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Zoom Q&A with faculty, July 20, 2020

Jul 20, 2020

President Christopher Callahan, along with Provost Maria Pallavicini, held a Zoom meeting with Pacific faculty on July 20, 2020. 

My question has to deal with the usage of classrooms. With the investment that the university has made in the classroom technology to prepare for Hy-flex, will faculty still be allowed to go to their classroom and deliver their courses synchronously at that time, because of the additional cameras and the other material that we have, rather than from our home? It seems that if the faculty member is the only one in the classroom, that it should be safe. Is there any kind of plan on that?

President Christopher Callahan: The very first question and you've stumped us. If it's okay, give us a day or two, because what you're suggesting, I mean, it makes a lot of sense. It will require a lot of coordination, I think, because we would still want to disinfect rooms and see which ones are available and schedule. So, we might do that. And Maria, if this makes sense, we might do that via the deans to get a census of which of our faculty members might be interested in teaching. And then based on that volume, we can make some decisions. Does that make sense, Maria?

Maria Pallavicini: I think so, and also, once we made the decision to pull back and offer courses online, not all of the classrooms have been equipped, like they were originally intended. And so we need to balance what's available with who might want to do that, with what the health and safety plan is from the county, with what the governor is saying we can do for higher education in general. And so there's a lot of things to balance on that, but yeah, it's possible.

So even though we cannot do our remote teaching from classrooms, because again, I understand that the disinfection and all of those things with multiple people and spaces, what about our offices? Can we get back into our offices and create a setup there and use that for our remote instruction?

Callahan: We don't want to be able to sort of make a hasty decision without getting the deans involved, and quite frankly, the folks in facilities who are going to be doing all this. So, it's a great question, honestly one we should have anticipated and did not. So my bad, but give us a little bit of time and we'll get back to you on that, if that's okay.

I was just wondering how the bookstore would be involved with the fall semester. I know athletes usually have to get their course materials through the bookstore. Do we know?

Pallavicini: I do not know the answer to that. I expect that we will be doing some mailing. I know that, of course, many of our students actually don't order through the bookstore. They just go through Amazon or some other sort of vendor. But that's a question we'll have to look at, particularly for course prep material. So we'll have to look at that. I don't have an answer to that. Thanks for that question.

Callahan: I'm just seeing a note from [Vice President for Student Life] Carrie Petr, who tells us that indeed everything can be ordered through the bookstore with a two-day shipping. So that answers the question. Thank you, Carrie.

So, it's been emphasized in meetings with the VP for undergrad education that all of our classes should be entirely synchronous, but how about splitting up a class? It worked really well, actually, last spring, and students in their evaluation said that it worked well during the asynchronous, so they can kind of ease themselves into class. And then you meet synchronously at the same time every day. Is that okay?

Callahan: I'll go first. It sort of makes complete logical sense, what [you are] suggesting. A couple of reasons we pause over that, one certainly is we don't want to ask our faculty to redo their course yet again, and you've already designed for the Hy-Flex, fully remote environment. But honestly, it goes to the students' concerns. The students are already concerned about learning in a remote environment. Undergraduates, I'm really talking about undergraduates here. And if I can say, I think it is actually different in a graduate student environment, and I think we have more flexibility in a graduate and professional school environment. For our undergraduates, they're very used to that experience of Monday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Thursday, 10 o'clock, whatever it happens to be and to be able to feel as if they're in class.

If you look at, quite frankly, some of the other messaging coming out of some of our peer universities, they really focus on that. They really focus on this isn't online. This isn't some asynchronous experience you get from ASU, for instance, but this is a truly real-time remote experience that is exactly analogous to what you have in class.

So for the undergraduates, I think from a teaching perspective what you're saying makes all the sense in the world. I am very concerned about what the reaction would be, and having just, quite frankly, finished a session with our students, who are wary about remote learning in general, most of who have come off, not most of whom, but certainly our incoming freshmen, who have come off just an awful experience in online learning from their high schools, I just would be very cautious about that. Maria?

Pallavicini: I think we've made a big point, after hearing from parents, also, that we'll be offering the courses in a very structured time, the same time the courses would have been offered if we were in place, that the students will see the faculty members, interact with them. And so while I understand that there could be kind of a hybrid mode, I think it's really important that we provide that structure for our undergrad students, and they actually see our professors, versus having some time being asynchronous. I think that's what students pay for, is just to be able to interact directly with you, and that's part of the Pacific experience, that they want you. They don't want it to be asynchronous. So as synchronous as much as possible is what we're aiming for.

