Facing the new academic year with hope and community

To: UCSC campus community

From: Chancellor Cynthia Larive

Dear UCSC students, faculty, staff, and parents,

Every summer I look forward to fall and the upcoming start of school. It is so energizing to welcome our newest Banana Slugs and to greet returning ones. This new academic year will not have the same in-person events we have enjoyed in the past, but it remains a new beginning for many of our students and for our campus.

While COVID-19 requires us to implement extraordinary measures to maintain the health and well-being of our campus community, it is important to stay positive and to focus on opportunities rather than losses.

UC Santa Cruz has shown extraordinary resilience in adapting to the unexpected challenges and rapidly changing conditions brought about by COVID-19. Our faculty and staff have been innovative and creative in developing new ways to teach, mentor, support, and engage students. The latest information about resources for instructors and students is available on our Keep Teaching and Keep Learning websites. And students, please note the survey linked here and at the bottom of the Keep Learning webpage. We want your feedback about how our remote instructional tools and platforms work for you. And if you do not have the computer equipment or internet connection you need to learn remotely, contact Slug Support so we can help.

Scaling back on-campus housing

Our campus and the greater Santa Cruz community have been through a lot over the past month. The CZU Lightning Complex fire, which is still burning in parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has devastated the lives of thousands of local residents including many university affiliates. More than 900 homes were destroyed. In light of that and our efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID, we have further scaled back our plans for in-person instruction and on-campus housing.

After personal outreach by staff, about 1,000 students who were planning to live on campus this fall have now reconsidered and will instead remain at their current residences while they take classes remotely. I am deeply grateful for their consideration. This will help campus catch up on preparations for the approximately 1,000 students who will be living on campus this fall; these students either do not have alternative housing available or living arrangements conducive to remote instruction. A normal year would see anywhere from about 8,500 to 9,000 students living on campus.

Limiting the spread of COVID-19

Fewer students residing on campus also will help us limit the spread of COVID and give us the time and space needed to scale up our COVID-19 testing operations. During the campus evacuation, our Molecular Diagnostics Lab lost valuable time preparing for the testing of the students, faculty, and staff who will be present on campus this fall. Our fall plans include regular asymptomatic testing. Regular and inclusive testing is critical in limiting the spread of this pandemic because many folks who have the virus and can infect others do not show symptoms. Also critical are the Slug Strong actions each of us can undertake personally to protect our community, wearing face coverings and maintaining social-distancing chief among them.

We decided early this summer to take a careful approach to reopening campus this fall. A return to in-person classes did not seem wise based on the best public-health information we could gather. As we watch other institutions open, then change course and close after seeing large numbers of students test positive for COVID, our approach appears to be the correct one.

I understand that does not make it any less disappointing for those of you who will be learning or working remotely, but know that we are committed to making this year both meaningful and productive. Our faculty and staff are working to make our curricula and teaching practices more effective and engaging, and they are pioneering new ways of building community remotely. Remember that this is a temporary crisis. UC Santa Cruz and our wonderful community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends will emerge from this pandemic more resilient, with a renewed commitment to our mission and Principles of Community. And don’t forget that “celebrative” is one of those principles! Whether you are in Santa Cruz or living and studying from afar, I urge you all to find ways to safely celebrate life’s victories and simple pleasures.

Contributing to our community

I hope you will think about ways you can contribute to our community through your ideas, engagement, work, and, as you are able, donations. Giving Day is Sept. 30 this year. Please take a look at our Giving Day website and learn more about our amazing student groups and how you can support them.

As we move through the next phase of the pandemic and look forward to the promise of a vaccine, we will take away many lessons from this experience. For me, one is the belief that a place, no matter how beautiful and special, does not define our university or our experiences. It's the people that make a university what it is.

I look forward to seeing you all virtually, and, when we are able to do so, in person. Until then, please stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.