The UC Regents convened from Jan. 23 to 25 at UC San Francisco to discuss agenda items concerning the UC community including usage of university websites, seismic safety and accommodations for students with disabilities, among others.
UCSB Director of Athletics, Chancellor present overview of campus athletics to Regents
UC Santa Barbara Director of Athletics Kelly Barsky and Chancellor Henry T. Yang presented a strategic overview on UCSB Athletics to the Regents’ Special Committee on Athletics on Jan. 23.
Yang started the presentation by highlighting the importance of athletics at UCSB.
“UC Santa Barbara takes great pride in our athletics department, which plays a pivotal role in energizing all campus life of students, faculty and staff,” Yang said.
Barsky then presented numbers of the athletics programs on campus: UCSB sponsors 20 Division I sports with approximately 460 student athletes, 98% of whom are undergraduates and 74% of whom receive some form of athletic scholarship.
Barsky also presented the racial makeup of UCSB Division I athletes: 59% of student athletes are white, while 13% are two or more races, 9% are Hispanic and 9% are Black.
Barsky then described the available resources and student services for student athletes on campus. Resources include academic advising and tutoring, priority registration for classes, career development, housing support and mental health coordination, among others.
“UC Santa Barbara provides student athletes with a robust program of student services to enhance their academic, athletic and holistic experience,” Barsky said.
Barsky broke down the $27.8 million budget for UCSB Athletics, describing the most costly aspects of the department and emphasizing the challenges of staying within the budget.
“It is an ongoing challenge to keep pace with the steadily rising costs,” Barsky said. “Our top investments currently are student-athlete scholarships and staffing, along with team travel and other expenses.”
Following Barsky and Yang’s presentation, Regent Richard Sherman asked how name, image and likeness (NIL) — which refers to the means in which athletes can receive financial compensation outside of scholarships — fits in at UCSB.
Barsky said that UCSB does have students who engage in NIL, describing the topic as “something we are learning and growing into.”
“[UCSB Athletics is] working through the opportunity and making sure the students have the opportunity to engage in NIL in the right way, but also [trying] to have the right conversations with our community — students, coaches, staff and on campus — if we see any flags or concerns, she said.
Regent Lark Park pointed out that the racial diversity of UCSB student athletes — particularly the percentage of white student athletes — does not align with the racial diversity of the university’s overall student population.
“We are interested in being more inclusive and having that overall reflect our campus,” Barsky said. “We have been working on our campus with staff, with coaches and we have a DEI group within our department evaluating and tracking on the data, and then trying to dive into the information and understanding it.”
Regent José Hernández, the chair of the Special Committee on Athletics, said that he would like to follow up with UCSB Athletics in one year about the diversity of the department.
UCOP presents final Advisory Workgroup report on students with disabilities
The UC Office of the President presented its final report of the Systemwide Advisory Workgroup on Students with Disabilities to the Academic and Student Affairs Committee during its Jan. 24 meeting.
Launched in 2021 by UC Executive Vice President Michael Brown, the Systemwide Advisory Workgroup on Students with Disabilities (SDWG) worked to advise the UC Office of the President (UCOP) on recommendations for “a more robust and inclusive approach to supporting students with disabilities,” the discussion item read.
“To achieve this, we examined multiple data sources and engaged in collecting and aggregating student financial data across all 10 campuses,” UC Davis Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Pablo Regeurín said during the meeting. “We took a holistic approach and examined multiple dimensions in and outside of the classroom … so we recognize the rich diversity within the student disability community.”
“We also used population averages because we know not all students who may have a disability are sufficiently diagnosed or have the resources and have gone through the process,” he continued.
The funding to implement the outlined recommendations will be allocated from the $1.4 million set aside by the state budget for “justice issues,” alongside $8 million set aside by the UC system budget.
The outlined recommendations are academic accommodations like assistive technology, physical accommodations in on-campus housing, classrooms, laboratories and other facilities, greater accessibility and inclusivity in campus life and policy changes.