I know you’re probably tired of this question by now, and I know your focus has been on undergraduate and professional education and instruction, but I'm also wondering about research labs for both faculty work and for graduate students, whose time is limited. I have a graduate student who's from Bangladesh. He's here. He's one of the exceptions for housing on campus. But he has a couple of years to finish his degree, and we see the clock ticking. I know our health and safety plan has to be approved, and that's a complication with three cities, but is there any prognosis for when we may be able to get back in the labs to safely conduct research?

Pallavicini: Thanks for that question. It's on a lot of our minds, certainly on my mind a lot… We do have a universitywide health and safety plan. It does need to be aligned with what the governor's recommendations were for opening the campus, for which we don't have a whole lot of detail right now. I know that UCSF is opening some very limited research, if it's clinical, clinical research with patients, or if it's research related to COVID-19, but there's no opening up universities for research. I mean, Harvard has closed it completely.

It's not to say that we have to close it completely, but I think we would just like to wait and see how numbers are looking over these next three, four weeks, see what guidelines come out, and then look at that time again. So right now, we're saying not right now, but that doesn't mean that in the future, once we have our plan approved and so forth, that we can't do it.

And I do recognize that students need to progress, and we don't want to harm them from progressing, but we also need to do it in alignment with the guidelines and in alignment with our own health and safety plan, and so forth. So I ask of you, everyone who's really clamoring to get in there, if you could wait three or four weeks and see where we are on that, that would be most helpful. I do think we'll be able to open in a very limited fashion, and I know that Jim has talked to several of you to try and get some lab-specific plans on how we're doing that. I think if you could just hold out for a bit, we'll have more answers forthcoming. But I certainly recognize and appreciate the need to get back in those with research labs, for San Francisco as well.

Hi, President Callahan. I want to welcome you to University of the Pacific. I'm in the political science department. One of my concerns is right now we are experiencing a hiring freeze, which I think is really important for our financial wellbeing. But one of my concerns is we just hired a tennis coach and I understand that it was under... We were going through the process, but once that tennis coach said, no, my question is, why did we go ahead with that? When I'm looking at the hiring freeze, I'm looking at we're likely not to have a vaccine until May, at the soonest, December. And it probably won't disseminate to the average Joe like myself until probably end of spring. So I'm looking at a year. So, my question is, because I'm very concerned about the wellbeing of the university financially, as we all are. And so, wouldn't it had been a little more prudent to just wait a year for the hire of the tennis coach, given that the likelihood of a season is not too high? So that's my question. And I do know that this is going to be in the future as far as the academic side is concerned, a real concern. Looking at the cost it is to have Division I, $20 million. How are we going to balance that in the future? And I know a lot of schools at our level are facing that same issue.

Callahan: I appreciate that and it's good to meet you. The hiring freeze is not across the board. We've had a number of exceptions to the hiring freeze. I can tell you in this particular case, and what we're doing in athletics in general. If there was an opening, we are not filling any openings beyond that head coach level. So in other words, assistant coaches and the like, we're not going to fill any of those until I have a better sense of what these seatings are going to look like. If we decided to not fill the head tennis coach, we would have made a decision to shut down our tennis program because we would lose the recruitment for next year.

So, the thinking was we still need our head coaches, but certainly for assistant coach positions. And so we have a better sense of what's going on, we certainly do. As your larger question about exploring Division I sports is like, in this environment, we're going to be looking at everything. The athletics question is not quite as linear, because we get a lot of benefit from those, including students. Most of whom are paying significant tuition because at a school the size of Pacific, most of our student-athletes are not on a full scholarship. But your point is well taken. And again, sort of in this environment, we're going to be looking at everything holistically.

Thanks for holding this … I'm wondering about the gradual reopening, which will occur, and whether or not more resources will be put toward that so that we can do it safely. For instance, surface disinfectant and staff to manage ingress, things like that. So, it doesn't fall on faculty and instructors. Thanks.

Callahan: I've got to answer the big picture and Maria might want to add to it. We had a great plan in place. We had ordered a whole bunch of equipment. PPE, sanitizing machines, a whole facilities plan, plexiglass, directional signage. It was quite robust. And as you could imagine, a huge amount of time and effort went into that. And I appreciate everybody working on that. So, if COVID-19 had continued through June and July, as it looked earlier, than we would have simply implemented that. And we were in, quite frankly, terrific shape in terms of the planning, in terms of the equipment, in terms of the protocols and procedures. Now we may very well have to do that in spring so we will be ready, but Maria might want to answer that. But sort of in the big picture, all of those were locked and ready to go.

