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Monday, October 19, 2020

Pandemic Discussion at Regents' Health Services Committee Tomorrow

Mazet and Smith

At tomorrow's meeting of the Regents' Health Services Committee, there will be a presentation by two Davis faculty members dealing with pandemic issues:

Executive Vice President Byington will introduce speakers whose work on research and interventions in today’s clinical settings will pave the way for expanding healthcare for current and future generations. First, Jonna Mazet, DVM, MPVM, PhD, a Professor of Epidemiology and Disease Ecology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Founding Executive Director of the UC Davis One Health Institute, will brief the Committee on her ongoing work with PREDICT – Pandemic Preparedness for Global Health Security. Second, Woutrina Smith, DVM, MPVM, PhD, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Co-Director, UCGHI Planetary Health Center of Expertise, from UC Davis, will brief the Committee on preparing the global community to perform large-scale multidisciplinary health professional functions required for strengthening human biodefenses and for achieving global health security through the USAID One Health Workforce - Next Generation (OHW-NG) project.

Full information is at https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/regmeet/oct20/h4.pdf

As usual, we will post the audio of the session after downloading it (which can take time). However, there is a live stream tomorrow of the Zoom meeting at: https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/meetings/agendas/oct2020.html

The full committee meeting will start at 10 am with a closed session. So exactly when the presentation above will occur is unclear. You can check in from time to time. The session is item H4 on the agenda.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Bruin's Tough Stance

A Daily Bruin editorial related to coronavirus violations - particularly among students living off-campus in Westwood - takes a tough stance:

Editorial: The phrase “party till you drop” was never meant to be taken literally. Despite nearly all classes being online, UCLA students have either filled the few open spots in university housing or spilled into Westwood apartments. Students living in university housing are subject to UCLA’s regular COVID-19 testing and quarantine protocols. Everyone else – not so much.

Universities that began their academic years months before UCLA have already dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks — the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Southern California being two of many campuses facing the consequences of poor planning. As much as those universities don’t want to admit it, the outbreaks were closely related to off-campus parties and students flagrantly violating public health guidelines. A typical weekend night walk through Westwood shows UCLA won’t be any different.

It’s clear that the risk of COVID-19 alone won’t stop students from partying. Though, what can change students’ behavior is the risk of punishment. UCLA needs to set clear expectations for its students living off campus, and those expectations must force students to understand they can no longer put the Westwood community at risk by partying. The university already has guidelines for what it expects of students off-campus, but the specifics are a hot mess of administrative jargon. The guidelines themselves were hardly publicized — they were buried on page 10 of a PDF linked in an email sent by a university administrator.*

Punishments are layered in a set of jumbled sentences, and it’s hardly clear what the repercussions for violating guidelines actually are. All UCLA guaranteed was that “second-level” violations would result in a “referral to (the) Office of Student Conduct.”

If UCLA wants to get its students’ attention, it needs to take a strong stance against social distancing violations – and not just for those living on campus. Policies can be glossed over and ignored. Enforced academic holds, suspensions, rescinded scholarships and dismissals, however, cannot. It’s not unreasonable. Other colleges have implemented discipline structures to punish their willfully defiant students. Ohio State University, for example, suspended more than 200 students for holding or attending gatherings of more than 10 people.

At the end of the day, it would be virtually impossible for UCLA to find and punish every student who goes to a party. And it’s not necessarily UCLA’s fault that its students would still choose to violate universally accepted social distancing guidelines to party during a pandemic that has killed more than 216,000 people in the United States. College-aged students are not the only ones at risk in Westwood — professors, employees, residents and students with families are some of the others who would be at the receiving end of a COVID-19 outbreak in Westwood. All it takes is one death among the UCLA community to turn the school’s passive, hands-off approach into a fully preventable tragedy. And that risk is simply unacceptable.

Source: https://dailybruin.com/2020/10/15/editorial-partying-puts-westwood-community-at-risk-needs-to-be-met-with-consequences

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*https://www.bso.ucla.edu/update/sep-18-2020-1152am-coronavirus-update-69-office-administrative-vice-chancellor

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Who is What?