The report recommended the Board of Regents to revise Regents Policy 4400, a policy on the UC diversity statement, to “more emphatically position disability access as a diversity issue.”
The document also recommended university leaders a number of action items, including making Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinators full-time positions, confirming the accessibility standards of University media segments, developing student services strategic plans to accommodate students with disabilities and creating a disability-inclusive emergency evacuation plan.
For faculty, the report recommended making inclusive courses accessible earlier, improving communication between faculty, disabled student services and teaching and learning centers and reviewing Academic Senate regulations to ensure students with disabilities aren’t disproportionately impacted by incomplete grades and academic standing.
UC Merced alum Regent Keith Ellis remarked on the lack of a housing proposal on the final report.
“We heard time and time again from students, we do have a housing problem and doing a priority system wouldn’t fix that, but it would at least give us a tool for trying to prioritize what finite housing we have,” Ellis said.
Ellis also questioned the effectiveness of one recommendation provided to university leaders — to appoint UC chief accessibility officers to oversee disability services — saying that such an implementation would require, first and foremost, for the officer to be respected.
Regents discuss proposed policy limiting usage of university websites
The Regents’ Academic and Student Affairs Committee and the Compliance and Audit Committee held a joint meeting on Jan. 24 to discuss the usage of university websites and online channels of communication.
The discussion focused on a proposed policy that would limit the usage of university websites and communication channels to pertain specifically to university business.
“We are deliberately not describing what is not permitted, but we are describing what is permitted. What is permitted is information that relates to the official business of the university,” UC General Counsel Charles F. Robinson said.
This policy would primarily limit usage of departmental landing pages to display opinions of faculty or any other entity, according to the policy’s text. Designated university spokespeople would be exempt from the policy in order to to “comment on matters of the University or public import.”
Some faculty see the proposed policy as a way to silence faculty opinion on issues pertaining to Palestine, according to EdSource. UC Santa Cruz’s Critical Race & Ethnic Studies website displays a statement from Faculty for Justice in Palestine in support of Palestinian liberation. UC San Diego’s Ethnic Studies website includes a page displaying a pro-Palestinian statement from the UCSD Ethnic Studies community.
UC Board of Regents Chair Richard Leib said the policy is meant to target political statements on “either side of the aisle,” and is not aimed at any specific issue.
“Faculty have academic freedom to express a broad range of views, [but] they can’t express those views in a way that confuses people about whether they are speaking for the institution or just speaking on their own behalf,” UC Irvine Chancellor and author of the policy Howard Gillman said.
UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla suggested more clarification of academic freedoms faculty are provided through the policy, and the addition of “opinion” web pages on university sites. Several other Regents supported the addition of opinion web pages to separately express personal views of faculty or departments.
UC Student Regent-designate Josiah Beharry said he thought the policy was “restrictive” and “reactive” with a limiting perspective on what constitutes opinion when faculty share information through university websites.
“If scientists who generate new knowledge in their laboratories and share those findings are not merely expressing personal viewpoints, similarly, when programs like ethnic studies factually rely on research, theory and data to highlight systemic racism, sexism, or draw comparisons of past and present, [their] expressions are not rooted in subjective opinions,” Beharry said.
Several Regents voiced dissent on the structuring of the policy, including who is defined under university spokespeople, and how university business is defined.
The vote on the policy was tabled to the Regents’ next meeting in March following discussion and debate.
Academic and Student Affairs Committee discusses future for online courses
The Academic and Student Affairs Committee discussed the potential expansion of UC Online, formerly known as the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative, in accordance with post-pandemic online class enrollment at its Jan. 24 meeting
“The University of California is going to need to innovate, to continue innovating, to remain the global destination for the most talented and diverse people to thrive,” Katherine Newman said. “Online education is part of that ecosystem and it represents a powerful platform for expanding the university’s capacity to deliver undergrad and grad degree programs at a scale that’s adapted to today’s needs.”