Pallavicini: Yeah. And for those of you who go to campus, you will notice that several of the buildings have already directional arrows, ingress and egress. Chris did a fantastic job working with our donors to be able to obtain resources for PPE. So we have quite a lot of PPE actually on hand in place. So ready to use when the time is right. So, as we start to bring people onto campus, whether it's hopefully fully in spring or peeking in a little bit during the fall semester, we will certainly be accessing some of those PPE and the health and safety plan.

In Academic Council meetings he's brought up the idea of a tuition reset. This would happen so that the top lowers and the bottom raises such that the average tuition remains about the same. I see this as an important idea, since those students whose families make just enough for them to have to pay full tuition, really do not make enough to afford that. Too many of these students will leave for our competitors. Interim Provost Michael Hunter Schwartz said that this was being discussed at the Regents level, but he also commented that the tuition reset needed to be handled very carefully. Is this not a good excuse to do a tuition reset?

Pallavicini: Well, either one of us could answer that. I'll just start a little bit. Doing a tuition reset is a huge endeavor that has many implications and potential consequences. If you're doing a tuition reset, for example, to lower tuition, it's not just that one year, it goes on for multiple years. If you decide that, oh, wow, that was really too much. It's really hard to raise tuition after that. We are looking at different models of financial aid and how we're recruiting students to help offset some of the costs. Tuition reset has been an idea. It's been discussed a little bit, and frankly, we were all waiting for Chris to arrive before we make that really big step about how the university is going to handle its tuition setting, it's discount setting, everything that we're doing around financial aid.

Because Chris would be, of course, the one that is going to be leading the university through this and that this decision was not to be made before Chris came. So it's a possibility, and there will be lots of opportunities for the board and others to look at different strategies. There are pros and cons of multiple different strategies, and we need to carefully evaluate it and think about it, not just for right now, but for the future, for our students, for the sustainability of our university, et cetera. Chris, I don't know if you want to add anything to that.

Callahan: Sure. And I assume [the question is] talking about not to do this now, right? Because we would be losing a lot of revenue … We could certainly lower the tuition for some students, but we certainly couldn't raise it for others a month before school starts. Unless you know of a way how we can lower tuition for some students and raise them for another four weeks before school starts when we're all going to be remote. Having just spent an hour with our students and families, I am hard-pressed to see that scenario. But your larger question is the exploration of the tuition reset. We actually have started looking at that along with a lot of other options.

I will tell you the track record from them at other universities is very poor. It by and large hasn't been effective. That doesn't mean there are components of it that aren't effective, such as freezing tuition for students coming in and having basically pre-priced sets for each cohort. And then also how you use your financial aid and really focusing on quite frankly, I don't want to get too much in the weeds here. But from a tuition standpoint, it's about the net revenue, as opposed to just the number of students. And obviously sort of the more scholarships go up, more students you can get, but also that revenue could go down. So we are looking at all of that, but I will say what you and I might consider the traditional tuition reset. It, by and large, has not worked, with some exceptions. But I'd love to talk to you about it offline. I could be a little nerdy about this. I don't want to bore everybody else.

Thank you, President Callahan and Provost Pallavicini for doing this. Really appreciate hearing from you. My question was about athletics. The WCC calendar is different from ours and it sounds like games will be starting theoretically sometime in September. But yeah, I know I shake my head at that one too, but what does that mean for our student-athletes?

Callahan: There are really two parts of that. One is the conference schedule. So the presidents voted last week to put a moratorium on any competitions or games by conference schools until at least September 24. So, whether or not there's a fall schedule, fall sports can be played after September 24 or get pushed to spring, or what have you, still all to be determined.

The larger question for us right now is can we safely and smartly have students doing some sort of practice with their coaches. And in fact, I called [Athletic Director Janet Lucas] this morning so we can sort of start making decisions on exactly that. And she's been texting me, but I've been in meetings ever since I called her. So hopefully we will have a decision on that fairly shortly. It also does go to the retention of students because again, a lot of our student-athletes, most of our student-athletes are not on full scholarships and we'd like to retain them, not just as athletes, but as students and in order to do that, we want to have some sort of hope for them that they can start engaging ... have these practices. So does that help a little bit?

Hello, Chris and Maria. Thanks for having this meeting today, I teach in the Conservatory of Music therapy program. So, my question is what decisions are being made about students who are interning away from the university in facilities, hospitals, et cetera, where they're actually allowing student learners to be there.

