UC Berkeley’s Instructional Resilience Task Force holds town hall to discuss campus closures

Maya Valluru/Staff

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UC Berkeley’s Instructional Resilience Task Force held a town hall Tuesday for faculty and staff to discuss campus approaches to events like power outages and poor air quality that could disrupt instruction.

Last semester, UC Berkeley canceled two days of classes because of preemptive PG&E power outages and limited campus services, encouraging employees to stay home unless they were “critical employees.” In 2018, smoke wafting from the Camp Fire also caused instructional disruption.

In response, the UC Office of the President formed a systemwide air quality protocol working group to create streamlined actions at certain air quality thresholds. UC Berkeley’s Academic Senate, ASUC and Graduate Assembly also created the Instructional Resilience Task Force.

“A lot of people in this room will have ideas that we haven’t even thought about and we’re really welcome to hearing that,” said task force co-chair Oliver O’Reilly at the start of the town hall. “Our goal is that in fall 2020 we will be far more resilient.”

By the time the town hall started, faculty and staff had filled the Academic Innovation Studio in Dwinelle Hall. Task force co-chairs O’Reilly and Catherine P. Koshland directed attendees into breakout sessions led by task force members to discuss the consequences of past campus closures.

Following the sessions, task force members summarized each group’s suggestions for better handling disruptions to instruction. Some of these included prescheduled backup exam times and rooms in instances of canceled exams, archived and shared lab data in instances of canceled labs and framing campus closures as “planned events” rather than “emergencies.”

Several groups suggested a more flexible academic calendar, similar to other universities whose calendars account for the possibility of snow days. Groups also discussed instituting something like a “fall break” that would only take place if unforeseen campus closures do not occur but would ultimately allow instructors to plan 14 weeks of material rather than 15.

“Others have done this. We’re just (used to) benign California weather,” Koshland said at the town hall. We are in a very different place now, but there are a lot of different tools and tricks out there that we can take advantage of.”

In an email to campus staff, the task force also shared a survey for people who could not make the town hall to share their experiences. The survey asks respondents to indicate the different disruptions they experienced, ranging from an impacted Reading, Review and Recitation Week to a lack of power at home. It also asks for ideas to “maintain continuity of instruction.”

The task force will hold another town hall next Tuesday on the same subject to hear students’ perspectives on issues they have faced because of past campus closures.

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.