From: Dean Erwin Chemerinsky
To: Berkeley Law community
Date: Friday, March 20, 2020
Dear Law School Community,
The last three weeks are unlike anything any of us ever has experienced, or hopefully ever will experience again. We are all dealing with anxieties from a new disease and stresses from the dislocation of our daily lives. We have transitioned to an entirely on-line form of education, seen the Law School and the campus closed, and been ordered to “shelter in place.”
Yet, with stunning success the Law School has remained operational and classes have continued uninterrupted. I have heard enormous praise from our students about how their professors have adapted and learning has continued. More than words can express, I am grateful to everyone for their patience and tremendous efforts to make this work. I would be remiss if I did not especially thank CAO and Senior Assistant Dean Charles Cannon; Dean of Students Annik Hirshen; Dino Johnson, who has spearheaded our IT efforts; Associate Dean Molly Van Houweling; Law Librarian Kathleen Vanden Heuvel; and Assistant Dean Susan Whitman. But truly the thanks go to every member of our community for all you have done.
The Provost said yesterday that there are two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on campus. Undoubtedly, as testing becomes more widespread, other cases will be diagnosed. We have been told that if someone is symptomatic (but not for those who feel they have been exposed, but who are asymptomatic), he or she should call the “UHS triage line” – 510-643-7197.
As we adjourn for spring break, I wanted to address a few things:
1. Obviously, in-person classes and events are cancelled until further notice for this semester. I am always the optimist and hope that somehow they will be able to resume at some point in April, though that seems increasingly unlikely. We will resume classes on schedule on Monday, March 30, continuing to use Zoom and distance learning.
2. I want to make a special plea and ask everyone to be understanding and accommodate the needs of those in our community. There are those with unexpected childcare and family obligations, those dealing with illness, those suffering dislocations in housing. Others may be affected in unexpected ways in the days and weeks ahead. We must understand if people cannot attend meetings and where things need longer to get done. As I have stressed before, faculty cannot insist on attendance or class participation, and if it is a factor in grading (which will be on a credit/no-credit basis for all courses), some alternative must be provided to requiring real-time participation. We will do all we can to accommodate the needs of staff and faculty in light of their circumstances.
There is an obvious tension between keeping the law school operational and maintaining a semblance of normalcy, which is what many want at this unsettling time, and recognizing that for many there must be significant accommodations. Ultimately, we must always make our highest priority the welfare of those in our community and I ask everyone to do all they can to continue to be flexible and accommodating.
3. Community activities. This is a time when we most need the support of each other and yet this is so much more difficult when we are kept apart. We are looking for ways to hold on-line community events. Some include:
• We will have a series of presentations by faculty members on legal issues related to the coronavirus. They will be by Zoom and will be available to all faculty, staff, and students. Dan Farber will do the first of these on Monday, March 30, 12:50-2:00, on presidential power during pandemics. On Monday, April 6, there will be a presentation at that time by George Horvath on legal and technical impediments to widespread testing. On Monday, April 13, I will do a presentation at that time on constitutional issues in public health emergencies. More of these talks will be announced.
• There will be a virtual community trivia night on April 1. Thanks, as always, to Montie Magree for organizing this.
• Dean of Students Annik Hirshen has organized a drop-in Zoom Room for students.
• Adam Sterling, the Executive Director of our Executive Education Program, has organized a series of Berkeley Boost presentations on various topics via Zoom.
• I have asked Deborah Schlosberg, the Director of our Pro Bono Program to put together, perhaps on a webpage, a list of pro bono opportunities for our students and faculty.
• And much more to come.
Details for all these to be announced.
4. Campus has announced that there is a “hard lock” of buildings beginning on Monday. Individuals should not be in campus buildings, subject to very narrow exceptions. Most importantly, employees and faculty members may come to the campus only to engage in and directly support the delivery of remote learning instruction (and the limited, specific preparation necessary for such instruction) that cannot be accomplished from home. Also, employees can get permission from their supervisors for one time visits to accomplish a specific tasks.
5. I will continue to provide regular updates, including over spring break. I will have the daily Zoom call at 4:30 today. Unless there is a desire for more frequently briefings, my
suggestion would be to do Zoom “town halls” that anyone can join on Tuesday and Thursday next week at 4:30, and if things change certainly we can do them more often.
I hope that spring break provides a respite and a chance for a bit of calm for everyone. It has been such an intense and difficult few weeks. I have been so grateful to be part of this wonderful, supportive community at this strange and scary time. None of us ever will forget this spring, but I expect that among the things we will remember most are the resilience of this community and the unfailing kindness and compassion of our students, staff, and faculty.