Admins, Students Cope With Unstable Campus Conditions

While the recent outbreak of San Diego wildfires did not
directly force any students or staff members off campus, approximately three-fourths
of resident students opted to leave UCSD voluntarily last week, citing concerns
of growing evacuation zones and poor air quality. Those who remained were led
by an emergency policy council of administrators and safety personnel, tasked
with determining how the campus would respond to, and ultimately recover from,
the worst fire disaster in the county’s history.

Headed by Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and run by Vice
Chancellor of Business Affairs Steven W. Relyea, the council ultimately decided
to cancel all classes from Oct. 22-26 due to concerns about students’ safety
and well-being. Nonessential staff members were also encouraged not to report
to campus during that period.

“The group assessed the immediate threat to the campus,”
Associate Vice Chancellor of University Communications Stacie A. Spector said
in an e-mail. “Due to the extremely poor air quality, the high number of
evacuations causing severe traffic congestion, the personal situation that
students, staff and faculty might be facing with their own families and homes
and the potential threat to the campus due to the proximity of the fire … [the
group] provided a recommendation to the chancellor that canceling classes would
be the most prudent and healthy decision.”

After choosing to cancel classes for the week, the council
subsequently debated whether Fall Quarter should be extended to make up for the
missed teaching days. UC Provost Wyatt R. Hume ultimately approved Fox’s
proposal to reduce days of instruction for the quarter, meaning there will be
no make-up week, UC Office of the President spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said. The
deadline to drop a class without receiving a withdrawal mark was also extended
from Oct. 26 to Nov. 2.

Though a campuswide e-mail from Vice Chancellor of Student
Affairs Penny Rue urged professors to delay exams and assignments by a week to
accommodate students who have been impacted by the fires, some students have
expressed uncertainty about what to expect when they return to classes on Oct.

“I guess [the missed week] will take away from the amount of
material that I will pick up in my classes,” John Muir College senior Daniel
Casillas said. “I’m kind of in limbo about what to have done when I get back.”

The reduction means professors must maintain patience with affected
students while simultaneously condensing 10 weeks of material into nine, a
potential source of frustration for those with pre-made lesson plans or
schedules. However, many professors have expressed willingness to follow Rue’s
recommendations in the interest of their students.

“The 10-week quarter has always seemed rather arbitrary to
me,” literature professor Melvyn Freilicher said. “Though instructors obviously
design a syllabus to fully utilize that time, cutting out a week just means
making decisions about condensing and omitting some material which I feel is
less crucial. Given the magnitude of the recent devastation, losing a week of
instruction basically feels like a non-issue.”

Following the cancelation announcement, about 6,000 students
self-evacuated from campus, dropping the population of apartments and residence
halls from 8,000 to approximately 2,000 by Oct. 25.

“When people heard classes were canceled and there was still
a possibility of evacuation, a large number of them left,” said Eleanor
Roosevelt College senior and Resident Adviser Emily Lipoma. “A lot of our job
was to get info to our residents and keep them calm.”

While some students may have left due to health concerns,
others had different motives for exiting campus, said Earl Warren College
sophomore and RA Nastasha Tan.

“The majority of my residents left, but I think a lot of
them used the fire hazard as an opportunity to visit home,” Tan said.

In a campuswide e-mail sent on Oct. 22, Fox referred to the
air quality at UCSD as “extremely unhealthy.” However, Housing and Dining
Services Director Mark P. Cunningham said in an e-mail that he did not believe
this was the primary reason why students chose to evacuate.

“I think the canceling of classes did [it] for the most
part, but poor air quality was likely a contributing factor for some students,”
he said.

Lipoma and Tan said they received clear instructions on how
to handle a possible evacuation from their respective residence life offices,
although many RAs had to dispel rumors of an imminent evacuation that spread
among residents.

“There were a lot of rumors that went around,” Warren
College junior and RA Jonathan Stenstrom said. “We heard a lot of different
things, but we just told them what went on in the emergency meetings.”

Despite rumors of evacuation, UCSD Police Lt. David Rose
said the campus has responded generally well to the crisis, with a majority of
calls to the police department coming from parents seeking to get in contact
with their children. While some UCPD officers remained on campus to perform
their usual duties, others were dispatched to more severely affected areas —
such as Ramona, Julian, Chula Vista and Coronado — to assist in evacuations,
traffic control and preserving public safety.

A large percentage of those who chose to remain on campus
were heavily involved in outreach efforts for fire victims, said Center for
Student Involvement Director Emily Marx. A campuswide relief group, consisting
of members from CSI, UCSD Staff Association, UCSD Alumni Association, UCSD
Student Foundation, the A.S. Council, the Student Affirmative Action Committee
and the Student Affairs Offices, has been coordinating multiple volunteer
projects such as donation and blood drives throughout the past week.

“We wanted to do some things that are immediate responses
based on the needs of the community, and also work on some longer-term ideas,”
Marx said. “We’ve been brainstorming a lot of ideas, but they’ll be more
concrete when we see who [at UCSD] is affected.”

University officials have enacted several options to ease
the transition for displaced students and staff members, including programs for
emergency loans and donations of paid leave. Administrators also established a
hotline to assist any UCSD affiliate whose home was destroyed in the fire.

Spector said the outpouring of support is a testament to the
community atmosphere fostered at UCSD.

“The spirit of service, volunteerism, community and cooperation
are clearly vibrant at UCSD,” she said. “Many people who work for
UCSD that service patients and students were dealing with their own
personal situations related to the fire, but they showed up for work
anyway as dedicated UCSD personnel who not only have a tremendous work ethic,
but their commitment to the constituents of the campus remain
steadfast, in light of this challenge.”

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