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Academic Senate Newsletter - Fall 2021 Instruction
March 01, 2021

Dear Colleagues:

Between the date of my last newsletter in November and today we experienced truly horrible times, with coronavirus cases escalating, cumulative deaths reaching half a million, and hospital capacity stretched to the limit. We had to close down classroom teaching for a second time and return to only remote and outside instruction. Fortunately, the worst seems to be over. The new case rate in San Diego and California is an order of magnitude down from its peak, and last week UCSD started vaccinating much broader segments of employees. We now have three vaccines approved for use. The rest of this newsletter deals with what this means for Fall 2021 instruction.

The Fall quarter is seven months away, but the process of planning for Fall instruction has already started, as it does every year at this time, and so decisions have to be made. While it is impossible to predict with certainty what the pandemic will look like in the Fall, given the current situation and the near-certainty of increased vaccine supply in the coming months we are optimistic that it will be safe to resume in-person Fall instruction at full classroom capacity, although we may still be wearing masks. Most of you, and most of our students, are very much looking forward to this.

However, no matter how good the situation is in Fall, it is likely that there will be some instructors who will not want to return to in-person instruction. One oft-cited example is parents with small children who have not yet been vaccinated. While early studies suggest that vaccination will reduce transmission of the virus, the data are incomplete at this time, and in any case some people will simply not want to take any risks. The Senate has struggled with how to accommodate these instructors.

It has been suggested that R-courses provide this option. The Senate is strongly opposed to having R-courses as the only option for remote instruction in the Fall. R-courses are designed to fill a long-term need for remote instruction, require careful development in consultation with the Teaching + Learning Commons, and need to be approved by the Senate. They are, in short, a lot of work to properly develop and deliver. Faculty who wish to develop an R-course are perfectly welcome to do so, but R-courses should not be required in order to deal with emergency remote instruction. Those who sat in on the Return to Learn town hall on February 18th will know that this is also the position of the Administration.

The Senate considered some kind of case-by-case exception to the distance education policy, which is appealing if instruction is predominantly in-person, but decided that this idea is problematic. The criteria for an exception would have to be defined, which likely would run into issues of academic freedom. There are issues of privacy if an instructor is, for example, required to declare themselves immunocompromised. There are equity issues, since those with caregiving concerns are predominantly young female faculty.

This leaves a continuation of the blanket exception to the Policy on Distance Education Courses for graduate and undergraduate courses. This appears at first glance to be too broad a solution for what we hope are a small number of cases, but it provides the most flexibility with the least administrative burden. The Senate expects that the vast majority of instructors will want to teach in-person if safe, and trusts the faculty to balance their safety concerns with the needs of their students in order to make the best decisions. Furthermore, the Senate is not in a position to act as the judge of what is, or isn’t, a legitimate reason to teach remotely.

Faculty have expressed concern over students who, for various reasons, will not be able to attend classes in person. An exception to the distance education policy will allow departments to offer remote sections for some of the most high-demand classes. We hope that a return to mostly in-person instruction will limit the need for hybrid delivery, but instructors should consider posting course materials online as appropriate.

This is still a work in progress – for example, we have to coordinate with WSCUC, our accrediting agency. However, I wanted to address current concerns about the R-course situation, and to provide guidance for plans being made right now for Fall quarter instruction. I recommend that you plan on in-person teaching, and be assured that there will be options to pivot to remote instruction if the pandemic situation dictates that. The chairs of our education committees have contributed to these discussions, and I have invited them to endorse this newsletter.

Please, get vaccinated when it is offered, keep distancing and masking, and stay safe.

Steven Constable
Academic Senate, San Diego Division

Geoffrey Cook
Educational Policy Committee

Lynn Russell
Graduate Council

Jane Teranes
Undergraduate Council