‘A semester in the cloud’: UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ discusses reopening campus, fall instruction

Carol Christ
Emma Drake/File

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Though the future level of in-person activity on campus is uncertain, UC Berkeley will look different in the fall, said Chancellor Carol Christ during a livestreamed conversation Monday.

According to Christ, UC Berkeley is using three principles to determine future steps: protecting community health, continuing instruction and protecting as many jobs as possible. To do this, Christ organized her cabinet into nine task forces, each of which specializes in a different part of the plan to reopen campus. UC Berkeley deans and department chairs have also given input on many campus policies that administration is exploring, Christ said.

“I’ve been so impressed by the resilience and creativity and dedication of the community,” Christ said during the event. “I’ve never realized as acutely as I have during this process how communal the university is.”

UC Berkeley has a goal to begin reengaging with research activities on campus as early as June, according to Christ.

She added that the current plan is to open campus building by building, creating detailed and specific plans for each building beforehand.

“I must emphasize that this is so uncertain of a situation that we have to be prepared to be flexible and change our circumstances amid the pandemic,” Christ said during the event.

During the summer, UC Berkeley will invest in developing enhanced online material for 50 popular classes to be as “good as they can possibly be” in preparation for fall, “a semester in the cloud,” Christ said. She added that all students, even those who return to campus, will likely have at least a portion of their lectures online, as the large lecture hall-style classes that took place before the pandemic will likely not be appropriate.

Campus administration expects many students to be unable to return to campus because of health concerns, visa issues or other circumstances, which the campus will accommodate. Christ added that residential life will likely look different, although the details are undetermined. She said, however, that she does not anticipate a move-in day during which all 30,000 undergraduates move back to campus at once.

One of the biggest challenges UC Berkeley faces is budgetary constraints. According to Christ, the exact magnitude of the hit that campus finances will take is undetermined due to uncertainty about the level of state funding it will receive and the size of its international and out-of-state student populations, but she predicts it will be between $170 million and $400 million.

When asked if the situation will lead to layoffs, Christ said there have not yet been conversations about it, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

“We’re trying our hardest to save jobs; however, personnel costs are the largest part of our budget,” Christ said during the event. “It’s very hard to sustain our budget without taking personnel action.”

Kate Finman is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.