s status on the State COVID-19 watchlist, very little is left of the traditional campus experience for our undergraduate students this fall,” he said.
The college is prevented from offering in-person classroom instruction, except for a few labs or performance courses, and no in-person events are permitted on campus, including fall sports.
Campus study spaces have not received authorization to open, and even if these spaces were to open soon “access is likely to be intermittent and significantly limited,” Chancellor Yang said.
Health guidelines also prohibit visitors and community members who aren’t performing “mission-critical work” from being on campus, with the exception of coastal access areas.
“Our plan for fall quarter has also been influenced by the spike in COVID-19 cases in the neighboring community of Isla Vista, where thousands of our students live,” he said. “This trend is likely to be exacerbated by bringing additional students to the area.”
As of Saturday, 142 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the community of Isla Vista. Of those, four remained active. One Isla Vista resident has died due to COVID-19, according to the county Public Health Department.
Since the beginning of August, more than 65 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among UCSB students — which represents more than 60% of Isla Vista’s COVID-19 cases since March.
“The relatively high population density of Isla Vista and the crowded conditions in which many students live are contributing factors to this recent surge. We urge all of our students who can to avoid being in Isla Vista for fall quarter,” the chancellor wrote. “We have been carefully monitoring the situation at universities across the country where students have returned to campus. As you no doubt have seen in the national news, many have faced serious COVID-19 outbreaks among their students within days of reopening. As a result, many have been compelled to suspend in-person courses, and in many cases, have abruptly sent students home or asked them to stay home for the remainder of the calendar year.
“UC Santa Barbara faces the same public health challenges involved in bringing large numbers of undergraduate students back to campus.”
UCSB will hold a Student Affairs Summer Webinar from 5 to 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday to share the latest details about the fall plan and information on campus resources.
In the letter, Chancellor Yang said that housing for graduate students, who make up 11% of UCSB’s student body, will remain open.
The chancellor also touched on the topic of testing and COVID-19 exposure. The college has been using outside labs to analyze test results for students who have come to UCSB’s Student Health Center this summer. UCSB is awaiting Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments certification for its newly created campus clinical lab, which has established “the necessary FDA-approved methods that will significantly increase our on-campus testing capacity,” Chancellor Yang said.
“In addition, we have partnered with UC San Francisco and are working to develop a partnership with UCLA’s medical system to provide additional standby resources. We are also seeking FDA approval of our UCSB faculty-developed CRISPR-based COVID-19 test for diagnostic use, which will allow us to further increase our testing capacity. Currently, we plan to use this detection system to conduct surveillance testing to complement our other testing protocols,” he said.
The UCSB health center currently offers diagnostic COVID-19 testing for symptomatic students and exposed close contacts. All students living in campus housing will be screened with COVID-19 tests upon arrival, with a follow-up test seven to 10 days later. Students in campus housing will also be required to be tested at regular intervals, he said.
Since mid-June, more than 2,100 UCSB researchers have been permitted to work in specialized labs and research facilities on campus, in staggered shifts in an attempt to minimize density. All are adhering to the daily symptom screening requirements and complying with orders pertaining to face coverings, social distancing and cleaning regiments.
“Despite some facilities operating seven days a week, no cases of COVID-19 transmission or infections associated with research activities have been reported,” Chancellor Yang said. “Given this success, the Ramp-up Oversight Committee is reviewing proposals for 250 additional mission-critical researchers to return to campus, and will be working with the deans and the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor to develop protocols for other campus buildings and office space to be utilized in the coming months, as conditions and County regulations allow.”
With the fall quarter fast approaching, Chancellor Yang said, “we are heartbroken that (the campus) will not be filled with the excitement and anticipation of a new academic year. But we hope the sacrifices we make now will have long-term benefits for our campus community and for our families.”
Though students may feel a remote quarter or remote year “feels like a tremendous loss,” the chancellor said “the journey we are on together is not bound by time or by the borders of our beautiful campus.”
“It extends far beyond four years for our undergraduates, and hopefully throughout the careers of our graduate students, faculty, and staff,” he said. “As always, you are in our hearts and thoughts. We anxiously await the day when we all can be together again in the classroom and on our campus.
“We remain wholly committed to our academic journey together, and to the educational, research, and service mission of our University.”