Checking In With Chancellor May: The Essentials

Chancellor May sitting at desk writing a letter

Checking In With Chancellor May: The Essentials

To the UC Davis Community:

Although our main campus is fairly quiet, there is — as you all know — much going on, much that you all are doing. UC Davis is defined as essential in Yolo County’s shelter-in-place order, which states that educational institutions can stay open for the purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions, provided that we follow social distancing protocol and, more recently, the added requirement for face coverings.

We have accordingly significantly modified campus operations, but our mission continues. Our faculty, on short notice, successfully converted to remote examinations for winter quarter and remote instruction for spring quarter. I commend them once again for the work they are doing to connect with their students, and I am also grateful to our IT personnel behind the scenes.

As a major research institution, we can never close. We have livestock and agricultural projects to care for on the Davis campus, and extensive facilities to maintain on the Davis and Sacramento campuses. We have clinical services for human and animal health. We have several hundred students living with us in residential housing. Construction continues. For more examples, please take a look at our daily Spring Quarter Snapshots, all of which are compiled here.

Health care

Our health system, of course, is essential in a different way, being on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak. Our hero doctors and nurses and other personnel have been treating and saving patients, running clinical trials and testing new therapies, while also taking care of emergency cases. Now our medical center and clinics are returning to normal operations, in phases.

You know I am active on Facebook, so I was happy to see this UC Davis Health post about a COVID-19 patient’s release from the medical center on his 81st birthday. Suren Vaniyev had been in the hospital for 50 days, and, during that time, became the first patient to connect with family through the medical center’s new Virtual Visit Program. How great is that?

Well before the pandemic, the World Health Organization declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse. How appropriate this has turned out to be. Our health system this week joined the celebration by launching a blog where our nurses can talk about their work in their own words (audio with accompanying transcripts).

One of the first participants, Alexandria Depew, talks about a difficult conversation she had with an emergency patient. “That was the last thing he wanted to hear, but him realizing that we were just there to help him and whatever that meant, whatever he needed, whatever that looked like, we were here to help him get through that situation,” Alexandria says.

Thank you to our nurses and our doctors and all our health care personnel, at UC Davis Health and our Student Health and Wellness Center, which also continues to provide services (mostly remote) during the pandemic.

Assessing students’ learning

Our students have also had to adjust to all-remote instruction this quarter. We hope to ease their stress and anxiety with guidance we sent to instructors this week, discouraging them from giving remotely-proctored examinations, which, in being administered at a single, set time, can create significant obstacles and hardships outside of students’ immediate control (for example, students may not have reliable internet, functional computer cameras or microphones; or dependable access to a quiet, private space; or they live in different time zones).

“Accordingly, we encourage instructors to assess student learning through means other than proctored exams, such as alternative assignments, oral examinations or unproctored exams,” Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter, Academic Senate Chair Kristin Lagattuta, and Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Carolyn Thomas said in a May 5 letter. They also provided recommendations for supporting academic integrity.

More information is available on the Keep Teaching website.

Summer and fall

We are happy to report strong enrollment data for Summer Sessions, which will also be conducted remotely, although some in-person instruction may be permitted in Summer Session II. We’ve had more than 15,000 summer sign-ups to date, a 22 percent gain over last year at this time. (The number of unique enrollments is 10,625; those who sign up for both sessions are counted twice.)

Our freshman enrollment so far is strong. We look forward to welcoming the Class of 2024 and our returning students in the fall. We are actively developing scenarios and working with the colleges and schools and programs to support instruction at all levels. The only certainty is that we can have no certainty now, in early May, about what the state of the pandemic will be come late September, when the fall quarter will commence. We also don’t know the mandates and directives from the various entities — the state, county public health officials, and UC itself — that could impact our range of possible options. And, to make planning even more challenging, there is no certainty that whatever conditions and mandates are in place on the first day of the quarter will remain unchanged through the quarter, much less the entire academic year.

