March 30, 2020

A Message from Chancellor Gillman

To the UCI Community:

As we begin this historic quarter, I want to express my deep appreciation to all of you for the steps you have taken, under difficult circumstances, to make our community safer and more resilient in the face of this unprecedented public health crisis.

Our imperative was to rapidly promote what we all now refer to as “social distancing” – although it is my hope that we think of this instead as short-term “physical distancing” combined with a fierce commitment to social solidarity and mutual support.

We made this decision because we could not put lives at risk by continuing to have in-person classes, communal residential life with many thousands of students sharing common spaces, ordinary academic and research gatherings, and business-as-usual work environments. At the same time, we also wanted to ensure that, to the best of our ability, we could keep advancing the vital mission of the university, and especially the mission of educating our great and deserving students.

We prioritized safety and resiliency.

The faculty responded to the challenge by adapting their courses to remote learning – an incredibly challenging task in such a short period of time, accomplished with the help of countless support staff. Undoubtedly, it will not be smooth sailing everywhere at the beginning. But the efforts of the faculty have been Herculean, and I salute them all. In the weeks to come, we will continue to adapt and improve, with goodwill and generosity extended all around.

Because we knew we could count on our amazing, dedicated, innovative faculty to deliver remote instruction, it was possible for many thousands of students to make the difficult but necessary decision to return to their permanent residences if they could do so safely. Incredibly, almost 85 percent of our students in our most heavily trafficked communal dorms left the campus they have called a second home in order to protect themselves, their loved ones and other vulnerable members of our community. As a result, we have created a safer environment for the students who had no choice but to stay. We also now have spaces that we can use if it becomes necessary to isolate or quarantine students who may be exposed and need special support, allowing us to facilitate care for them and protect others without burdening the broader community.

To those students who left let me say: we miss you terribly but please know that your decision helped save lives. Thank you. To those who will be continuing your studies next year let me say: we yearn for the time when, once again, we can be together in person. To those who are graduating seniors let me say: I feel terrible about the disappointment and frustration you feel regarding commencement. I promise we will do our best to honor the tremendous accomplishment of your graduation in a way that allows us all to help protect public health and preserve life.

In addition, offices around the campus quickly transitioned as many staff as possible to remote work options. Essential research continues – including those who are looking for solutions to this pandemic – but much of our research mission transitioned to safer practices. The wonderful team in Student Affairs is busily creating a version of student support that you can count on even from a distance. Same with student counseling, student health, and our affinity groups. And, of course, the amazing and brave individuals at UCI Health have been working tirelessly to prepare our entire clinical enterprise so that we might be there when our friends and neighbors need help.

I know that, like me, you are still coming to grips with all the changes of the past weeks. We will continue to inform you on how best to protect public health during this pandemic. But in addition, for as long as we are required to engage in physical distancing – and it may be quite a while – we will all need to commit ourselves to developing new modes of self-care, new practices of social connection and new opportunities for public service. In particular, I hope you will be intentional and innovative about staying connected with each other. Let’s impress the world with what we create and discover under these circumstances that make things better. Also, don’t forget: exercise; cultivate or invite beauty into your lives; be generous with others; be more kind; ask for help if you need it. Let us all be here for each other.

As you consider your own experience, I hope you will also keep in your thoughts the caregivers of UCI Health, who are preparing themselves to be there for the UCI community, and the broader community, when we most need them. They are dedicated professionals and students, but this is not an easy time for them or their families. We are doing all we can to ensure that they are not overwhelmed. In fact, everything the campus – and the county and the state – has done the past few weeks is designed explicitly to ensuring that the health system will be able to cope with any increased demands for clinical services associated with the virus, so that they can use their skills to save lives. I hope you will think of ways to express your gratitude for their selfless service.

We are living through an extraordinary moment in history. Ten years from now we will recall these times. We will tell stories – to friends, children, grandchildren – of what it was like. We will say that it was difficult, and uncertain, even frightening. But I am confident that, along with everything else, we will recall that this challenge also brought out the best in us. We will tell people about the steps we took to save lives, to help others, to adapt and persist, to stay connected, to move forward, to teach, learn, discover, heal—to do what we do best. We will remember what we did this quarter with pride.

It is in moments of darkness that it is most important to let there be light.

Fiat Lux,

Chancellor Howard Gillman