UC Berkeley administration responds to fall 2020 financial, health concerns

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After announcing campus plans for fall 2020, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos answered questions Thursday about financial decisions, in-person opportunities and the flexibility required as a result of the changing COVID-19 health guidelines.

Christ and Alivisatos both emphasized repeatedly that the coming semester will not resemble a normal semester at UC Berkeley. They added that the decisions will be contingent on public health guidelines at the time and may change depending on the situation in the fall.

“This is the most complex planning exercise we’ve ever done. We simply do not know what’s going to happen the rest of the summer,“ Christ said during the event. “It’s fair to say that this semester is going to be a semester quite different than a normal semester.”

According to Christ, the decisions were made based on three principles: protecting the health of the community, ensuring the continuity of research and instruction and maintaining job security.

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, who moderated the event, said there is an inherent risk in opening in any capacity and asked why UC Berkeley was comfortable with the decisions it made. In response, Alivisatos said campus members will take it upon themselves to help the whole campus community follow public health procedures.

“We’ve stuck to what I think are very strong community principles to find our way through what has been an unprecedented time,” Alivisatos said at the meeting. “We’ll really be trying to enforce through social peer pressure the sense of responsibility that each person will have to bring to their life on campus.”

During the school year, Christ said, most classes will either be in person or remote, meaning every student in the class will be on “equal footing.”

Alivisatos added that campus is making significant investments to improve remote learning, including addressing technology inequity, different time zones and course capture quality.

“It’s really hard. (People’s) lives are interrupted and they’re worried. Yet, they continue to be engaged with Berkeley,” Alivisatos said during the event. “People are here because they truly believe in the mission of this great public university.”

All incoming students planning to live in residence halls will be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive, as well as seven to 10 days after moving in. According to Christ, campus is planning to test everyone, regardless of symptoms, every two weeks to quickly identify and isolate any infected individuals.

Christ added that UC Berkeley is reserving 806 beds in the Foothill residence hall for isolating individuals who test positive and those whom they may have exposed to the disease.

Residence halls will likely have cohorts of students who may take similar classes on each floor to create “tighter social units” and limit interaction among students.

“What we’ve exercised the greatest caution about is what goes under the name of congregate living,” Christ said during the event. “We are trying to balance being able to provide space in our residential life system for as many students as possible as is consistent with student health.”

Financial aid will not be impacted much, Christ said, although living at home may affect aid for room and board.

The possibility of deferring a year was also discussed, but COVID-19 itself is not a sufficient reason, according to Alivisatos.

Additional town halls are scheduled for June 22, June 23 and June 25 to address fall planning for instruction, research and student engagement, respectively.

Maria Young is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.