CHANCELL-ING: A New Academic Year, a New Normal

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Students sit and chat outside the Segundo Dining Commons as another student rides past on a bicycle.
Students gather outside the Segundo Dining Commons on Tuesday (Sept. 7). (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Within a matter of days, the UC Davis we know best will look familiar again. It will be a scene of bike traffic and plenty of backpacks as students head to classes. It will be the sounds of world class jazz and symphonies at the Mondavi Center, and laptop keyboards clacking in lecture halls from studious note-taking.

Chancell-ing logo with photo of Chancellor Gary S. May

These are the sights and sounds I’ve dreamed of since the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the campus into remote learning and working in early 2020. Now, UC Davis returns to in-person learning as the fall 2021 quarter launches on Sept. 20. You might already sense this from the number of U-Haul trucks cruising through town.

Of course, the reopening of campus doesn’t mean everything will be just like it was in pre-pandemic times. The rise of the delta variant only reinforces our need to remain vigilant in the name of public health and practice safe behaviors, including masking, regular testing and getting vaccinated.

I recognize the continuing anxiety of these historic times. But I will say this: If I had to be anywhere during the pandemic, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than UC Davis. Here’s why:

  • I’ll be surrounded by a community of students, faculty and staff who are following a vaccine mandate that was ordered by the University of California in July.
  • I’ll be on a campus that’s shown the country how efficient and effective COVID-19 testing can be, as conducted through our city partnership with Healthy Davis Together. Starting Sept. 20, vaccinated members of our UC Davis community will undergo asymptomatic testing every 14 days. Those who were approved for an exception from the vaccine mandate for medical or religious reasons will be tested for COVID-19 every four days.
  • And we will continue to stay masked up in most situations. Face coverings will be required indoors, regardless of a person’s vaccination status. That includes students in lecture halls, office staff, patrons at the Mondavi Center and Unitrans riders.

These three protocols give me confidence moving forward. The caring nature of our Aggies boosts my confidence as well.

I’m endlessly proud of how well the UC Davis community has managed the pandemic by following our safety and health guidelines and showing concern for others. That includes our students who signed up to be Aggie Public Health Ambassadors and supported their peers by handing out free face coverings and directing people to testing sites. The result is a test-positivity rate on campus that’s often been under 1 percent throughout the pandemic.

So, what we’re entering is a “new normal” at UC Davis. It’s clear that the pandemic will be with us for some time, but I know we have the healthy practices in place plus the ability to adapt that will keep the university — and our broader community — moving forward. Our staff and faculty have worked tremendously hard to make this moment possible, and I know that determination won’t change.

Now, I’m looking forward to our campus being re-awakened. The beginning of an academic year is an exciting time with fresh faces, new ideas and new opportunities. This year, we will be a step closer to what the start of the academic year looked like in 2019. I know that so many of our students, faculty and staff are ready to be back and give those Zoom meetings a big break.

For students who are new to UC Davis, in a sense we’ll be welcoming two incoming classes: Our most recent freshman and transfer students, and all those who were learning remotely this past academic year and missed some of the traditional first-year experiences. I encourage all of them to not just get fully acquainted with our Davis campus, but also to connect with the city as a whole. After all, this is Davis, the ultimate college town, with its friendly charm and miles of bike-friendly roads.

In the meantime, let’s keep working together and showing the country what can be achieved when a town and its university come together for the greater good. It takes every Aggie working together — and everyone in the community as well — to keep us all healthy.

Fall 2021, here we come. Let’s do this.

Chancellor Gary S. May’s monthly column appears first in The Davis Enterprise and then in Dateline UC Davis.

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