Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The View from Here on UCLA's Abrupt Shut Down: A Classic Set of Failures

The View from Here on UCLA's Abrupt Shut Down: A Classic Set of Failures

Personal statement: Yours truly, an emeritus faculty member who was teaching this quarter, had been duly following the various news items and the sequence of university pronouncements on the coronavirus. Suddenly, on Monday evening, up popped a news item saying UC-Berkeley was abruptly cancelling in-person courses. At that point, I assumed that UCLA would also cancel in-person courses abruptly in response despite assurances that the situation was being monitored and that UCLA was different from Berkeley. I immediately made contingency plans to handle the remaining class (which was scheduled for Thursday). Luckily, my course does not involve a final exam.

How did I know that UCLA would also abruptly close down all in-person instruction and exams? The fact that Berkeley did it on its own while the others had been following variations of what UCLA was doing - i.e., watching and waiting and trying to plan - was the clue. It meant that the campuses were operating independently. They were not coordinating in any meaningful sense. The Office of the President was not insisting on coordination. What we had was a classic situation of a coordination failure and unaccounted externalities. It is unlikely that Berkeley weighed what impact its decision would have on the other UC campuses, an externality imposed on the others, since it was making independent decisions. (I say "unlikely" because we don't know what triggered Berkeley's decision.)

The next question is why other campuses might feel there was no alternative but to shut down in-person classes abruptly in response despite the negative effects on their academic mission and the fact that a sudden shift to online education and exams was bound to be chaotic. If you were the chancellor and you looked at the incentives, here's what you would have seen. Choosing to stay open for a few more days until at least the last day of class of the winter quarter would expose you to charges that you were putting everyone at risk. If Berkeley is shutting down, why aren't you? There was no one willing to speak out strongly on the other side about the adverse effect on the academic mission. The incentives were lopsided in one direction: close down.

What should have happened? We have a central administration that is supposed to be the coordinating body for UC. The UC president normally leaves day-to-day matters largely to the campuses. But the times at present are not normal. What should have happened is that the UC president - Janet Napolitano - should have arranged with all the chancellors that they should not act independently. There needed to be some form of collective decision making.

Any decision to shut should have been coordinated centrally and should have been decided by some centralized process, perhaps a vote. If a triggering event occurred - possibly someone found on a particular campus to be infected - an emergency session could have been arranged with the notion that the matter would be quickly discussed and then all campuses would follow the ultimate decision. There is no evidence that such a process was in place. Berkeley made a decision and other dominoes began predictably to fall.

And one more thing before accusations are made about ignoring risks. Yours truly is a) elderly and b) has those underlying health conditions that are much in the news. So, I am very well aware that there are risks entailed. I am cancelling personal travel plans and taking other precautions. Yet I was perfectly willing to provide that one last day of instruction to my students.

The simple fact is that a transitional period of adjustment was a better solution than an abrupt shutdown, given the risks and the benefits. Nothing is certain, but that is my judgment. However, all forces were aligned to focus only on the risks, not on the benefits, once Berkeley acted. Where was the UC president?

PS: If you think things are not chaotic, read the email below circulated at 5:51 PM this evening - the first day of the shutdown - from the College of Letters and Science. Yours truly is not on the faculty of the College, but he got this message:

To: Faculty of College of Letters and Science

From: Jeffrey B. Lewis, Chair, College Faculty Executive Committee

Re: How to administer your winter final exam remotely

Dear Winter term College instructors,

The purpose of this email is to help you prepare your final exam for remote administration.

The Chancellor’s email of Tuesday states that:

Winter Quarter final exams will be offered remotely. Instructors are asked to communicate with students how final exams, if applicable, will be offered without the need to assemble in person (for example, take home, online or other alternative formats).

After an emergency meeting of the College Faculty Executive Committee (FEC) yesterday afternoon, we write to provide the FEC’s recommendations for College instructors regarding the necessity to complete Winter quarter assessments and submit grades for our students according to the Registrar’s grading deadlines.

We want to emphasize that each instructor who is scheduled to offer a final assessment needs to do so remotely without disadvantaging students.

The Challenge. The faculty Senate will establish the formal university policy that will govern moving in–class exams to remote administration today. Beyond what is allowable under these extraordinary circumstances, we have concluded that clear, specific and quickly actionable guidance is required. To be clear, these are only recommendations and, as noted throughout, faculty are free to use their best judgement within the framework of the university’s broader rules, codes, and direction regarding the administration of instruction and assessment.

Cancelling a final exam or entering Incompletes for an entire class are not options under the regulations of the university and our responsibilities as faculty. We are obligated to provide methods of assessment as set forth in our syllabi as best we can under the circumstances. Simply put, the show must go on.

Recommendations for most exams. Our recommendations are as follows:

If you have already prepared to remotely administer your exam, carry out your plan. The due date and time should coincide with the date and time at which the exam would have ended if administered as originally scheduled. Your plan should not require face–to–face contact or the students to deliver their completed exams to a physical location.

