President Ochoa’s office hours held on March 2 left many questions unanswered, but provided some insight into the planning stages for the 2021-2022 school year. He began the office hours by emphasizing the importance of health and safety of the California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) community. Ochoa also said because of virtual modality, campus infections currently remain low.
The president said he hopes faculty and staff choose to be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible to produce a swift return to campus in fall. He also said there is currently no information on student vaccines or if CSUMB will be distributing vaccines to students. Though there is some promise, there is some bad news as well. This is because of COVID-19 variants, and the fact that this virus is quick to mutate, meaning CSUMB cannot ensure a perfect return to campus in Fall 2021 amidst an ever-changing pandemic.
One of the questions raised during his office hours was the potential for in-person instruction.
“There is still considerable uncertainty about what exactly it will look like, although we have made a system-wide commitment to offer a significant amount of in-person instruction,” Ochoa said.
The plans are currently being organized and include several alternative scenarios. Another question posed was if students will have options between remote and face-to-face learning. President Ochoa noted there will be a mix of both in-person and remote classes offered to the students.
What is still uncertain is if students will have access to the individual choice, or if they will have to accept the modality of the particular class they are wanting to take. However, Ochoa said one thing that is being discussed is if an in-person class will provide a virtual equivalent for students who are unable to attend class physically. A large part of this depends on the likelihood of folks being vaccinated.
Participants were understandably concerned about the plan in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus. The president said this is largely dependent on the advising of the Monterey County Health Department and what tier the county has reached by Fall 2021. Provost Katherine Kantardjieff said the planning process is dependent on being in the red tier in the fall. She also added that the plans for residence halls includes the ability to quarantine should an individual be exposed to COVID-19.
Attendees of the office hours learned the density of the university population will be decided on by county regulations. The tools used in the event of an infection include isolation and contact tracing in order to keep people safe.
Ochoa said the university will not require students to receive vaccines, so long as the FDA requires people to be given an option to opt out. That being said, there are two options the administration is considering for those who want to live in the residence halls and/or attend in-person classes. Students may have to either be vaccinated or required to participate in frequent COVID-19 testing. For students who refuse both, Ochoa said they may be restricted from returning to campus in-person, but will receive equivalent virtual instruction. It should be noted these are not finalized plans.
During the question and answer portion of the office hours, many students asked about future housing plans. President Ochoa anticipated the capacity of the Fall 2021 semester on campus to be less than 100%. The housing capacity planning scenario will remain where it is now, which is one individual to a unit.
Attendees also learned the schedule of Fall 2021 classes has not yet been finalized in terms of which classes will be in-person.
“Those deadlines end up forcing us to commit to a particular date,” said Ochoa, referring to the date at which the housing application will be open and closed.
Kantardjieff said the university hopes to settle these issues by March 18.
Ochoa and Kantardjieff said students will need to re-apply for housing for the 2021-2022 school year. There is no date set yet for when that application will open. An additional question asked was if students will be sent home in the event of an outbreak.
“We are not going to repopulate the campus unless the conditions in the county have improved to the point where we can anticipate there won’t be any major outbreaks,” Ochoa said.
He also believes the school will be able to manage the occasional infection and positive test result. Because housing will be limited, there was an ongoing discussion about who will be given priority for housing.
“Seniors are definitely one of the groups that are potential candidates to be given priority for housing,” Ochoa said.
Also included as a potential group are freshmen, because they have yet to live out the college experience. Including freshmen also promotes persistence, retention, and graduation. But, this all depends on the level of interest as well as the demand for on-campus housing. Housing rates remain unknown. Ochoa said the rates are currently being considered, but it is likely the rates will be higher as most units will be single-occupancy.
There was some debate as to which classes will be offered in-person. It was announced the class schedule should be public by April 5 in order to give students ample time to make plans. Registration will begin on April 26.
Two qualifiers are being considered for which classes will be selected for in-person instruction. The first is the timely progression towards the degree. The second is courses that will allow students to remain competitive for graduate school. This includes many science lab classes, especially because some graduate education programs require a certain number of field or lab hours in order to be considered for the program.
The CARES Act II was another topic presented during the office hours. The initiative will allocate funds to more than 5,500 eligible students who will receive much-needed financial relief. Students will be notified March 8, with funds being disbursed on March 11. If this timeline is not met, funds will be allocated on March 15.
In closing remarks, the president again emphasized the importance of centering the health and safety of the CSUMB community. Due to the uncertain nature of how the rest of the year will go, many students left with their questions unanswered. Though plans have not been finalized, the administration believed it is important to provide transparency throughout the planning process.
To keep up to date with the latest developments, Ochoa urged students to keep an eye on the COVID-19 webpage of the CSUMB website.