A UC pipe dream: reopening without a good plan will be impossible

Ryan Poon/ The Highlander

As of Jan. 11, the University of California (UC) President Michael V. Drake and the rest of the UC announced that all campuses will reopen by fall 2021. While this came as a pleasant surprise to all students and faculty, there was no clear presentation on how the UC plans to navigate toward such a goal, considering the slow distribution of vaccinations. It seems as if the UC is tired of being in a financial bind and are heavily depending on how the Biden administration plans to roll out vaccines. However, even if distribution rates increase, it seems too good to be true that all students across the 10 campuses will be vaccinated in such a short time frame. At the same time, the UC offered no clear plan on the types of safety guidelines they would put in place or the type of aid ー if any ー that would be given to students to expedite the process of getting them back on campus. Without transparency on how the UC plans on returning to business as usual, it will be impossible for them to completely reopen by fall. 

The UC credits the wide availability of vaccines as a reason to allow campuses to reopen, but this is not enough to guarantee that all students will be able to return to in-person classes. In the meantime, the UC should not assume that vaccines will be readily available for all students. More importantly, the assumption that all students’ access to healthcare is similar across all campuses is tone-deaf and unrealistic. The UC does not have enough insight into everyone’s personal situations, so it would be easy for them to overlook students in communities who can not afford the same healthcare as wealthy individuals from the suburbs. In fact, UCR is still unable to clarify if getting vaccinated is even a requirement for students to resume on-campus learning. With all of the disorganization coupled with the failure to address the inequality of healthcare access, they are unfairly assuming that all students are readily available to receive the vaccine at any whim and get back onto campus, which further perpetuates the issue of socioeconomic inequality. 

If the UC expects to reopen, it must lend a helping hand to those who need it. The UC is undoubtedly pushing for reopening because they are strapped for cash. Without people living on campus and contributing to it, they lose out on profits. However, without investing in their students and providing proper aid in order for them to make a safe return to campus, reopening will never happen. If the UC is going to require that every student and faculty member get vaccinated, then they need to hold themselves accountable in offering fully paid vaccinations to all students, especially to those who have unequal access to healthcare in comparison to other affluent students. 

For this reason, students should not be faulted for being unable to attend on campus in the fall if they are unable to get vaccinated in time. Coming onto campus should still remain completely optional for at least a year in order to accommodate those who are unable to receive the vaccine as fast as others. Additionally, professors should still be encouraged to offer office hours online, upload lectures and administer all exams digitally in order to aid students who must work remotely. Students should not be punished for having a disadvantage when it comes to healthcare access. And without a plan from the UC on how they will supplement this issue, a lot of students may feel unwarranted pressure and a lack of support from their university. 

Of course, the UC will make the argument that they will not be able to afford mass vaccination sites for all of their students. However, one should take their potential pushback with a grain of salt and continue to hold the UC accountable so that they can properly take care of their students. As discussed many times in the past, the UC has an investment pool of $30 billion and an unrestricted fund of $10 billion, which would be more than enough to help aid in the vaccinations of their students. If the UC really cares about their students and returning them back to a semi-normal campus experience, they will use their money toward administering proper care to students and faculty who need it the most. 

The UC is doing a botched job in trying to hide the fact that they are desperately trying to reopen for the sake of profits over re-engaging students. However, regardless of intention, this will be a failed venture if there continues to be a lack of clear communication to students and faculty on how they plan to reopen safely with proper accommodations for all.