Message About Fall 2020 Remote Learning

July 24, 2020
UCLA Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin

Dear Members of the UCLA Law Community,

I hope that you are staying safe and healthy amidst the continued challenges of this summer.

This is not a message I wanted to have to write, but it is also a message that I now have no choice but to share. Given the current situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, especially here in Southern California, I have made the decision, with the approval of our Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, that our fall semester’s courses at the law school, with very limited exceptions possible for a small number of live-client experiential classes, will be entirely remote.

I suspect at this point, especially for those of you currently in Southern California, this message does not come as a great surprise, though I also recognize that it may nonetheless be quite disappointing to many of you, as it certainly is to me. But given that our fall semester starts in just a few short weeks, and that, tragically, the situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has, here in Los Angeles as in many other parts of the country, grown substantially worse in recent weeks rather than better, we simply do not have any sound alternative.

Just this week, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported a record number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19. While the UCLA campus is open for essential research and services, most staff members across the university will work remotely through the end of the calendar year, if they can. Last week, K-12 public schools in Los Angeles announced that they would start classes next month with virtual-only teaching, and schools in many other California counties became subject to similar restrictions announced by the governor. California, with many hotspots centered in or near Los Angeles, has for weeks seen a significant uptick both in cases and in hospitalizations. This turn of events is incredibly troubling and frustrating, especially given the substantial efforts and sacrifices made by so many to try to stanch this virus.

In fact, as of now, California institutions of higher education do not yet have permission either from the county public health department or from the state to proceed with in-person or hybrid courses. It is certainly possible that could change in the weeks to come, but given the timing of our semester’s start (more than a month before the fall quarter begins for most of the rest of UCLA) and our collective need both for certainty and an appropriate degree of safety for all in our community, moving forward with a remote fall semester has become the best option.

Therefore, when our law school fall semester classes begin, one month from today, on Monday, August 24, they will all be held remotely, and we will proceed with online courses over Zoom and other virtual platforms for the fall semester. We hope to be able to make minimal exceptions for a small number of live-client clinical, experiential classes in which students cannot serve their clients effectively without the possibility of some limited in-person meetings.

A great many faculty and administrators had put an enormous amount of time and energy into developing an extremely thoughtful, careful plan for hybrid courses for this fall, especially focused on our arriving first-year students, the needs of our international students, and including additional opportunities for some in-person learning for our advanced students. I am hugely grateful for the enormous effort that went into those plans, and I am truly sorry that they have been foiled by this virus and that we are unable to implement them. But given just how soon our classes are due to begin, and the current trend lines here in California, we cannot in good conscience move forward with the planned degree of in-person law school classes, even with the physical distancing, mandated masks, and testing and sanitation protocols that had been developed.

I didn’t want this to happen. None of us did. At the same time, in just a few weeks and months, I’m pleased to see how all of us have adapted from our traditional methods of teaching and learning to create an environment that, while far from ideal, still upholds the values of excellence and service that drive UCLA Law.

As you know, even before this announcement, the significant majority of our fall coursework was going to take place virtually rather than in our classrooms, and many of you had already let us know that you planned to learn entirely remotely this fall. Over this summer, our professors have been working tirelessly to make online learning as good as it possibly can be for all of us, working together to creatively and enthusiastically devise ways to make their classrooms the kinds of positive and productive learning environments that any UCLA Law student would, and should, expect. Our fall course structure includes a new plan to have two small sections for 1Ls, including one that will also break into even smaller 20-person groups once a week, offering an even more personal experience well-adapted to the online setting. We have also increased our number of sections for some popular upper level courses, and here again, though we are no longer able to offer sections with an in-person component, we believe that the smaller course sizes will have benefits for everyone’s learning.

Because we know that many of the most important experiences of law school take place outside of the classroom, we have also been working hard to develop effective ways to stay connected and engaged as a community, if even from a physical distance. We are working hard to safely create co-curricular opportunities — such as small outdoor meetings for student organizations or physically distant office hours in the Shapiro Courtyard — that we hope to enact as soon as we can, under campus, city, county and state guidelines.

I know we can and will offer an excellent legal education remotely in the midst of this pandemic. That said, I also sincerely hope that this plan for all-remote learning will be short-lived, that infection and death rates will ebb here in our state and across the nation and the globe, that a vaccine or other treatment will stem the tide of the disease and that we will be able to see each other in person without restriction again before too long.

That day will come. And in the meantime, I encourage you to lean on each other and reach out to any of us at UCLA Law for whatever help you need — to Dean Martí and our Office of Student Services, to Dean Moeller and our Office of Career Services, to the members of our COVID-19 Task Force, to our wonderful professors, and to other members of our administration, including me. Next week, we will follow up with some additional practical details and FAQs about the shape of our fall and what we are planning, but I wanted to share this update about our fall plans now.

This is not the decision that I wanted to make, and it’s definitely not a situation that any of us would have expected even six months ago. That said, I do know we are entirely up for this challenge. We will have a strong and excellent educational program this fall. We will find ways to connect meaningfully as a community, even under the mandates of physical distancing. We will train you to be superb lawyers and leaders, and we will support your professional goals, your hopes for your future and your ability to make a difference.

Yes, I yearn for the return of the ability to have casual, serendipitous conversations in the hallways after class, in our Greenberg Student Commons and in our library, at Lu Valle, or in the Shapiro Courtyard. Yes, I regret that our thoughtful plans for in-person course opportunities this fall have been blown up by this increase in cases, hospitalizations, and positivity rates here in our region. And yes, I fervently hope that this decision can play a small part in a collective effort, focused on the use of masks, physical distancing, and the reduction of exposure risks, that can help reduce the dreadful societal costs and enormous harms of this pandemic.

Take good care,
Dean Mnookin

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