The fall 2020 quarter is looming in front of continuing UCI students, but it is unclear if the new school year will usher in a sudden repopulation of campus. UCI is already prepared to offer incoming freshmen a fully online campus experience for the fall 2020 quarter. While this option offers a promising solution to fall quarter instruction, it begs the question of who should get to come to campus in fall, if anyone at all.
UC President Janet Napolitano told CNBC that each UC campus must meet certain requirements to reopen in the fall, which includes contact tracing programs and COVID-19 testing for students, faculty and staff. These measures are in place to flatten the curve of infected cases, as well as to trace the virus if a campus outbreak should occur. UCLA is planning to allow students to attend classes in person or online due to housing issues as a result of travel restrictions and safety procedures. A grim reality is that UCI will face similar housing issues, although the school hasn’t announced any plans for in-person or hybrid options for continuing students.
This raises a more nuanced question regarding the reopening of campus: who will be able to attend in-person classes when they are eventually offered? It is inevitable that the UC’s plan to trace infections and offer testing will be required by UCI, but we must also develop a plan on how to slowly introduce the student population back onto campus. A sudden, full repopulation may spark a COVID-19 outbreak which will re-close campus and displace students and faculty/staff for a second time this year. Because of this, allowing seniors and housing-insecure upper division students on campus should be prioritized over allowing the general freshman population to decide whether or not to live near campus.
Offering in-person classes during the fall 2020 quarter will be a tricky puzzle to solve, especially when considering that flattening the curve of infections is completely dependent on our willingness to comply with federal health advisories. Unfortunately, COVID-19 cases have spiked in Orange County as of May 1 due to protests fighting the federally mandated stay-at-home order and beach closures. California is slowly reopening businesses as well, with a plan to keep future infections at a minimum. The unpredictable nature of the current situation regarding currently unknown cases, future cases and civil unrest leaves the educational system in a very defensive and safety-oriented position.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has developed a four-phase plan for reopening California in the wake of the virus, which involves gradually lifting closures of businesses and venues as the virus declines in new infections. UCI should follow a similar plan. Phases should be used temporally but also to create on-campus priority based on class year and then more nuanced eligibility thresholds.
Phase one, for example, should take place in the fall, with seniors being the first offered in-person spots for available hybrid classes. More nuanced requirements, such as GPA, can be considered if spots fill up, and spots for lower division students should only open if all upper division students who meet the eligibility requirements have accepted or declined their spots first. During the course of the 2020-2021 year, phase two and subsequent phases would give access to a larger campus population in line with the government’s strategic lift on stay-at-home orders. There are obviously outstanding circumstances such as students of all years facing insecure housing, students with special needs, lower division students already marooned near campus, and other situations that could bypass the general rule and those should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
This is an unfair time for everyone and no system will be completely perfect. We are all struggling to react and recuperate from the pandemic’s tragic grip on the U.S. and abroad. Although we are all working our hardest to mitigate the virus’s reach, UCI needs to reopen its physical campus not only in a highly strategic manner but also in a way that is fair to its dedicated student population. Priority for who can attend in-person fall classes needs to be given to upper division students, not just students who can meet basic safety eligibility requirements required by the UC system in order to foster a steady return to the normal campus environment that we all fight so hard to be a part of.
David Andrews is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 spring quarter. He can be reached at dlandrew@UC Irvine.edu.