Carol Christ has utterly neglected students amid California’s deadliest fires

CAMPUS ISSUES: In delaying class cancellation, administrators have made it clear that the health and safety of UC Berkeley students are not a priority

Alexander Hong/Staff

This week, hundreds of UC Berkeley students have felt the impact of California’s deadliest fire. Many students’ homes have been destroyed, and some students have seen their friends and families displaced. And yet, in the face of this horrible tragedy, the campus administration has demonstrated an unbelievable insensitivity to the physical and mental well-being of its students.

It took until Thursday evening — as the city of Berkeley’s air quality index, or AQI, oscillated between dangerous levels as high as 200 and 250 — for campus officials to finally cancel classes for the remainder of the day and the following day. UC Berkeley was one of the last campuses in the region to cancel classes, trailing behind the Berkeley Unified School District and Berkeley City College.

The day before, Chancellor Carol Christ informed students that the administration deemed it unnecessary to cancel classes, since the AQI was still below 200. At the time, the AQI was literally 197. Christ’s statement just seemed like a stubborn attempt to not give in to students’ demands.

And by the time Christ announced the cancellation Thursday, students — many of whom didn’t have access to masks — had already spent the majority of their day traversing the campus in air that is considered “very unhealthy” by the Environmental Protection Agency. The campus administration, unlike UCLA’s, isn’t distributing masks for free, and masks have been sold out for days in most nearby stores.

This level of indifference demonstrated by UC Berkeley officials is staggering and unacceptable. Administrators waited far too long to cancel classes — and Christ waited more than a week to send a campuswide email offering condolences to the large number of students who have lost their homes in the ongoing fires. Instead, campus administration took a series of missteps this week that demonstrated just how unprepared it was for these kinds of crisis situations.

In a poorly conceived attempt to reduce students’ exposure to the air, the campus opened the Loop accessibility golf cart program to all community members. But in doing so, the campus merely diverted much-needed resources away from individuals with disabilities and did little to actually protect students from severe conditions, since the golf carts are completely unenclosed.

The campus also took no action to ensure that students — who ultimately had little choice but to attend classes — had access to the necessary protective gear. And as of press time, it has yet to cancel this weekend’s Big Game. But the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Christ’s proclaimed “most reliable source,” has said the AQI level is so high that “everyone might experience more serious health effects.”

To campus administrators: Enough is enough. You have repeatedly failed to prioritize the well-being of your students and have merely offered negligent, Band-Aid solutions. Do something right — push to cancel the Big Game. School spirit and ticket revenues are not worth more than the safety and well-being of student-athletes, Cal Band or any community members attending the game. If it isn’t safe for students to walk around on campus, how could it be safe for athletes to participate in a physically exhausting game for several hours?

Many UC Berkeley students have experienced great loss and physical duress due to the fires and smoke in the past few days. Campus officials can’t be this tone-deaf — they must acknowledge the tragedies that so many students and staffers are struggling to cope with.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.