{Click on image above to clarify. A link to the center document is in footnote [1]}

Author, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and contributing editor to the Atlantic, Shadi Hamid, posted a UC document on Twitter yesterday entitled "Student Ethnicity Collection and Reporting at UC" that describes how race and ethnicity is to be recorded for university purposes.[1] The document is undated and the latest reference on it is 2014, so possibly there is a later version somewhere. It appears to have been developed in response to another document of the U.S. Dept. of Education that spells out rules for reporting.[2]

The UC document has some surprises. Under its standard, the individuals shown above would all be classified as "white" by UC. (The photos are all of individuals who live in the U.S. and were taken from various news sources.) Individuals of European origin - except those from Spain - are also "white." Persons from Spain fall into the Hispanic classification. It appears that Brazilians - who speak Portuguese - would also be reported as Hispanic, although it's not clear where persons from Portugal would be listed. You may find other anomalies. 

It's unclear whether students who self-report are given the detailed classification. But keep it in mind when you see tables such as the one above from UCLA.

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[1] https://twitter.com/shadihamid/status/1317128534868086785 and https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/sites/default/files/Race-Eth%20Data%20Collection.pdf. For Hamid: https://www.brookings.edu/experts/shadi-hamid/.

[2] "Changes to Race/Ethnicity Reporting to IPEDS," available at https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/report-your-data/race-ethnicity-reporting-changes.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Calls to Action at Davis

From the Davis EnterpriseA student petition has collected upwards of 2,000 signatures as UC Davis students and faculty push back against the university’s recent decision to eliminate its long-standing physical education program.

In the final week of September, campus officials announced the 100-plus-year-old program would be discontinued following the conclusion of the current fall quarter. Cited among reasons for its elimination were “steadily declining enrollment” figures and alternative fitness options offered through Davis’ Campus Recreation activities. In recent years, total enrollment in the program has ranged from 5,900-7,800 (close to 20 percent of the UCD undergraduate population) with nearly a quarter of students enrolled in multiple PE classes...

While enrollment figures do reflect a decrease over the last several years, PE lecturers have been quick to point out said trend is a result of the university offering less [sic] courses, not a decrease in their popularity...

UCD Director of News and Media Relations Melissa Blouin told The Enterprise the decision had been made “after considerable review by groups of faculty and staff over a period of multiple years.” But members of the Davis Faculty Association claim that’s not the case. According to DFA co-chair Jesse Drew: “It happened so fast, it caught a lot of us off-guard.” ...

Among several concerns [of] the DFA:

*Why there was not a larger degree of engagement with the campus community concerning the decision and its consequences, noting that Davis’ Academic Senate has formal authority in decisions of this nature." ...

This past Wednesday, Drew said the DFA had also learned of UCD’s notice of plans to suspend its popular teacher education program — a K-12 credentialing path offered through Davis’ School of Education. A separate petition that move has also amassed 2,000-plus signatures.  “This cannot happen unilaterally,” Drew said. There’s a set of procedures for wrapping up and (closing) down programs...

Full story at https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/faculty-association-pushes-back-against-ucds-plan-to-cut-pe-programs/

The Law of Spring

From the Bruin: The UCLA School of Law will likely operate mostly online through spring 2021, a school official said. The school will likely operate mostly online through its spring 2021 semester because of uncertainty surrounding the development of COVID-19 pandemic around Los Angeles County, said Jennifer Mnookin, the School of Law dean, in an email sent to law students. 

The School of Law runs on a semester-based system, a fall semester beginning late August and a spring semester beginning in January. It also has a January term, during which it offers specialized courses that can be counted toward course credit for the spring semester. In the fall, the school offered mostly remote classes, except for limited in-person classes for live-client clinics and an on-campus interview week in January.

Mnookin said the school hopes to experiment with in-person classes under the guidelines and plan more socially distanced in-person activities for students but added that an expansion of in-person courses would require LA County to loosen its higher education guidelines...

