UC Berkeley students deserve COVID-19 academic accommodations safety net

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: To help students succeed, campuswide protocols must be established to support students facing extra stress due to the pandemic.

Illustration of a man falling through germ particles
Amanda Tsang/Staff

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Many college students are told that, if there were a triangle with three sides designated “sleep,” “academic success” and “social life,” they would only be able to choose two. This semester, however, includes another dimension — COVID-19 safety — especially as UC Berkeley has provided no campuswide academic accommodations for helping students and faculty return to “normal” life under unfamiliar circumstances. 

With the drop deadline for courses having passed Wednesday for many campus colleges, students were faced with an inadequate academic safety net. During the past year and a half, accommodations such as later drop deadlines and increased pass/no pass options were temporarily instituted; yet, they are nowhere to be found this fall. 

The College of Letters and Science increased the number of late changes to students’ schedules — whether that’s late adds, drops or grading changes — for future fall and spring semesters. As of this semester, the policy also allows students who already used a late drop to receive the same accommodation. But this isn’t a campuswide policy.

While vaccinations protect students and staff, there is still a risk. Positive COVID-19 cases are higher than they have been since the beginning of the semester and campus COVID-19 rates have surpassed that of the surrounding city. It’s unfair to expect students to operate under near-normal conditions while maintaining in-person attendance and promoting large events that could contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

Not only do academic accommodations support students who are ill or have family members who can contract COVID-19, but they also send a message that health and safety are more important than academic success. 

Currently, students who test positive must stay home from class regardless of vaccination status, and faculty are expected to determine how students make up for missed instruction on a case-by-case basis. However, there are no direct measures of enforcement. Campus does not require students who test positive to show eTang COVID-19 test badges before entering classrooms.

UC Berkeley’s culture is notoriously competitive and stressful. If campus doesn’t provide an academic safety net, students will continue to feel pressure to attend class, despite the health risks. Basic measures such as regularly mandated testing for those who have been exposed are necessary to support UC Berkeley’s rigorous academic expectations.

If students are immunocompromised or experiencing limitations to daily life due to COVID-19, they can reach out to the Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP, to discuss accommodations for potential remote participation. While this is a step in the right direction, too much burden is placed on DSP, whose 21 team members serve thousands of students.

Outlining remote and hybrid learning options in light of COVID-19 should not be up entirely to instructors, who should be able to focus on teaching. Later course drop and grade change deadlines, as well as P/NP regulations for required classes need to be relaxed to mitigate stress and reflect the challenges of the pandemic. 

Universal COVID-19 protocols and accommodations for students and instructors are needed. Suggestions and advice are not enough to ensure a safe campus community and a quality education.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2021 opinion editor, Emily Hom.