I write to you to balance my optimism regarding returning to in-person instruction this fall with my concern on behalf of our community about the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases nationally and on campus, including a more contagious variant. I hope our UC Berkeley community, in the Bay Area and beyond, will take all the recommended precautions necessary to stem the spread of this virus.
And yet, I am so proud to be a vice provost, professor, and alumna of a university that is working tirelessly to innovate new testing methods, fast-track and fund COVID research to save lives and support hard-hit communities, and implement a phased vaccination plan to protect our most vulnerable students, staff, and faculty.
If you are a graduate student living near Berkeley and would like to be tested for COVID-19, you can make an appointment for close-contact/symptomatic testing or surveillance testing with University Health Services through the eTang portal. Additionally, Alameda County has compiled a list of testing locations throughout the East Bay (or you may make an appointment through your personal healthcare provider, if not UHS).
As I reflect on the disorienting nature of the last year, I want to highlight the various accommodations and support provided by the Graduate Division, Graduate Council, campus administration, and our generous donors as we transitioned from reacting to anticipating the needs of our graduate student body. I am so proud of what we have accomplished together:
- Extension of Normative Time and NRST Waiver Eligibility
In light of the unprecedented disruptions experienced by the campus community, the Graduate Division and Graduate Council have approved a blanket two-year extension of normative time (applied automatically) for doctoral students. The EVCP also has approved a four-semester extension of eligibility for non-residential supplemental tuition (NRST) waivers for international doctoral students that have advanced to candidacy.
- Extension to Change Grading Option
Announced last semester, the Graduate Division extended the deadline for graduate students to change Spring 2021 grading options from a letter grade to S/U to April 29, 2021. Some programs may not allow students to change grading options and the campus has limits. It is therefore vital that you check with your GSAO before changing the grading option on any courses.
- Revisions to Doctoral Completion Fellowship Eligibility and Stipend Cap Policy
Beginning Spring 2021, students who have taken the Doctoral Completion Fellowship will remain eligible for university fellowship funding (block grants, UC Dissertation-Year Fellowship, etc.) beyond one year past Normative Time to Degree. This policy change provides departments more flexibility when allocating their funding to students, and gives students continued eligibility to apply to campus fellowships.
- Option to Transition to Part-Time Status (Past year)
Graduate students who experienced increased caretaking duties were offered the opportunity, with approval from their department, to transition to part-time status for the Fall 2020 and/or Spring 2021 semesters and receive a waiver equivalent to half of the tuition for those terms.
- Graduate Remote Instruction Innovation Fellows Program (Past year)
This summer and winter, our GSI Teaching and Resource Center welcomed hundreds of fellows as part of a program to help graduate student instructors strengthen competencies and develop innovative approaches to teaching and supporting faculty in a remote environment. In addition to receiving stipends and certificates, we anticipate that participants will impact the learning of 28,000 undergraduates this semester.
- Hiring of an Undocumented Student Specialist (Past year)
With support from CACCSF funds, the Graduate Division hired Jessica Mena Flores this fall to support undocumented, low-income, first-generation, and minoritized graduate students at UC Berkeley.
- Increased Funding for Basic Needs Support (Past year)
In recognition of the increased financial, housing, and employment strains on our student body, the Graduate Division provided funding to support the Basic Needs Center’s Holistic Fund, available to all students, including undocumented students. We also provided additional block grant support and COVID-19 emergency funding to departments to help them address the unexpected financial stress their students experienced because of the pandemic.
In addition to the formal actions and policies listed above, please know that the Graduate Division continues to be extremely flexible in offering accommodations for disruptions due to COVID-19. We plan to host a vaccine panel for graduate students to ask questions about vaccine safety and distribution, and speak to current graduate students conducting COVID-related research who have received the vaccine.
Thank you for your contributions to Berkeley’s role in creating knowledge that serves the greater good. And thanks to our campus community and partners for being so supportive of our graduate student community. I have never been prouder to be a part of Berkeley.
Lisa García Bedolla
Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division