Full story at https://dailybruin.com/2020/10/15/school-of-law-likely-to-continue-mostly-remote-learning-through-spring-semester

An Alternative Source

Ghez giving a presentation to the Harvard-Westlake Parents’ STEAM Club

UCLA has put out various items on Nobelist Andrea Ghez. Below is Harvard-Westlake School's write-up: [From an emailed newsletter]

Written in the Stars: An HW mom on black holes, the Nobel Prize, and getting it right 

On October 6, astronomer and UCLA professor Andrea Ghez P’19 ’24 was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. She shares half the prize with Reinhard Genzel, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy.” The other half of the prize goes to Roger Penrose, mathematics professor emeritus at the University of Oxford, “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.” Only the fourth woman to win the Nobel Prize in physics, Ghez has spent more than 20 years doing the research that has now made her a Nobel Laureate.

What was it like to find out you won?

I got the news at 2 a.m., so I was fast asleep. The tradition is the committee makes their decision and then calls the recipients right away. I actually once visited the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and there’s a phone booth with the specific phone that they call the Nobel Laureates on. You get to speak to the head of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the head of the committee for physics, who asked me to prepare a few remarks for their press conference an hour later. I hung up with a combination of shock, disbelief, giddiness—I kept thinking I must be dreaming—and made myself a cup of coffee. Luckily, I’m an astrophysicist, so I’m used to being up in the middle of the night.

Did you have any idea you were being considered?

People will tell you they think you’re in the running. But the minute you get wrapped up in “this might help you win a prize” or “this might help you be first,” you move away from getting the science right. This award recognizes my work and the work of a group I’ve been competing with for the past two decades. Sometimes I’ve been first, sometimes they’ve been first, sometimes it’s incredibly close. But there was a moment 10 years in, when I started having kids, that I decided consciously to give up on the concept of being first and really focus on getting it right. I was trying to figure out how to manage being at the forefront of a very competitive world and being a mom. When my oldest was really little, I remember going to my first conference, where I talked about my latest results, and my competitor scooped me because I hadn’t published them yet; I wasn’t in any shape to publish fast. There was a moment of being destroyed and then a moment of realization that first isn’t everything; take the time and get it right. I just decided to lean into that strength of being careful instead. And the work became more creative after that.

What if your teams worked together instead of competing?

There have been many overtures over the years for the two teams to join forces, and I’ve explicitly resisted that. A lot of these measurements are hard to get right. Once you join forces, it’s kind of like a mind meld; you have to agree how to approach the problem. Over the years, we’ve had different approaches and gotten different results. My competitor and I definitely learn from each other as we publish, but there’s a lot to be said for the independence and space to do the analysis in a different way. I’m also much younger than he, so I was more aware of the danger of being subsumed. There is benefit to collaboration, but it’s kind of like when companies become a monopoly. There’s something useful in competition.

What is a supermassive black hole, and how can you tell there’s one in the center of our galaxy?

Supermassive black holes are black holes that are a million to a billion times the mass of the sun. And if you want to prove that these black holes exist at the center of galaxies, our galaxy is the best one to study because it’s the closest example; the next galaxy center is 100 times further away. While you can’t directly see black holes themselves, you can see energetic phenomena associated with things just outside the event horizon, which is the last point that light can escape. Why is all this important? Black holes represent the breakdown of our laws of physics. They’re a giant red arrow saying “work more here.” You can’t describe a black hole, because it’s an object whose mass is contained in zero volume. So that means the density goes to infinity, which in physics we call a singularity. It also means that black holes create gravitational effects that mix space and time, which makes them very intriguing subjects for lots of good science-fiction movies.

How did you do your research? 

My work is all done with Keck telescopes, the largest telescopes in the world. Big telescopes allow you to see fine detail, but the Earth’s atmosphere blurs these images. I’ve spent a lot of my career working on techniques to correct that blurring effect. By getting that technique to work, we’ve been able to get the sharpest images of the center of the galaxy, discover stars at the heart of the galaxy, and then measure their motions. By detecting how they move, you’re tracking the gravitational influence of whatever’s inside their orbit. One of the quickest stars goes around every 16 years. Its orbit tells you that there’s four million times the mass of the sun inside a region the size of our solar system, which demonstrates the existence of a black hole at the center of its orbit. This has increased the evidence for the existence of supermassive black holes by a factor of 10 millions, which has moved the idea of the existence of these objects from a possibility to a certainty. And it’s been so much fun—these images have allowed us to not only discover the black hole, but also to understand that the region around the black hole is unlike anything we expected. It defies almost all our predictions about how galaxies should interact with their host galaxies. That’s another part of this project that I’ve enjoyed immensely. Not only has it allowed us to answer the questions we’ve posed, but we’ve also opened up more questions than we’ve answered.

