Editor’s Note: This is a breaking news story and will be updated as the New University receives additional information and quotes.
Update 1/26/22 at 7:45 p.m.: The article has been updated to include a statement from Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Willie Banks Jr., Ph.D. to the New University on Jan. 26.
Associated Graduate Students (AGS) and Associated Students of University of California at Irvine (ASUCI) released a joint letter on Jan. 21 in response to Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Hal Stern’s email regarding the return to in-person instruction. AGS and ASUCI declared in the letter that the university failed to consult with student leadership — despite the university stating otherwise — before proceeding with the plan to reopen campus for in-person instruction.
Stern sent out a message on Jan. 21, informing the UCI community that in-person instruction will resume on Jan. 31 as planned. He noted that this decision was based on “broad consultation with the community, including discussions with Academic Senate leadership, student government leadership, campus health leadership and university administrators.”
However, according to AGS and ASUCI, student government leadership was not consulted beforehand. In their letter, AGS and ASUCI claimed to have “specifically asked UCI leadership at the advent of the Omicron variant last quarter and at the beginning of [winter] quarter to consult with the student governments” in order to “ensure that policies and communications reflect the needs of our most vulnerable student populations.”
AGS and ASUCI also asserted that there were several concerns that they “would have wanted addressed prior to any announcement,” such as the limited availability of upgraded masks and adaptability of on-campus testing services, but “unsurprisingly, those concerns were not addressed in the [P]rovost’s email to the student body.”
AGS and ASUCI closed their letter by emphasizing UCI’s shared governance model, in which “students share in shaping campus policy and operations.” They noted their desire to carry out this approach.
“We expect to live up to that tradition so that students can have confidence in the decisions that campus leaders make and that policies can be responsive to the needs, concerns and aspirations of the community,” the letter stated.
The New University spoke with AGS President Connor Strobel about the letter.
“It started when I reached out to Yoseph [Ghazal, ASUCI President] to see if there were any conversations ASUCI had with the UCI administration. When he let me know that his team was in the dark, we talked through some of the areas of concern for both communities,” Strobel said.
Strobel then reached out to the AGS Council to confirm that they had not been consulted. He wrote the first draft of the letter and shared it with Ghazal, who shared it with his executive team at ASUCI. After both the AGS Council and ASUCI approved the final draft, they sent it to UCI administrators and posted it on their social media pages.
Strobel shared with the New University what he hopes will change in response to the letter.
“First, I hope that the administration takes to heart that students deeply care about the well-being of the UCI community and want UCI to thrive — and that UCI cannot do so without understanding the needs and aspirations of its students,” Strobel said. “There needs to be more formalized mechanisms for engaging with students in the development and communication of policies and campus operations.”
He added that meetings with central administration are often “one-directional,” and that they receive “little proactive engagement from the other side of the table” when proposing “thoughtful, measured and consensus-driven ideas.”
Strobel also hopes that the administration will address concerns regarding the health of students.
“Immunocompromised students are scared as hell because we will be returning to in-person instruction, just as Dr. Anthony Fauci said most parts of the country should peak in February,” Strobel said. “A lot more needs to be said and done about how the campus will take care of immunocompromised, disabled and caregiving students … I do not believe there [has] been any campus-wide response to the concerns we mentioned in our letter.”
Strobel reaffirmed his desire to “add nuance to policies that consistently overlook vulnerable student populations,” noting that they are “not asking to usurp the expertise of public health professionals.”
“We want to [make] policy more nimble and responsive, and the messaging clearer and anticipatory of student questions. I hope that students can play a [routinely] proactive, generative and consultative role [in] … areas affecting the student experience,” Strobel said.
According to Strobel, he and Ghazal have since spoken with Stern on Jan. 25, resulting in the student governments being added to a list of campus leaders — including deans and the Academic Senate Chair — that “opine on policies in advance of [finalization] and going out to the campus community.” Strobel added that they have been reaching out to the Academic Senate, Disabilities Services Center and central administration about policies concerning those most affected by the return to in-person instruction.
“As instructors have been announcing their plans for next week, we continue to advocate strongly for automatic remote options for students, including student workers, who are in [a] precarious situation. We want UCI to lead on an inclusive approach to the reopening and will be dogged in that pursuit,” Strobel said.
The New University reached out to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Willie Banks Jr., Ph.D.
“We appreciate UCI student government [reaching out] to us and have been in communication with the presidents of ASUCI and AGS,” Banks said in a statement to the New University on Jan. 26. “We shared with them our commitment to address[ing] the needs outlined in their letter and working together in support of the wellbeing of our students. We recognize the challenges of navigating the pandemic over the past two years and remain committed [to] working with student leaders to address concerns.”
Members of the UCI community can read the full letter here.
Chrissy Park is a Campus News Intern for the winter 2022 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.