Campus Reopening FAQs – 7/26/2021
Greetings, Pacifica Community. After announcing the decision to remain remote for the fall 2021 quarter with plans to reopen in winter, we received a broad range of responses and inquiries. The FAQs below were developed to address key questions and topics around the status of Pacifica’s response to pandemic-related matters. We are currently considering additional opportunities for direct engagement with the community around these matters in the near future. We appreciate your continued attentiveness to these and other developments, as we continue navigating this time of heightened uncertainty and fragmentation, increased social and political polarization, and oscillating COVID infection rates with the attendant effects and trauma, of which we are all suffering on a daily basis and know is sharply impacting our entire community.
The below FAQs cover the following:
- Further explanation on the decision to remain with distance learning for the fall and plans to re-open in the winter quarter
- Pacifica’s stance on vaccination at this time
- Statements on distance learning support
- Information on limited campus access this fall
What were the determining factors in the decision to remain with distance learning for the fall 2021 quarter?
Several factors having to do with health and safety ultimately led to the decision not to resume on-campus classes this fall, including the broad geographic distribution of our students and faculty requiring significant travel to the campuses. Further considerations include the weekly turnover of tracks on campus due to the distinctness of our low residency class schedules, existing vaccination levels across the US and internationally, the vaccine’s emergency approval status, and community equity.
While recognizing most higher education institutions will be hosting on-campus classes in some way this fall, those schools typically have students stay and live on campus or in the local communities for the entire quarter/semester. Pacifica has a near constant rotation of students who travel to and from campus for short stays during their residential sessions before another group of students comes in behind them. The intensity of this turnover presents unique challenges distinct from traditional schools, including multiple returns to the home communities of our students and faculty each quarter. Additionally, having one COVID-19 case on campus would not just affect the students from that track but likely to hamper the ability to host upcoming tracks, as the individual quarantines on campus for 10-14 days, not to mention the complexities of contact tracing this would entail.
It should also be clarified that the decision to keep campuses closed is not centered on financial considerations, in fact quite the contrary. Pacifica will forego the fall quarter accommodations and residential fees, as it has throughout the pandemic, while we continue to incur standing costs to maintain our facilities.
We share the frustration and distress many of you have for the social isolation, and lack of physical in-person contact with each other for another quarter and want to communicate our desire to have you back on campus together, but such difficult decisions as this must consider the entirety of the community. A full reopening of campus this fall under the current conditions would have created great inequity for those immunocompromised, unable to get vaccinated or have had adverse reaction to COVID-19 vaccinations, those living with individuals from vulnerable populations or children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination, and those who would be at risk from travel while variant infections grow, including in Santa Barbara County. While at the same time, the vision of achieving “herd immunity” recedes as vaccination levels stagnate, including in some communities in which our students and faculty live. In the last week, as COVID cases again surge, we have also seen Los Angeles reinstitute a mask mandate indoors for all, including those already vaccinated, with many other counties, Santa Barbara included, again now strongly recommending masks for everyone indoors, even those vaccinated.
Was a hybrid/hyflex model of course delivery considered for fall 2021?
The hyflex method of course delivery, where live, class sessions are delivered both on campus and virtually simultaneously, was a scenario evaluated as a reopening option for fall. This method, implemented by various schools in recent months, does carry the benefit of providing the option to come to campus or not based on circumstances or comfort levels, yet does not come without challenges to the learning environment, especially those elements unique to Pacifica. After careful analysis, it was determined that hyflex was not an optimal course delivery method for the fall quarter based on the existence of the same health and safety concerns listed above, in addition to its potential impact on the community/cohort, educational experiences and pedagogy; however, as we move forward, it remains an option we continue to evaluate.
What will the winter 2022 quarter reopening look like?
As indicated in the first letter, Pacifica is committed to reopening in the winter quarter. We understand that some uncertainty around pandemic conditions will remain, but we continue to use this time to prepare for how best to meet anticipated health/safety challenges or edicts, while looking forward to what we may all learn about vaccination levels, boosters and approvals, variant spread and other developments in the months ahead. We are working to better situate the Institute to deliver education under the various circumstances the winter could bring. Additional information will be communicated in the coming weeks concerning what the proposed on-campus reopening in January will look like.
What is Pacifica’s stance on COVID-19 vaccines as they pertain to reopening?
Pacifica strongly encourages its community members to get COVID-19 vaccinated, as the vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in reducing the coronavirus and public spread. The CDC, State and County Health departments, and OSHA have clearly expressed the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccinations are critical to reducing the spread of the virus, and they offer an added measure of safety, especially in close proximity settings. Although the American College Health Association has recommended colleges require the vaccine for in-person classes, this has not been uniformly adopted. Pacifica recognizes the vaccines are still under Emergency Use Authorization status, and that medical or religious reasons, adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccinations, lack of trust in vaccines, misinformation, as well the history of involuntary medical interventions on people of color or other populations underrepresented in systems of power, have created significant obstacles for some across our communities to getting vaccinated.
The Institute continues monitor this changing situation, notably now with the COVID-19 variants, and is developing policy accordingly. A fuller, more detailed policy shall be announced in upcoming communications.
What has been the process for analyzing and deciding the Institute’s response to the Pandemic?