Callahan: It's a great question. And what we've been talking about, you tell me if this makes sense to you, is that's really ... I will say most intern employers are having their experiences remote. Some are not. And it also depends on where you are. What part of the country you're in. Our feeling is if there is an employer who believes they can safely bring in an intern and if the intern is willing to come, then we think that's fine and appropriate. It won't be the majority because I think most employers will not have that. I know engineering has been doing that throughout spring and summer. Does that make sense? you, Eric?

Yes, it does. Just because we have some students that are placed at hospitals in California and our students had seen other interns going there and they've been either doing office work or not working with a patient. So that's very helpful in giving some direction. Thank you.

Pallavicini: I think it's particularly relevant for the health-related internships. We're assuming that the hospitals have as good or better even health and safety plans on than we do.

I've already been contacted by a couple of advisees regarding courses with labs for GEs, and they aren't sure if those courses are still going to meet. And if so, how? Is there guidance I can offer them?

Pallavicini: I mean the faculty, whether they're science labs or other kinds of labs, they have designed using either simulations or online modules, similar experiences to achieve the learning outcomes that they would have achieved in a face-to-face lab. So I think the faculty that offer those GE courses have been working really hard to ensure that they achieve their learning outcomes in an online environment.

Callahan: And part of the confusion from your advisees honestly, might be because we're equivocating, right? Because there are a very, very, very limited number that Maria could maybe talk about a little bit, that we do have a window if you will, but it's few and few and far between.

Pallavicini: You're talking about that window. Yeah. So for some of those, our health programs where you have to have skill-based learning, we did get approval in summer for a short period of time for the students to come on campus under very defined conditions, in very small numbers of students. It was for a defined period of time for the majority of those programs. So, for some of those health-related programs, we're going to be asking for exceptions as we move through the fall semester. And we may very well be doing that for our research labs as well. So, it's fairly well and tightly controlled right now in terms of how and who we get approval from.

I know there were going to be adjustments of finals week and the various vacations between semesters. Is that current on the academic calendar?

Pallavicini: Actually, we're not having adjustments of anything. We're starting our semester on time. The vacations and breaks are the same. If we had been in person, we would have offered students the opportunity to do a completely remote after Thanksgiving so that they wouldn't have to come back. But the academic calendar is the same as it was last year. It has not changed.

Callahan: It's worth noting that it gives you a sense of how quickly things have changed. It was about six weeks ago where a number of universities in California moved up the calendar. The idea being well, everything's going to be fine now, but by the time we get to Thanksgiving, we could have a second wave, so a lot of schools are starting two weeks early. And to me, that just gives you a sense of how fast-moving this has been over the last four to six weeks.

I'm speaking on behalf and my question is on behalf of my students, including Powell Scholars, by the way, I teach in the English department ... I have been surprised to learn recently that several of my students, including Powell Scholars, are either housing insecure or feeling unsafe within their own households. And I am wondering how we can be sure to accommodate these students who have a demonstrated need for alternative accommodation.

Callahan: First of all, everybody should know that we talked about [clearing] out all the residence halls. We actually didn't. Because to [this] point, there were a number of students who have no place else to go. They are truly housing insecure and they've remained on campus in residential housing. The housing right now we're looking at, again, depending on what the county is doing, is we're fortunate in that we have a lot of, half of our beds, if you will, on the Stockton Campus are an apartment-style. So the question is, would we be allowed to take in, number one, students who have no place else to go, and it sounds like more of those—and please do send those names to Carrie Petr so we reach out to those students who are not on campus yet. Number two, our international students, as you know, who were often in the same sort of housing situation. And, quite frankly, we don't necessarily want them to go back home because there might be difficulties coming back. So there's a number of student cohorts that if we could do it safely, and we think we can, if we get the permissions, which we think we can, to have those students in our apartments, with the understanding that quite frankly, there's nothing else that's going on, on the campus. They could do what Jean and I do, which is to take our walk at night on a very empty campus and watch a lot of dogs play from the neighborhood. But that's about it.

But please do send those names to Carrie so we can reach out to them.

We've got new incoming master's students in biology and chemistry. I'm thinking of bio, of course. And they're going to be TA-ing. And we kind of need to have them in here at least to make sure they know what they're doing. Because I really wouldn't want to have a person I've never met teaching a class for me. Have there been any decisions made about those populations of students?

