UC Berkeley should expand options for remote instruction this fall

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Campus plans for in-person instruction don’t adequately accommodate students who will struggle to return to Berkeley

Illustration of the bustling UC Berkeley campus inside a snowglobe, while international students on the outside reach for it
Jericho Tang/Staff

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As UC Berkeley prepares to resume in-person instruction this fall, students, faculty and staff alike have begun to imagine a glorious return to pre-pandemic life on campus. 

In our eagerness, however, we mustn’t forget that the pandemic will not disappear come August, nor will the many challenges students have faced over the past year.

This fall, only a small fraction of the more than 6,000 courses offered at UC Berkeley will be available online. It seems even remote courses will offer only in-person options for associated discussion sections — crucial and often mandatory components of larger lectures. Only about 40 courses will be available entirely online and a mere 20 — 11 of which are in physical education — will be asynchronous.

The implicit expectation that students live in the vicinity of UC Berkeley and enroll in mostly synchronous, in-person courses neglects the many obstacles students will encounter in returning to campus.

Due to the pandemic, international students living abroad have struggled to renew or obtain visas. With a return to Berkeley hinging on their ability to enter the United States, thousands of international students are now caught in a limbo that campus has done little to address. Without adequate asynchronous and remote options, some may have to withdraw for the semester — punishment for a situation out of their control. Even if those options will be available, a lack of information from campus has made planning for the fall difficult and stressful.

In general, students in different time zones have struggled with a severe lack of academic accommodations during the pandemic. Some professors have been flexible, but accommodations vary across classes and majors, forcing many students to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion. Rather than improve accommodations in the fall, campus seems to be making instruction less accessible. 

The truth is, students of all backgrounds will find an abrupt return to in-person instruction difficult. For some students with disabilities, remote learning options have helped expand accessibility to campus programming — a long-awaited improvement that may dissolve this fall. For other students, the psychological and emotional toll of the pandemic has understandably made the thought of sitting in a classroom outright terrifying.

It’s clear fall will still be very much a time of transition, and campus must make stronger efforts to foster an academic environment to reflect that.

While class enrollment has already begun, it isn’t too late for campus to develop more comprehensive hybrid instruction, including asynchronous options as well as interactive online formats. Close conversations among administrators, major advisers and student government leaders could be an effective way to determine necessary accommodations for students across affinity groups and fields of study. 

The task ahead is no doubt a difficult one. But come fall, lenience and flexibility — not in-person — should be the defining features of academics at UC Berkeley. As it stands, campus would do well to return to the drawing board.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2021 opinion editor, Jericho Rajninger.