What fall will look like at the UCSC campus

To: UC Santa Cruz community

From: Chancellor Cynthia Larive

This piece was originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Sept. 27

Students chatting, running into the campus bookstore, grabbing a bus downtown to go shopping. Faculty catching up with students they haven’t seen since spring. Staff doing the million things they do so well to keep UC Santa Cruz strong. That’s what I think about when I envision the annual start of the academic year. But this year, which starts Thursday, things will look very different, and I want to share with the community how we’re approaching the fall quarter amid a global pandemic.

Our campus is taking an extremely conservative tack, among the most conservative in the country. Of the roughly 1,500 courses we will offer this quarter, only six will be held on campus, comprising just 54 students. The rest will be offered remotely, with students logging in to classes from wherever they are located.

We have vastly reduced the number of students who will be living on campus. In a typical year, we would house roughly 9,000 students. This fall, that number will be about 1,000; these students either do not have alternative housing available or living arrangements conducive to remote instruction. Except for family-student housing, the majority of housing assignments are singles — one person per room. Students are being asked to sequester for their first 14 days on campus. Residence hall bathrooms have been reconfigured to promote physical distancing. All campus dining will be takeout only.

After the CZU August Lightning Complex fire destroyed 925 area homes and damaged another 100, we asked students who might be planning to live in the community this year to consider remaining at home.

Why such a conservative approach? Because we care deeply about the well-being of our students, staff, faculty, and the greater Santa Cruz community. The best guidance we have been able to gather suggests that opening for in-person classes this fall would be unwise, the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread too high. We did not want to find ourselves in the position that some colleges and universities now find themselves in: opening for in-person instruction, then abruptly changing course in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Testing is also a major component of our campus COVID-19 mitigation plan. We worked hard this spring to add a diagnostic testing lab to campus. The lab will allow us to do asymptotic testing of those who are required to be on campus. Students in campus housing will be tested twice weekly. Our student health center works with the lab when contact tracing, allowing rapid testing of potential contacts to avert outbreaks. We also are providing COVID-19 testing at cost to local nonprofit health-care providers — currently about 200 samples per week with a capacity of closer to 400. We believe a healthier community helps us all.

Finally, as the year starts, we are launching a proactive campaign called Slug Strong that promotes the actions each of us can take personally to protect our community, chief among them physical distancing, wearing a mask, and avoiding large gatherings.

Is any of this ideal? No. I wish this school year could unfurl like previous ones. I feel for students who want to be on campus, the faculty who want to teach them in person, and the staff and faculty juggling both work and child-care duties from home. I also sympathize with the many local merchants who depend on our students to remain in business. These are difficult times. This will not last forever, though, and I am hopeful that it will soon be just a memory. But until then, I believe these measures are best for our campus and our community.

Cynthia Larive is the chancellor of UC Santa Cruz.