The Beach has been in non-stop planning and acting mode since early March, when we quickly moved to remote instruction and staffing to keep everyone safe while ensuring the educational progress of our students.
The great news is that we graduated about 10,500 students and finished the semester strong with thousands of others. Equally great news is that we’ve documented only 11 cases of COVID-19 among our students — all with mild symptoms. Seven staff members reported positive tests; all have recovered.
Over the past three months, as we acted in real time to accomplish our educational and health missions, we were also planning for the upcoming fall 2020 semester. Like many others, in March we had little doubt that we’d be back to “normal” by late August. Sadly, despite gradual re-openings in our society, we know that will not be the case as the COVID-19 virus is still spreading and ravaging some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
We are faced now with balancing health concerns with campus access. It’s a tough tightrope to navigate. The safest strategy is to use only remote instruction until there’s a vaccine, but there are other forces that make that impossible. Here are a few of the variables:
• Guidance from Long Beach and Los Angeles County public health departments identifying, especially, the optimal size of gatherings for safety.
• Further guidance on physical distancing students and faculty in our classrooms which reduces our classroom capacity by 75%.
• Course offerings we have identified that just cannot be delivered remotely.
• Assurances that our students and employees will follow public health guidelines for physical distancing, handwashing, and mask wearing.
• Our ability to clean our buildings frequently to reduce surface transmission of the virus.
• Anxiety around the potential for our campus to become a danger to the rest of the community because of asymptomatic COVID infections.
There are many more issues, but these are among my top concerns.
At this moment, we imagine offering a little more than 355 sections of classes in-person in contrast to last fall when we opened 9,700 sections. These were determined after careful evaluation of all courses and most are upper level science, health, engineering and arts classes. Only about 3,000-4,000 students will attend in-person classes compared to our usual 38,000 students.
In addition, we are planning to have about 1,000 students in our residential housing. Some of these will be our athletes who will return gradually in compliance with safety protocols from our public health advisors and the NCAA. Also, we will transform our dining to “grab and go,” provide our staff with appropriate PPE, and open only about half our buildings so that frequent cleaning is made possible.
You may have read that other universities are planning for an in-person fall semester and might be wondering, “Why not The Beach?” It remains to be seen whether these universities actually will be primarily in-person when start dates arrive. It is our belief that by preparing for primarily remote delivery we can more easily pivot to the familiar face-to-face should conditions change than do the reverse. We want to be fully transparent to our new and returning students and their families so they have time to plan and reflect on their next steps knowing that during at least the first part of the fall, instruction will be delivered remotely. In the meantime, many of our faculty are engaged in professional development to enhance remote delivery.
Despite all of the difficulties we are dealing with, this is exactly the right time to lean into earning a university degree. California and the nation are challenged by complex issues swirling around us — the pandemic, racial injustice, climate change, immigration, international conflicts and a recession. The world needs our teachers, scientists, nurses, health professionals, engineers, artists, thinkers, and business professionals and thankfully, it will be our bright-minded graduates who answer the call to meet our many challenges.
I’ll keep you updated as our repopulation occurs. It’s complicated.