Checking In With Chancellor May: Next Steps After Commencement

Chancellor Gary S. May speaks at commencement
Chancellor Gary S. May speaks at commencement. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

To the UC Davis Community:

I’m writing today about our undergraduate commencement ceremonies that were held from Friday through Sunday at UC Davis Health Stadium. (I’ll also provide updates to our COVID prevention practices later in this letter.) Commencement did not go as planned, and while we did our best to mitigate against the rising temperatures on Friday morning, I know it was not enough. I apologize for the pain, anger and frustration many of you have experienced and expressed.

I say this often because it’s the truth: The health and safety of the campus is always our highest priority. The happiness of our students, faculty and staff is a close second. A good portion of our graduating class did not get to celebrate a major milestone properly, and for that I am sorry.

We have offered a regalia refund of $58, which covers the cap, gown and tassel, to graduates who were not able to be recognized on Friday and Saturday. The commencement team communicated this message to graduates yesterday.

We are also working on a survey that we will send to those impacted students about their feedback for the timing of a makeup commencement. Once we get feedback from the survey, we’ll provide further details about dates and times.

I’d like to provide some context about Friday and our decision-making.

This was our first time holding commencement in this venue. The stadium has a greater capacity than previous venues we have used, which means that we can commemorate your extraordinary achievements in a more appropriate setting with more family and friends in attendance. There are no indoor venues located in Davis or on campus that can hold an event of this size.

Our original planning included watching the livestream of the event from the air-conditioned University Credit Union Center. We recognized that it can be very hot in June in Davis, as we had planned throughout the year for contingencies, and we started the ceremony at 8 a.m. We were scheduled to wrap up before 11 a.m. to avoid the hottest part of the day.

As we became aware of the extreme heat forecast a week prior to Friday’s ceremony, we enhanced our infrastructure plan by adding more cooling stations around the stadium, including misters, shade tents, water stations and cooling buses. Safety personnel from Fire Prevention Services, Fire Department, and Risk Management monitored rising temperatures as well as the larger context of continued access to water and shelter.

The temperature in the stadium on Friday rose earlier than expected. We were informed at about 11:30 a.m. that conditions had deteriorated significantly and reached a point when it was unsafe to continue.

At the same time, our water on hand began running low, and we did not have a way to bring more supplies to the stadium quickly enough to serve all of the people in need. Our attention turned to our students on the field, where it was hottest, and where there was no access to shade. We knew there were still many students who had not crossed the stage yet, and we estimated that it would take at least another 45 minutes to get through those students.

On top of these factors, our first responders had already answered more than 30 medical calls and sent six guests to the hospital for symptoms related to heat exposure. After reviewing all these factors, the UC Davis Fire Department, Fire Prevention Services, and Environmental Health and Safety mandated that we end the ceremony at once to avoid further crisis. Again, we are so sorry that this was necessary.

As we reported Friday, after conferring with our public safety experts, we determined we had to shorten Saturday’s program.

After we shared that update with you, we heard from many of you about how important it was that you could cross the stage and have your name announced.

We listened. We changed the program early Saturday morning based on your feedback.

We asked our faculty, staff and volunteers to pivot with us that morning as well as Sunday morning. I am grateful for their commitment to making this work when many of them were also impacted by the high temperature.

Because of the revisions we made to Saturday and Sunday’s ceremonies, we made it possible for everyone who attended either ceremony to be recognized on stage.

Again, I want to acknowledge the disappointment that some of you have voiced on what should have been a time of celebration.

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COVID-19 updates

Before I close, I’d like to provide an update related to our COVID-19 prevention plans. While we recognize that masking is now a matter of individual choice, we strongly recommend wearing masks indoors. We continue to follow county, state and federal public health guidelines.

For the Davis campus, we closely monitor our COVID-19 dashboard and Yolo County case and hospitalization rates, as well as other factors such as the seriousness of COVID-19 illnesses and the presence of the virus in wastewater. We are optimistic that the current trend will continue downward. Regardless, we will continue to follow the direction of our Yolo County Public Health officials. Based on the data we see today, we are announcing the following changes to our protocols, with this caveat: We know the pandemic is constantly evolving and that means our protocols will evolve as well. This information is also available on the Summer Guidance page on Campus Ready.

Testing update

On Friday, June 24, we will end the COVID-19 testing requirement on the Davis campus. Free, asymptomatic testing will still be available for members of the UC Davis community, but it will be voluntary after June 24.

In conjunction with this change, we will move our testing kiosk from the Activities and Recreation Center (last day Thursday, June 30, closing early that day, at 4 p.m.) to the Human Resources Administration Building just a short walk across La Rue Road from the ARC. The relocated kiosk, opening Tuesday, July 5, will provide testing to UC Davis employees and students through the 2022 calendar year. This includes matriculated students and faculty/staff who are paid through UCPath.

Hours for the new testing kiosk will be 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. The appointment system will be the same, in the Health-e-Messaging portal. Walk-in testing will not be available.

Normal parking rates will apply (Lot 35 is adjacent to the HR building), and the free parking stalls designated for COVID-19 testing in Lot 25 in front of the ARC will become regular C-zone stalls again.

We have updated the Campus Ready COVID-19 Testing page to reflect the forthcoming changes.

Daily Symptom Survey

Also effective June 24, students will no longer be required to complete the Daily Symptom Survey, or DSS, prior to accessing campus facilities. However, the DSS will remain available to students, who can use it as a method for monitoring their symptoms and also as a way to show their isolation status if they need to verify that they cannot access campus facilities.

Employees (including student employees) will still be required to complete the DSS before arriving to work at a university-controlled facility. It is a Cal-OSHA requirement that employees self-check their symptoms prior to arriving at work each day, and the DSS meets this requirement. In addition, employees who fill out the DSS will receive the daily potential exposure report when applicable.

Healthy Davis Together

UC Davis and the city of Davis accomplished what we set out to do. We rallied together as a community to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and contribute to a safe, gradual return to city and campus life. We emerged as a role model for public health and town-gown partnership. The International Town Gown Association, in fact, presented its Presidential Excellence Award to Healthy Davis Together last week.

As previously announced, Healthy Davis Together (including Healthy Yolo Together) will conclude COVID-19 testing June 30. You can find other testing resources here, and you can get free tests from the government. Wastewater monitoring in Davis will continue, as it has become an important public health tool to track virus trends.

COVID-19 will be in our lives for the foreseeable future, including new subvariants, but we now have the accumulated knowledge and many more tools to protect ourselves and those around us. We have shown the nation what a remarkable and resilient community we are. I’m looking forward to continuing UC Davis’ strong partnership with the city and county in new ways as we emerge from the pandemic.

In closing

As I close today’s letter and as the academic year comes to an end, let me reiterate that we acknowledge that some of you remain angry and disappointed about commencement. Our opening procession on Friday did not go as planned and took much longer than it should have. We know this is one of the most exciting and rewarding days in students’ lives, and sharing in your joy in meeting this milestone is very meaningful for faculty and staff here at UC Davis.

I like to say that I don’t make excuses, I make amends. And that’s what we’re focused on now.

We do not take the weekend’s outcomes lightly. In the next few days, we will undertake a comprehensive review of the events with a variety of campus stakeholders. We’ll use this information to ensure that we do better in the future.

We wish you all a healthy summer.


Gary S. May

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