Guest presenters UC Online Executive Director Rolin Moe, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning of UC Irvine Michael Dennin and Associate Vice Chancellor for Educational Innovation of UCSD Carlos Jensen presented data on post-pandemic trends for online classes and discussed possibilities for continuing and expanding UC Online.
Newman opened the discussion with remarks on the history of UC Online, which had transitioned in its goal and former name — the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI). In 2013, ILTI spearheaded a campus-wide online course program toward degree completion, using a $10 million state allocation from then governor Jerry Brown.
“Rather than originate or fund courses it has instead shifted to policy guidance, technical assistance and support for systemwide initiatives,” Newman said.
In the presentation, Moe discussed new data and argued that online course programs through the UC can be just as robust as in-person courses. A multi-year compact aiming to double UC Online course offerings by 2030, he said, had already been reached in 2023. In the 2022-23 academic year at least 40% of UC students had taken at least one online course, an uptick from 18% in the 2019-2020 academic year.
“We all have an interest in ensuring the quality of what we deliver remains high and continues to evolve as more faculty engage and digital tools improve,” Moe said.
He cited a UC Santa Cruz study that found online courses “developed at a level consistent with the expectations of a UC education are as robust as in-person courses in terms of student success measures.”
Dennin continued the presentation and conveyed that UC Online can help the UC with its critical needs, including developing a culture and infrastructure for shared resources and supporting professional development for faculty — particularly in terms of protecting intellectual property and what the best models are for sharing online resources.
“If we don’t figure out that problem and solve it, I think we’re not gonna solve our accessibility, funding and access,” Dennin said.
Jensen then presented information on UC San Diego that had the fewest offerings of online courses pre-pandemic. In Fall 2023, 11% of its students took one or more online classes and in Summer 2023, 60% of enrollments were online. Particularly, the largest waitlists were associated with online courses.
UC San Diego has begun prioritizing classes for online “where they can bring the biggest impact.” It has developed a priority filter with equity and high DFW at the top.
Newman closed the presentation by noting that a task force presentation in late spring 2024 will be recommending quality standards and investments necessary to ensure online programs are as interactive and valuable as online courses.
“I think the Congress will really bring this into the light at our ten campuses,” Newman said.
Regent Greg Sarris expressed concern over technology and pedagogy being incompatible and that some data points show graduation rates being lower in online degree programs.
Dennin said data — that was pre-pandemic and when online courses were available in summer — from UCI showed those who took online courses had faster graduation rates.
Newman added that said studies do not take into consideration “selection effects.” When data is taken from outside the UC system, that usually takes the “lowest-qualified,” poorest students, it isn’t comparable to UC’s. She said it was important to separate selection effects from modality effects.
Jensen said that online courses are being added where the subject matter makes sense to do online.
“A lot of our students who are seeking online courses are trying to balance other life commitments,” Jensen said.
Beharry asked about accessibility initiatives being included in the UC Online, to which Moe said there would be more movement.
Regent Steinrager Chair of the Academic Senate James Steintrager raised concerns that students may potentially use online courses since they are easier and can boost GPA, and asked if there was data to compare online to in-person quality.
“It is very hard to maintain any poor level of quality for any length of time given that most of our students demand high quality. Even if a few are looking for courses that are ‘easy’” Dennin answered.
Jensen also said the online courses are taught by the same faculty as in-person, but noted it was difficult to compare online courses to in-person as most current data on quality outcomes has been online.
Regent Joel Raznick noted excitement for the project and working group.
“This is an opportunity for the UC to leapfrog the category. We are UC. It’s really about revisioning and rethinking,” Raznick said.
Yang asked about the kind of incentives UC Online could give for students to enroll.
Jensen and Moe said that students would be making savings in time and that data points to a desire for online modality, not geography, as students who attend in-person take online courses.
Chair Lark Park wrapped up the discussion by saying she wants the ILTI funds to be used to provide the highest value and recommended UCPath come back to the committee with a strategic plan.
