How many students should live in each UC Berkeley residence hall this fall? What happens if one of them gets sick with COVID-19? What research should continue in a lab and what can be done at a dining room table? Which classes move online? How can the campus cut some $240 million from its budget?
And what happens if a second wave of the coronavirus spreads across the Bay Area?
Those are the difficult questions UC Berkeley leaders have been grappling with in recent weeks as they lay out a sketch of the plans for the fall semester.
Berkeley’s top two leaders, Chancellor Carol Christ and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos, spent an hour Thursday taking online questions from students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni during a videoed Campus Conversations.
The conversation was designed to expand on a string of messages about reopening that were sent this week to faculty, staff , undergraduate and graduate students. More than 1,000 people watched live on YouTube.
"This is the most complex planning exercise we have ever done; I have sometimes used the metaphor that it is like driving through Tule fog," Christ said. "We simply don’t know what is going to happen."
The pair spoke about the hours they’ve spent in meetings with public health experts, budget analysts and other campus leaders trying to understand the risks and rewards of their decisions.
"I believe we have to learn how to find some mid-way mode of operations, something that protects the health of the community while resuming some of the activities that really cannot be done remotely," Christ said.
Still, there will be hard decisions to come. Budget projections suggest Berkeley will be short $240 to $340 million, depending on state funding, fall enrollment and other factors.
"I think people should be prepared for budget reductions," Christ said, adding that a message with more details on the budget was planned for later this month. "The size of the deficit is too large to handle without budget cuts."
The pair also said they were confident that the UC Berkeley community would rise to the occasion, regardless of whatever was required of them come fall.
Asked about a requirement that anyone on campus wear a mask, similar to orders that have caused outrage in other parts of the country, Alivisatos said he had no doubt Berkeley’s staff, faculty and students, would understand the reasons for wearing masks.
"Berkeley has a very, very strong sense of community," he said.
A series of Campus Conversation planned for next week will go into more detail on plans for fall 2020 . Topics include instruction, research and operations and student engagement and services.