Pallavicini: For those individuals, who have classes that warrant TAs, which I know bio does. I expect that you're just going to be working with those TAs in this new environment. I think the TA slots have been distributed. So I don't expect to see any change. I think it'll be up to the faculty member, if it's a full-time TA, just to ensure the TA is working the 20 hours per week. But maybe doing things differently for you, given this instructional modality, then he or she might've done face-to-face. So I urge you just to work with your TA, look at how they can help you. You'll be offering online labs in different modules and so forth. But there's no change in that at all.

So, are you saying that graduate students won't be allowed on campus to work on their thesis or anything like that as part of it? Or is that a different question?

Pallavicini: Right now, we're in a space where we are not able to say we can open labs right now. So that was my comment earlier on. Three, four weeks, we might be in a different place. We'll have more guidance, et cetera, from the governor. And so it could be very different then. But right now, that's kind of the way it is. I hope it'll change. You know that I love to support research. And so we'll do the very best we can to get the students and the faculty back on campus. Certainly the faculty for sure. But we'll have to do it in a very constrained and with an approved plan. You know, as I said earlier, with the clinical health sciences programs ... Each program had to have an approved plan. Like you could have two faculty, two students and one faculty member, six feet apart. But we'll work on that and I think we'll make good progress.

Callahan: And for everybody, keep in mind that we'll have to make these decisions at some point. But right now, without guidance … The governor has still not given guidance to the counties. And the counties, therefore can't give approval. So we couldn't restart in that fashion. Even if we thought it was safe and the right thing to do. Right now.

Regarding the cut of the employees’ benefit … we understand that this 10% is on the retirement contribution. So, my question is, is there any particular reason? Because I consider if this 10% is all after tax, will that be better if this 10% is directly on the paycheck so that we can save tax payment? And the school actually can get the same amount of money, and the faculties lose, but not as much as after-tax money. If we're talking about 10%.

Pallavicini: I would say that the salary and the paychecks, of course, of people, vary widely. And some folks depend really a lot on their paycheck. And so while it might be okay for some, it would definitely be much ... It would be a really big hardship for others. So that would be my suggestion. My thinking about that. Chris, I don't know if you have other thinking.

Callahan: I'm afraid I would say the wrong thing. It sounds like an HR question. Which I think when we did it originally, we went through. But it might be worthwhile to check in with Linda Jeffers. I think she's asked that question already, but I'm not sure. I just don't want to give you the wrong information.

Pallavicini: Just from a theoretical point of view, if you're taking it from retirement, it's one thing. But if you're taking it from a paycheck, it's a 10% reduction from someone that might be living paycheck to paycheck. Whereas the retirement reduction is not an immediate effect.

I was just curious about what our latest figure is. What is our current estimate for our incoming freshmen cohort?

Callahan: It has not moved since last time. But then again, we have not measured it since our announcement. So, and if I could, this brings up an absolutely essential point. Which is for the next week or so, we are working extremely hard. When I say we, I mean everybody, including our faculty. To make sure we can retain as many students as possible. And that's why we're spending a lot of time with students, to sort of go through, and why we're trying to develop new programs for them. But it's absolutely essential. Now, if there's a downturn from this, my guess is we won't see it. It won't manifest itself for another week or two. But again, this next week is going to be absolutely critical. And particularly as our faculty members are meeting with their advisees to really underscore the point that this is still a Pacific education. And I think that's absolutely essential.

And too many students, again, especially those who have not had an experience at Pacific, our freshmen. They're thinking, "Oh, this is going to be like what I just experienced in April and May all over again." Sort of the more we can underscore that this remains a quality Pacific education in the same way, on the same measures as it is always, with the only difference being the venue. The more together we can get across that, the better we will be in terms of our enrollment.

Pallavicini: Yeah. And if I could just add to that, since this is a group with the faculty. As you all think about your courses, and how you're delivering your instruction, you've already thought about it. One of the best things about Pacific is our community and that sense of all belonging to each other. And thinking about ways in which you can convey that in your class online is, I think, going to be really important so our students feel part of that community. So when they come back ready to be in person, they know their friends. They've made friends, et cetera. And part of what Chris talked about earlier was the emphasis that we're putting on co-curricular, extracurricular activities that are going to try and create that community that we all value so much at Pacific.

So I urge you to think about that in your class when you're teaching, "How do I create that sense of community that our students feel when they're actually sitting next to each other?" And CTL has some good strategies for that. If you reach out to them. They're very much on board with trying to help make that happen. So I urge all of you to just go and bombard CTL. They're ready, they're waiting for you to look at how you can make your online course the very best it can be.