August 14, 2020
Dear UC Santa Barbara Undergraduate Students, Parents, and Guardians,
The last five months have been enormously challenging as COVID-19 has affected all members of our community – our students, parents, staff, and faculty – in so many ways. My wife, Dilling, and I continue to hold all of you in our thoughts, and we are particularly sensitive to the stress felt by the families who are most vulnerable to the ongoing effects of this crisis.
We are especially aware of what the pandemic means to our undergraduate students. You are entering what should be one of the most exciting phases of your lives with tremendous uncertainty. You are being asked to adapt to a situation that is very far from what you hoped your college experience would be. You are the heart of our campus community, and we are sustained by your resilience. We will rise to the challenge and get through these difficult times together, rooted in our concern for each other and in our steadfast knowledge that UC Santa Barbara will endure and thrive.
State Guidelines on Higher Education
We know that our campus will be a very different place this fall from the one we have come to love, and even from what we all hoped would be possible earlier in the summer. Last Friday, the California Department of Public Health announced its requirements for higher education operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, which are helping to guide our plans for fall quarter. We thank Governor Gavin Newsom and his administration for managing the tremendous challenges of COVID-19, and we appreciate their attention to the complexities the pandemic presents for higher education in California.
At this time, due to Santa Barbara County’s status on the state COVID-19 watchlist, we are currently not authorized to hold any indoor lectures. (Some labs and performance classes are still permitted.) We anticipate that even in a best-case scenario, less than 3 percent of our students will have an in-person classroom experience in fall quarter. Roughly 95 percent of our courses will be offered in a remote format, according to updated estimates from our Registrar’s Office. Depending on the circumstances, it is possible that we may have to move to fully remote instruction for the quarter. Our indoor campus study spaces, including the Library, the Student Resource Building and the University Center, are currently closed to comply with state and Santa Barbara County guidelines, and if we are allowed to reopen these facilities, access is likely to be intermittent and significantly limited. Fall sports already have been “postponed through the end of the calendar year” by the Big West Conference, and most other student activities will need to take place online.
We are working around the clock to provide the best educational experience possible. Our campus faculty and staff are working in collaboration with our University of California colleagues around the state to build our testing capacity, and to develop protocols to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community. There is still a great deal of uncertainty, but we are committed to keeping you updated as our planning, based on guidance from state and local public health officials, continues to evolve.
COVID-19 Cases Increasing in Isla Vista
We specifically want to share with you our deep concern about the situation developing in the neighboring community of Isla Vista, where many of our own students and students attending other local colleges reside. In the past month, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Isla Vista. The community has more than 100 positive cases to date, with 50 cases among our own students in the past two weeks alone. Of the total number of cases among our own students living in Isla Vista, 53 percent have occurred since the beginning of the month. Last week, our campus issued a public health alert on the seriousness of the COVID-19 situation in Isla Vista. We fear that the current number may not represent the full extent of the cases in Isla Vista. We expect that number to increase in the coming weeks, given that most living arrangements are high-density group houses. Santa Barbara County itself has been on the California governor’s watchlist for the last 60 days, and is seeing a steady rise in the number of COVID-19 cases across the region.
As you know, most student residences in Isla Vista are occupied by multiple people sleeping in one bedroom. The largest of these housing complexes accommodate as many as 20 or more students. Recently, we have seen an influx of non-UCSB students leasing apartments in Isla Vista and adding to the density of the community. These living situations make physical distancing very difficult and greatly increase the likelihood of spreading the virus, which we now know can have serious, long-term health outcomes even for younger adults. Unfortunately, UC Santa Barbara has no control over private housing in Isla Vista. However, out of concern for the community, the management of three of Isla Vista’s largest apartment buildings, the Tropicana complex, has expressed its intent to limit all units to single occupancy, and will revisit this decision if the situation improves.
We are sharing this information, although with so many uncertainties, to allow our UC Santa Barbara families to make the most informed decisions they can as our students prepare for the start of the fall quarter and the coming academic year. We believe your efforts to limit the density in Isla Vista and on campus can have a significant impact on limiting the future spread of COVID-19. We are also aware that county health resources designed to test, track, and support residents already are under significant pressure. And this pressure will only grow as case numbers increase. The University is working to fill some of the gaps for our students who live in Isla Vista, but there are limits to our ability to provide support services off campus.
Given that nearly all of our fall classes will be delivered via remote instruction and given our tremendous concern regarding most living situations in Isla Vista, we urge all of our students who can to either stay home or find housing for the fall quarter that is both conducive to studying and allows for the physical distancing necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We know that many of you have already made living arrangements for the entire year, but we hope those who have not yet made commitments or who can reconsider their agreements will avoid the overcrowded, high-density living situations in Isla Vista for at least the rest of the fall quarter.
Engaging Remote Instruction
We are profoundly aware that the prospect of at least one more quarter away from campus is extremely disappointing for you, our students. For our UC Santa Barbara faculty and staff, it is heartbreaking not to be able to share in your special moments and academic successes in person. But whether in person or remote, you will be taking classes from world-class faculty who are experts in their field, and making progress toward your degree.
So many of our dedicated faculty and staff members have been working for months to enhance instructional technology, create innovative course design, and develop new teaching strategies. We are dedicated to supporting you, and building communities to create the highest quality learning experiences. With support from our Center for Innovative Teaching, Research, and Learning, Instructional Development, and our Information Technology colleagues, our faculty are developing new ways for you to interact with instructors and with one another, creating new assignments and activities that draw on the latest learning innovations, and restructuring courses for the remote learning environment. This process has energized and inspired our faculty.
We are fully committed to your academic success during these unprecedented times. We are striving not only to continue to introduce novel approaches in remote instruction, but to offer virtual activities that speak to your desire for connection and community. For example, I personally will be teaching an undergraduate course this fall and again next spring. Although I will be lecturing remotely this fall, I will hold special virtual gatherings, such as help and discussion sessions, to connect students to their classmates, to the curriculum, and to our campus.
Dilling and I cannot wait to see every member of the UC Santa Barbara community return to campus. We miss the vibrancy, enthusiasm, and smiles of our students more than we can say. But your health and wellbeing are most important to us, so we patiently await the day we can welcome you back in person.
Henry T. Yang