If you do not already have a plan to remotely administer your exam, we recommend that you administer the same exam that you were planning to administer in–class as a take–home exam using the CCLE platform that is commonly used for papers and take–home exam assignment at UCLA. In this way, students can access the exam beginning at a time that you specify and responses can be submitted in the form of a PDF of Word document that students upload into CCLE. This is a system that our students and many of you are very familiar with.

Faculty members who are unfamiliar with CCLE may email an MS Word or PDF file containing their exam to The file should be comprised of the course subject, course numbers, and instructor’s last name separated by underscores (for example, POLSCI_200B_LEWIS.pdf). The body of the email should include the time and date at which the exam is to made available as well as when it is to be turned in. The exam assignment will be created in CCLE with additional instructions about how to access the student responses for grading to follow. This email must be submitted at least two business days before the time at which the exam is to be taken. For example, exams to be taken on Saturday, Monday, or Tuesday must be provided by close of business on Thursday. Exams to taken on Wednesday must be emailed by close of business on Monday and so forth. Of course, if you create the exam assignment with CCLE yourself, there is no need to send the exam in via email or to meet these deadlines.

For those who are familiar with the capabilities of CCLE and whose finals use multiple choice or other formats amenable to administration as a CCLE quiz, we recommend that instructors use the quiz tool to create and administer their exam.

As always, we must be mindful of the needs of students requiring special accommodation such as extra time. Assignments handled through CCLE can be configured to allow upload by the student past the stated deadline with the upload being time stamped on the exam, provided the instructor has configured the assignment to allow upload by the student past the stated deadline. We recommend these settings to service students who are entitled to extra time and to allow students who encounter technical problems to upload their (timestamped) answers. Other forms of accommodation should be arranged with the Center for Accessible Education, CAE.

We understand that what we are proposing is problematic in many respects. Nevertheless, we have concluded that it is the best and most reliable approach available given that the exam period is nearly upon us and the complexities involved with implementing more fulsome alternatives (many of which we expect will be available for the Spring exam period should the need for remote exam administration continue).

Let us address two core concerns you may have.

Proctoring & Academic Dishonesty. Perhaps the most obvious drawback of administering what would otherwise have been an in–class exam remotely is the inability to effectively proctor the exam. This creates opportunities for a variety of forms of academic dishonesty. At present, we do not believe that the use of technologies such as Zoom or Respondus for remote proctoring are sufficiently effective, reliable, or robust to recommend them at this time particularly for first–time users. For faculty familiar with these technologies and for smaller classes, proctoring via Zoom, for example, may be considered. We do not discourage it though we note that some students may lack the necessary computer hardware (e.g., a camera) and could be taking the exam from a location with limited network bandwidth. (An online list of Remote Teaching Alternatives has been compiled by CAT, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching.)

We recommend students be reminded of their obligations under the Student Conduct Code and suggest you even ask them to confirm that they are aware of the relevant provisions. In some cases, exams that would have otherwise been closed book can be made open book to eliminate any advantage dishonest students could gain by “looking up” answers. Other common strategies for countering cheating might be employed, such as writing several exam prompts (provided in the same PDF or Word document) with instructions for students to respond to a given prompt based on the last digit of their ID number.

Formulae, Diagrams, Art, Media. The second core concern involves the use of multimedia such as the showing of images or playing of music during the exam. This can be accomplished remotely. We recommend that faculty contact college, divisional or departmental instructional technology teams if they require help uploading that media to a location that can be linked to in the exam prompt to be seen or heard by the students as they take the exam. (A list of local support contacts for CCLE can be found at: CCLE Support Staff by Subject Area Page.)

Similarly, many exams require student responses that are not easily typeset (for example, those with formulae or diagrams). For those cases, we recommend that students write out their answers in longhand, take cell phone pictures of each page and upload those pictures as a pdf. Please review the instructions on how to upload images as a single pdf. Students should be told to “practice” turning phone photos into pdfs prior to the exam.

Additional advice on these and other concerns related to administering exams remotely can be found in slides prepared by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (PDF).

We recognize the great diversity of instruction and assessment that happens at UCLA and understand that the advice that we have provided may not only be undesirable, but also infeasible in your situation. If you do not see a possible way forward, please contact your department chair, dean, or me as soon as possible.

The days and weeks ahead will not be easy. What we are being asked to do and the timeframe in which we have to do it is unprecedented. We must meet every challenge as it comes. The guidance we provide here is based on the input of scholars from across the College and input from the leading campus experts on teaching technology and its use at UCLA. Our top priority is to provide as orderly, predictable and reliable path to completing instruction for the Winter quarter as possible. We will continue to work to provide guidance for our faculty for the difficult time to come in Spring.

You are welcome to contact me at with questions. Leigh Harris, Director of Curricular Initiatives, is also available to assist you; she can be reached at (310) 794–5665 or

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