Since its onset, Pacifica’s administration, staff, and faculty across the Institute have been engaged in ongoing dialogue and analysis of the pandemic from educational and operational standpoints. This work has largely been carried by various staff, faculty, and administrative bodies of the organization, who bring diverse perspectives and representation, as well as feedback from their staff, faculty, and students. The pandemic response has also received regular input and approval from the Board of Trustees.
For the decision on fall reopening, a series of scenarios were proposed and assessed, as they pertain to health and safety, educational effectiveness, operational capacity, and institutional resources. Involved bodies provided multiple cycles of input while closely examining all aspects of Pacifica, as well as the landscape of higher education and the ever-evolving conditions of the pandemic.
We have received questions as to why a survey on fall preferences/tolerances was not offered to students. The student voice has been valuable throughout the pandemic, as have the voices of all community members, so a lack of a survey should not be perceived as a disregard of such input. The decision on reopening involves multi-factorial questions that are not conducive to a survey or making a choice based on popularity or majority alone. Moreover, based on previous surveys and ongoing reports from programs and other student feedback avenues, it was clear to the administration that the concerns and preferences from students truly range over the entire spectrum of responses. Such varied perspectives have been evident in the divided reactions received since the announcement about the fall quarter.
Responses from across the entire community are being heard and discussed by the Institute. As part of our ongoing self-evaluation, we are using this time and experience to reflect on our own processes and communication plans so that we may address emerging issues and ensure we continue to meet the needs of the community in a mission-centered way.
What is being done to enhance and refine distance learning for the summer and fall 2021 quarters?
Since the onset of the shift to remote learning, proactive efforts have been made, both institutionally and programmatically, to support faculty and staff’s transition to delivering courses through a virtual format. A series of pedagogical and technical trainings have been held, support forums conducted, and best practices developed and published with and for our faculty. In addition to continued training opportunities, the Institute is also in the process of hiring an online course designer and pedagogy specialist, as we continue examining approaches that can bring additional creative and student-centered tools to the virtual classroom that address issues such as Zoom fatigue and supporting the classroom community.
We recognize online teaching and learning has been a significant adjustment, and one we acknowledge has not always been smooth for everyone. Lecture format and construction remain areas of individual faculty’s academic freedom and teaching style, and there remains certain constrictions related to scheduling, course seat time, and synchronous vs. asynchronous learning that can lead to long Zoom days. However, continued evaluation and enhancement of virtual learning remains an area of priority heading into the summer and fall quarters.
If there are concerns with a particular class, we encourage students to offer their feedback and engage in dialog directly with faculty, chairs, class representatives and course evaluations.
How is Pacifica supporting students with neurodiversities during this time of online learning?
The needs, experiences, and tolerances related to distance learning cover a wide spectrum. Students with documented disabilities can be granted reasonable accommodations to remove/mitigate barriers so as to increase optimal access to their education. We ask that any student in need of disability accommodations with regard to their learning reach out to our ADA Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) for an individualized plan. This is the best avenue to get the level of support needed to meet distinct, individual needs. Our ADA Coordinator works with each student’s situation and coordinates with faculty and programs to facilitate accommodation and support. Aside from individual accommodations designed to mitigate screen fatigue and eyestrain, the ADA Office has been working diligently to build up the number of digital readings in accessible formats in the library and continues to look for ways to enhance protocols for securing and implementing accommodations.
Additionally, we want to continue to emphasize self-care during virtual learning. We understand that such long days on Zoom are challenging in a multitude of ways, physically and emotionally, especially with certain course material and experiences. We encourage students to communicate directly with faculty around needs that would be helpful, whether it is breaks from the screen, laying or reclining, using alternative seating or standing, etc.
If a student has a particular issue or concern that has not been addressed effectively with involved parties and established avenues, students should contact the Student Relations Liaison at email@example.com. For matters involving an arbitrary, discriminatory application of, or failure to act in accordance with, the academic or administrative policies of Pacifica, students may utilize the Institute’s formal grievance procedure, which is found in the Student Handbook and at https://www.pacifica.edu/student-services/student-grievance-policies-procedures.
Is Pacifica approved to continue offering distance education through the fall?
Yes, through submission of the necessary form and attestation, Pacifica received an extension on our temporary approval from WSCUC to continue remote delivery of courses through December 31, 2021. It should be clarified that while Pacifica submitted its attestation to WSCUC in the spring, this was simply a precaution as we were considering our status for upcoming quarters, not an indication a decision had been made about fall quarter status at that time. The decision to remain remote for fall and reopen in winter was made less than one week prior to when the announcement was sent out.
The Department of Education continues to authorize temporary distance education as long as the country remains in a federal public health emergency state.
Will there be any campus availability in the fall?
Yes, at some point in the near future this fall, students can resume campus visits and access to certain on-campus resources by prescheduled appointment only, on a limited basis, in anticipation and preparation for a more expanded reopening in winter; COVID precautions will be in place. The complete details for fall availability will be sent in the coming weeks but students can expect the following:
- An online system for reserving time/space on campus (only a set number will be allowed at one time)
- Each campus will offer select days and hours
- Ability to be on the grounds, utilize the library, and be in the administration buildings
- No formal gatherings or course/programmatic activities will be permitted but we are considering a range of options around the potential to meet/dialog with staff
The finalized procedures for visiting and list of options available on campus will be sent in soon.