An update on UC Berkeley’s plans for the fall semester

two students walk through sather gate

“The default instructional mode for fall 2021 will be in-person,” two UC Berkeley leaders wrote in a Tuesday message to the campus community. (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

Chancellor Carol Christ and Paul Alivisatos, executive vice chancellor and provost, sent the following message to the campus community on Tuesday:

We’re writing to provide an update on our instructional planning for the fall 2021 semester. While we previously announced plans to return to primarily in-person instruction for the fall, we know that you have many questions and we hope to provide some answers today.

As has been the case throughout this pandemic, these plans are contingent upon public health conditions at the time of their implementation and are subject to change. There are still many unknowns. As the fall semester approaches, we will continue to monitor the situation and update our plans as needed.

Vaccination will be key to returning to campus

Our plans assume that by the start of the fall semester there will be widespread availability of vaccines and few to no new daily cases within our campus community. It is critically important that you get vaccinated when eligible. The vaccines are safe and effective and it is anticipated that vaccinated individuals will be afforded more opportunities for normalcy, as signaled by the CDC guidance released last week.

The default instructional mode for fall 2021 will be in-person

The first week of all classes will be delivered remotely to give students and instructors time to get tested after returning for the fall semester. While these guidelines are currently under review, it is anticipated that some amount of testing will be required in the fall.

After the first week, we expect most classes to be held in-person. The main exception is classes with enrollments of 200 or more students. These classes represent 5% of all course offerings and will continue to be delivered remotely. Most secondary sections (e.g., discussion and labs) for these and other large classes will be held in-person but some discussion sections will be offered remotely.

Other exceptions include courses that would normally be delivered in an online format, and what is anticipated to be a very small number of courses that may receive exceptional approval to be delivered remotely throughout the fall semester.

As a residential campus, UC Berkeley generally expects students and instructors to be present on campus to participate in classes and this will once again be the case this fall.

Meeting the needs of students unable to return to campus

It is unknown at this time whether and to what extent a remote instructional option will be available to students and availability might vary by academic program.

We know that some international students may not be able to attend in-person classes in the fall because of their inability to obtain a visa and/or enter the U.S. We are evaluating how many classes can be made available to those who will be enrolled remotely and should have more information about the availability of such courses by the end of April. International students are encouraged to consult with the Berkeley International Office to evaluate their options and follow up with their department, school, or college advisor as needed.

Similarly, there may be students who due to serious medical conditions may be unable to enroll in in-person classes in the fall. We will work with each individual student to determine whether the courses that are available remotely or online will allow them to make progress toward their degrees. Alternately, reasonable accommodations may be available through the Disabled Students’ Program. These students should contact the Disabled Students’ Program, or their department or school as appropriate if they believe they will be unable to return to campus in the fall.

Public health measures will likely continue into the fall

While our plans assume a loosening of public health restrictions especially regarding physical distancing, we anticipate that some public health measures will still be required in the fall. It is likely that some frequency of surveillance testing will be required and that other measures such as face coverings will continue. We will continue to align our plans with all public health requirements.

Flexibility will be important should public health conditions worsen

While we’re optimistic about our return to primarily in-person instruction in the fall, we must be prepared to pivot to remote delivery of instruction should conditions warrant. We’re asking all instructors to be prepared to make this transition swiftly.

Other decisions will be announced later

Discussions are underway regarding research operations and lab density, access to libraries and other campus resources, the density of campus housing, student activities and events, and other aspects of campus life. A committee is also looking at the future of work at UC Berkeley for employees. Watch the Response and Recovery newsletter for updates as decisions are made.

If you have additional questions, you may submit them through the “Contact us” form on the campus coronavirus website.

Continued diligence is needed to finish the spring semester strong

While it’s exciting to think about the possibilities that widespread vaccination may bring for the fall, it’s important to not lose sight of the current challenges in front of us. Falling case counts and positivity rates are promising signs but the virus is still very much spreading in our community. The vast majority of members of our campus community are not vaccinated. Until there is widespread vaccination and we achieve herd immunity, it is imperative that we remain vigilant and follow all public health guidelines.

Each new case of COVID-19 represents the possibility of more lives lost and one more opportunity for the virus to mutate, possibly rendering current vaccination efforts less effective and prolonging the return to normal. Please, do your part to slow the spread and to protect one another, especially when considering spring break plans.

Lastly, we want to once again acknowledge the profound impact this past year has had on all members of our campus community and recognize the disproportionate impact it has had on many communities. Thank you for your continued flexibility, resilience and vigilance.