UC Regents present updates to Seismic Safety Policy
The UC Regents Finance and Capital Strategies Committee discussed updates to the University’s Integrated Capital Asset Management Program and Seismic Safety Program during their Jan. 24 meeting.
Through the University’s Integrated Capital Asset Management Program (ICAMP), the UC has been able to compile a comprehensive list of all of its assets and buildings both owned and leased to evaluate safety standards of seismic regulation.
“We inspected nearly every building that UC owns and assessed all major components, roofs, electrical systems, HV equipment and infrastructure. Cataloged these conditions and estimated the costs and risks associated with each of them in a centralized database,” UC Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Nathan Brostrom said.
This database of information is evaluated against the UC Seismic Safety Policy, first created in 1975 after California’s increased precautionary standards for earthquake safety in 1971, according to UC Associate Vice President for Energy and Sustainability David Phillips. The policy has since been updated several times, most recently in 2017.
“California’s approach to earthquake safety changed dramatically following the 1971 earthquake which killed 65 people, most of whom died when the San Fernando Veterans Administration Hospital collapsed,” Phillips said.
The UC voluntary Seismic Safety Program standards are upheld to a higher degree than California state law requires in order to reduce the risks to the UC community, according to Phillips.
From the catalog of UC assets, each building is given a seismic performance rating (SPR) based on the location, construction characteristics and risk factors to the building. The higher the SPR rating, the more unsafe a building would be in the case of an earthquake.
By current UC standards, an SPR rating of four or less would entail that the building is up to date in terms of safety precautions, which currently accounts for 70% of university assets. About 30% of assets have a rating of five or six, meaning the building would need to be renovated to abide by UC regulations safety requirements.
“California’s building codes don’t mandate that we retrofit these buildings, but our 2017 policy requires us to take action to upgrade these facilities or vacate them by 2030,” Phillips said. “This progress was achieved by completing 30 retrofits of existing buildings, demolishing 25 others and reclassifying buildings as compliant after completing more detailed assessments.”
An SPR score of seven or higher would mean that the building would have to be immediately vacated until updated.
“In total about 30 percent of our space or 43 million square feet is not currently compliant with UC seismic safety standards and policy. We have 10 projects in construction to retrofit, 170 buildings that are planned for demolition and about 24 more projects approved for construction,” Phillips said.
Some examples of buildings recently renovated to fit UC Seismic Safety Policy standards include UCLA’s Nimoy Theater, originally built in 1940 and now restored with new structural grade beams and a reinforced roof diaphragm, and the Luskin School of Public Affairs, which had existing rebar exposed and removed as well as a seismic damper installed.
Phillips said in many cases, the most effective safety precaution is evaluating the existing condition of a building, even if it is just to confirm the building’s compliance with safety standards.
“Sometimes we don’t need to take any action other than perform a more detailed tier two/three seismic evaluation. These assessments allow us to better assess the risks and often show a building is in fact compliant with policy,” Phillips said. “This is a hugely cost-effective strategy, to date we spend $0.70 per square foot to do the reassessments and remove that space from our backlog.”
Phillips said the main issues that arise with abiding by Seismic Safety Policy standards are potential disruptions to university affairs in updating old buildings, as well as the lack of funding available to complete these updates.
The UC estimates that the cost for upgrading university assets is $14 billion, and the total cost including completing all other building renewal needs is $20 billion. The state has failed to give the UC one-time funding to cover all updates prompting individual universities to self-fund improvement projects totaling about $650 million in the last nine years.
The state’s lack of funding, coupled with increasing inflation rates, leaves the 2030 completion date for seismic safety updates unlikely. Going forward, the UC has plans to adjust the seismic safety plan to center around consistent progress rather than a hard deadline.
“Due to limited funding sources, the campuses and locations are challenged in meeting that deadline, as such, we’re currently in the process of revising the Seismic Safety Policy to better prioritize actions and deadlines given the massive gap in funding required for us to do this work,” Phillips said.
A version of this article appeared on p. 6-7 of the Feb. 1, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.