You’ve said that your high school chemistry teacher was an inspiration for you. How did she influence you?

My chemistry teacher was the first female science teacher I had. She taught me all sorts of things, but her most important lesson came when I was applying to college. I wanted to apply to MIT early, and someone told me they don’t take girls. I went to her upset, and she said, “What’s the worst thing they could do, say no?” [Editor’s note: She got in.] Don’t be afraid of trying, even if people don’t think it’s possible. If you believe in yourself, just do it.

Do you think of yourself more as a scientist or a teacher?

When I was in high school and college, public speaking terrified me. I was one of those kids, if you were in a group and you went around to introduce yourself, my heart would beat fast just to say my name. But I really cared about encouraging women in science, so in grad school I asked to be a teaching assistant for introductory physics, which at Caltech, only the professors teach. So I had to convince them. It’s funny, because I was so terrified of teaching, but they didn’t have any women professors in the physics department at the time, and I thought it was so important. I ended up loving it. At first it was connected to convincing both the young women and the young men that women could be scientists by just being visible. Today I do all my teaching at the undergrad level, the very first introductory classes, because that’s where the role model piece has the biggest impact. I still see myself first and foremost as a scientist, but I’ve come to appreciate the power of teaching now more than ever because we rely on the next generation to think independently and have hard, complex discussions.

I understand that you wanted to be an astronaut when you were a kid. Why do you think you ended up exploring space in a different way?

The early moon landings inspired me, that’s true. It got me thinking about the scale of the universe and the concept of infinity. But quite frankly I had no idea what I wanted to do. There was a stage I wanted to be a dancer. I went to college thinking I wanted to be a math major. It’s important for kids to realize that not everyone knows what they want to do in the beginning. So many kids feel the pressure to understand where they’re going. For some, it is really clear, but for others it’s a random walk, and it’s continually evolving. It’s almost like asking a scientist, what’s your next research question going to be? I have no idea. You just keep pursuing and trying to figure out what you enjoy doing and how you’re going to put all these pieces together. But it's so important to keep trying new things because you never know what you’re going to enjoy.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Problems on the Path

Widespread UCPath payroll errors continue, union workers allege

Maria Young | Daily Cal | 10-14-20

More than a year after the campus deployment of the payroll system UCPath, postdoctoral students and academic researchers continue to experience payroll errors, according to several members of the Union of Postdocs and Academic Researchers, or UAW Local 5810. Neal Sweeney, vice president of UAW Local 5810, said many people have been underpaid or paid weeks late. He added that some employees were unable to enroll in health benefits through UCPath when they started working and others have had their benefits canceled without warning.

“From a university side, this may seem like simple bureaucratic errors, but this has real substantial consequences for people who are not getting paid on time or receiving those necessary benefits,” said Ambika Kamath, a campus postdoctoral researcher and head steward at UAW Local 5810.

According to Sweeney, some UAW Local 5810 members are being underpaid by more than $10,000 at UC Berkeley on a monthly basis. For UAW workers, these late payments can mean falling behind on rent or being unable to fund basic needs. These effects are “scary and distressing,” especially during a pandemic that has led to an uncertain economic situation, where the lack of health benefits cause a lot of stress, anxiety and fear.

“Simultaneously with correcting mistakes that have been made up until this point with accurate and timely payment, whatever systemic fixes are needed to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future, UC should be taking those steps,” Kamath said.

...UC Office of the President spokesperson Stett Holbrook said many of the issues that arise with systemwide upgrades like UCPath can only be identified and addressed after the system is “live and operational.” According to the UCPath website, the last four deployments are scheduled for this year.

In Oct. 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 698, which requires the UC system to have the same payroll protections as private employers in order to prioritize accurate and timely payment...

“UC did its best to process payroll promptly and accurately prior to SB 698’s passage and will continue to do so,” Holbrook said in an email. “We will continue to diligently apply lessons learned and best practices to quickly identify and resolve problems.”

Full story at https://www.dailycal.org/2020/10/14/widespread-ucpath-payroll-errors-continue-union-workers-allege/