Fall 2021 Instruction Plan

March 2, 2021
Thomas Smith
Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
March 2, 2021

Dear Campus Community, 

In early February, UCR faculty and students were surveyed to better understand their preferences for fall quarter instruction, assuming Riverside would then be in the state’s Yellow tier. Overall, respondents were strongly split on their instructional mode preferences. Written comments expressed both support for returning to in-person instruction as well as concerns about the health risks, and emphasized the importance of vaccinations, the challenges of “dual mode” instruction, and the need for all members of the campus community to follow public health guidelines as a condition for returning to campus. 

Since the survey was distributed on February 4, vaccination rates have continued to rise, case counts and test positivity rates have fallen substantially, local elementary schools announced they are targeting March 8 for a return to hybrid instruction, and the Centers for Disease Control has issued new guidance for K-12 schools. Revised guidance for higher education is anticipated in the coming weeks. If the revisions are similar to the new K-12 guidance, we could see a reduced emphasis on physical distancing in the lower transmission tiers. 

While all of this is encouraging news and potentially helpful for our efforts to return to more normal campus operations, uncertainty remains regarding how fast infection rates will fall in our region and how many of us will be vaccinated by the start of fall quarter.  

Because fall quarter scheduling begins in February to accommodate registration in May, we must make some decisions now—far in advance of decisions about research and other campus operations—in order to start the process. With consideration of the preceding factors, and after consultation with campus leadership, the Academic Senate, the Instructional Continuity Workgroup, and the COVID Management Workgroup, I am announcing an instructional plan for fall that aims for a return to primarily in-person instruction and allows for adjustments to be made in the coming months as new information arrives, uncertainty is resolved, and new guidance is issued. This plan is responsive to President Drake’s January 11th announcement, Chancellor Wilcox’s February 23rd announcement, faculty and student sentiment expressed through the surveys, the need for faculty to balance their instructional workloads with research and service obligations, and the benefits to students of participating in on-campus learning and co-curricular activities. Key elements of the fall instructional plan include:

1.    Strict adherence to health and safety standards. Personal and institutional health and safety standards for on-campus activities including instruction will be developed by the COVID Management committee to be consistent with applicable public health guidelines. This likely will include universal and correct use of masks, physically distanced classroom seating, and regular testing of anyone participating in on-campus activities. All in-person instruction activities, and anyone participating in these activities, will be required to strictly adhere to these standards. 

2.    Targeting 75-80% of all courses for in-person instruction, with varying enrollment densities. Reduced densities will be achieved by assigning courses to larger-than-normal rooms, which means that our largest classes necessarily will continue to be delivered remotely in fall.

•    For classes with enrollments above 80 students, the maximum allowable density will be 50% of room capacity. 

•    For classes with enrollments between 35 and 80 students, the maximum allowable density will be 67% of room capacity. 

•    For classes with enrollments below 35 students, normal density (full room capacity) will be allowed. 

Progressively higher densities for smaller classes reflects the reduced risk associated with having fewer people sharing an indoor space, as well as the significant benefit to students of participating in higher quality in-person experiences in labs, studios, learning communities, and other intimate settings. Preliminary modeling shows these densities should allow 75-80% of all primary credit-bearing activities (e.g., lectures and seminars) to be scheduled in-person. Secondary non-credit-bearing activities (e.g., discussion sections), are more likely to be moved online due to space constraints and lower priority in the scheduling process. All of this assumes that high vaccination rates and falling infection rates will lead to new public health guidelines that allow these classroom densities. If not, we will scale back in-person instruction accordingly. 

3.    Flexibility at the department/program level to determine delivery modes. Chairs and directors will work with their faculty to determine a mix of 75-80% in-person courses and 20-25% remote courses for each department or program. Consideration should be given to both instructor and student circumstances, with the goal to serve as many students as possible with a reasonable menu of accessible courses. Remote options will not be required for in-person instruction, but may be used to extend access to more students when circumstances warrant. Additional guidance, including department-level information from the faculty and student surveys, will be shared with chairs and directors to help inform these discussions.

4.    Modifications to emergency remote teaching. Emergency remote teaching will be extended to fall quarter but with new limitations. To teach remotely, an instructor’s course must be included on the list of remote courses submitted by a chair/director. Alternatively, an instructor must submit an exception request to be approved for remote instruction (details on this process are forthcoming). Also, the Academic Senate will discuss establishing minimum standards for continuing remote instruction, and ensure these are consistent with pending guidelines from our regional accreditor. 

5.    A commitment not to switch remote classes to in-person on short notice. Classes initially scheduled for remote instruction in fall will not be shifted to in-person if public health conditions improve more than expected. Doing so could create untenable situations for students who have already registered and established living arrangements away from campus, anticipating remote classes. However, if conditions do not improve as expected, classes initially scheduled for in-person instruction may be shifted to remote.

Therefore, this plan describes the maximum extent of in-person instruction for fall. Also, instructors who plan to teach in-person should be mindful of the possible need to revert to remote instruction, and should plan for how they would do this in a way that minimizes impacts on students. 

In the coming weeks and months, additional details of this plan will be finalized and shared with the campus. We also will ramp-up engagement with staff who provide critical support to our instructional activities, and we will continue close monitoring of public health information and guidelines that potentially affect our fall plans. As an institution that places great value on equity and inclusion, we also will continue to think carefully about how our planning affects each member of our community and their diverse and sometimes disparate needs and desires. A successful return to campus will require of everyone the same empathy, generosity, and teamwork that made UCR a special place to teach and learn before the pandemic. I encourage everyone to think about what they can do personally to help us navigate the next phase of this challenge.