For all these reasons, while details are still being determined, we will be working with individual departments and professional schools to find ways to offer in-person classes in fall 2020, based, as always, on advice from public health experts. As well, we anticipate that, with few exceptions, course offerings will be available remotely for students who either cannot be accommodated in physical classroom spaces due to the fall health directives or who need to remain isolated due to pre-existing health conditions or other considerations (There are also instructors who will need to teach remotely for the same reasons.)  Thus, we anticipate that our instructional plan will enable substantial flexibility to support student learning and degree progress.

Graduation celebrations

With spring quarter now half over, we are planning a proper sendoff for the Class of 2020. We had hoped to hold our first outdoor commencements this spring: three large ceremonies for undergraduates from our four colleges, in UC Davis Health Stadium. Instead, we have invited our graduates to participate in an online celebration, on Friday, June 12. Many of our graduate and professional schools are planning remote celebrations as well.

We hope to invite our undergraduates back for in-person commencement later this year, and many of our graduate and professional schools are hoping to do the same.

Title IX

In a message to the campus community earlier this week, I joined UC President Janet Napolitano in expressing deep disappointment with the Department of Education’s new rules on how universities respond to reports of sexual harassment.

The rules narrow the definition of sexual harassment and lower the standards to which the federal government holds schools, and subject those who participate in the university’s hearing processes to direct cross-examination, even though other less traumatic and equally fair processes are available.

President Napolitano asserted that UC will “continue our hard-won momentum through education, prevention and processes that are fair and compassionate to all parties.” Here at UC Davis, our processes for reporting will not change. Despite this setback, I am committed to a fair and compassionate adjudication process for all.


Our public service also continues. Next Tuesday evening (May 12), the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Library will host another program in their Savor series, this time on the subject of “Food Shortages in a Pandemic.”

A scheduling conflict prevents Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, from participating, so Undersecretary Jenny Lester Moffitt will take her place, joining Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, professor of agricultural and resource economics, and former assistant secretary for economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and representatives from Raley’s and the San Francisco produce distributor Veritable Vegetable. The moderator will be Catherine Brinkley, who, as an assistant professor in the Department of Human Ecology at UC Davis, studies the architecture of food supply networks. I will deliver the welcoming remarks.

Two days later, on Thursday, May 14, Distinguished Professor Walter Leal will host his second COVID-19 Public Awareness Symposium, on YouTube and Zoom. I gave the welcoming remarks at the first symposium, and we are honored to have UC President Napolitano give the welcoming remarks at next week’s program.

Yesterday, we hosted our first UC Davis LIVE: COVID-19, with guests Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research; Allison Brashear, dean of the School of Medicine; and Michael Lairmore, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. You can watch a recording here. Future programs (we are going to have them twice a month) will feature researchers from both sides of the causeway.

Good Stuff

I’ve mentioned Peter Yellowlees’ Good Stuff newsletter before (he’s our chief wellness officer at UC Davis Health), but, up until now, the psychiatrist’s twice-weekly newsletter was distributed only to health system personnel. Now everyone can read it here, on this new webpage with newsletters dating back to March 12 around the time we started feeling the pandemic. Earlier this week, Professor Yellowlees addressed the question, How does it feel to be an “essential worker?” Other previous topics include coping strategies, surviving at home, and psychological first aid. I highly recommend his Good Stuff.

On another helpful front, we have a new way for employees to support other employees who may be dealing with COVID-19 issues or other catastrophic illnesses and events. We have set up a general pool as part of the Catastrophic Leave Program — a pool that anyone can donate to (accrued vacation time only).

Employees can still donate vacation time or other paid time off to specific colleagues in distress. But, as of May 1, you can also ask for help from the general pool (up to 24 hours per calendar year). In just over a week, we’ve already seen the pool accumulate 506 hours. Learn more here about eligibility and other requirements.

Finally, Happy Mother’s Day to my mom back in St. Louis and to all other UC Davis moms.



Gary S. May

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