Dear Colleagues,

I am following up on the Chancellor’s message because I know all of you are eager to increase on-site research activities.  The State of California has articulated four stages for lifting restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.  On May 4, the State released an update on California’s progress toward stage 2 reopening.  As explained in detail below, UCI is currently in Phase 1 “Critical (Essential) Research,” which reflects the state’s stage 1 phase for “Safety and Preparedness.”

We have developed the Guiding Principles (below) and the General Points of Consideration  – available on the Research Continuity website – based on the following resources:

The information below and on the Research Continuity website are intended to inform faculty members and independent researchers, department chairs, deans, research unit/center directors, and research leadership in planning and decision-making. This planning process should begin now. Accordingly, faculty members and independent researchers should promptly begin working on a written plan for their research program in consultation with their unit leaders.

UCI’S RESEARCH PHASES WILL MIRROR THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA ROADMAP

The increase in research activities will occur gradually, over an extended period of time, and in a carefully measured fashion consisting of four phases:

  • Phase 1 – Critical (Essential) Research Activities
  • Phase 2 – Research Activities That May Pose Lower Risk for Virus Transmission
  • Phase 3 – Research Activities That May Pose Higher Risk for Virus Transmission
  • Phase 4 – Research Activities After End of Stay-at-Home Order

I will inform UCI’s research community when UCI will move from one phase to the next.  This timing will be based on the guidance from the State of California and Orange County and other relevant public health authorities.  We anticipate moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2 as soon as we can safely do so.

Please visit the Aligning UCI Research Activities with California’s Roadmap Stages page on the Research Continuity website for additional details regarding each phase.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Principle 1In carrying out all aspects of research, UCI will follow all applicable federal, state, and county public health directives and University of California guidance, especially physical (social) distancing requirements.  The health and safety of UCI employees and students remains our top priority.  Therefore, plans should include adaptations and safety precautions consistent with  public health guidance.  In addition, all personnel are expected to follow all UCI health and safety guidelines, including all special or temporary COVID-19 requirements outlined in specific plans.

Principle 2Research activities beyond Phase 1 will increase gradually, but may swiftly return to a previous phase, consistent with public health guidance.  The resurgence of COVID-19 is a real possibility.  As a community, we must remain vigilant and responsive to changing circumstances at the local, regional, state, national and global levels.

Principle 3: Faculty members and independent researchers will create written plans for their research program to increase on-site activities.  Deans or research unit directors who report directly to the Vice Chancellor for Research will be the Authorized Officials who will review and approve the plans (see “Decision-Making Authority” below).

Principle 4:  No researcher (especially students) and no research staff should be compelled to work on campus.  No disciplinary or retaliatory action shall be taken against personnel who choose to remain away from campus while the Stay at Home Order remains in effect, while public health authorities still require physical distancing, or while personal or household factors continue to put them at higher-risk for contracting or suffering from COVID-19.  Faculty, staff, and students who have concerns about these considerations should consult with the appropriate HR business partner or AP personnel.

DECISION MAKING AUTHORITY

Faculty members, independent researchers and their teams may not conduct research unless and until the appropriate Authorized Official(s) approves their plan.  Authorized Officials must review and approve each plan.  Authorized Officials have independent responsibility for developing review and approval processes and procedures.  Authorized Officials should consult with Facilities Management, Environmental Health &Safety (EH&S), and other campus units to ensure that plans they approve can be appropriately supported in terms of adaptations and safety precautions.  Authorized Officials may delegate their responsibilities to other officials within their organizations; however, they cannot delegate their accountability.

EQUITY, DIVERSITY, INCLUSION AND ACCOMODATIONS

Early Career Researchers: Some researchers, especially early career researchers (including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, collectively “ECRs”), may be experiencing  disproportionate impacts resulting from shutting down non-critical research in UCI Research Facilities and/or conducting such research from their residence.  Priority should be given to getting ECRs back on track as soon as possible by including flexible accommodations such that it facilitates meeting academic deadlines, and grants fair and transparent access to UCI Research Facilities. 

Non-Discrimination: In addition, decisions about which personnel will return to the campus, when and for what research operations must be made in accordance with UCI’s non-discrimination policy.

Accommodations: Personnel may need reasonable accommodations, which can be facilitated by UCI Disability Management Services.  Authorized Officials, faculty members and independent researchers should carefully consider the needs of employees and/or students with current disability accommodations or those who will require new accommodations, whether for disability or other reasons.

APPLICABLITY AND EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS GUIDANCE

This guidance, including the materials on UCI’s Research Continuity website, is effective immediately so that Plan Owners and Authorized Officials can begin planning.  It applies to research activities carried out at the Irvine and Orange campuses of UCI and at all facilities owned, leased, rented or otherwise controlled by UCI (“UCI Research Facilities”).  It also applies to research conducted at non-UCI sites if the legal entity or governing body controlling the site has not issued its own guidelines.  UCI personnel conducting research at non-UCI sites should first follow the site’s guidance, provided that doing so does not cause them to violate a UCI policy.

COMMUNICATION, MONITORING AND ENFORCEMENT

Faculty members, independent researchers, and Authorized Officials should communicate clearly and frequently with all personnel engaging in research activities so that personnel understand this guidance and understand the specific plan they are expected to follow.  Faculty members and independent researchers should be prepared to present their plans for approval and, once approved, for discussion with their personnel, when appropriate.

I am very confident that the UCI research community can and will comply with this new guidance.  The actions we each take, and the choices we each make, affect what happens to ourselves, our colleagues and our community.

EH&S will conduct spot checks to monitor our compliance with this guidance.  In addition, Authorized Officials should consider appointing local leaders (e.g., department chairs, center directors) to encourage and facilitate compliance, and/or to act as a point of contact to which personnel may direct concerns.  Personnel also may submit their concerns through already-existing channels on campus (e.g., the whistleblower program).  Authorized Officials may also consider other mechanisms to enable employees to report concerns.

I will continue to issue additional guidelines to address specific topics such as clinical and non-clinical human research, archival and library research, performance and studio-based research, and field research.

At this time, I request that faculty members, independent researchers and Authorized Officials prepare plans for a ramp up of research activities to Phase 2 so that we can make a smooth transition when we are allowed to do so. As always, I welcome your suggestions, ideas, and questions. Please feel free send them to AVCR Bruce Morgan (bruce.morgan@uci.edu) and/or to me (pramod.khargonekar@uci.edu).

The UCI research community has done an outstanding job and made many sacrifices in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to the next steps as we continue to deal with this unprecedented public health emergency in a responsible and proactive manner.

Thank you very much for your continued support of the UCI research enterprise.

Sincerely,


Pramod Khargonekar, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Research
Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science