UC San Diego to Convert Lecture Halls to Outdoor Classrooms by Removing Ceilings

Written by: Quoc Tran

This is part of the university’s initiative to push students to reach for the stars.
Photo by Sharon Roth

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla announced a bold plan Tuesday morning to remove the ceilings from all lecture halls on campus. The university hopes that this plan will allow the halls to qualify as an outdoor space under state guidelines in order to host in-person lectures for Winter 2021.

As COVID-19 cases have risen the past couple of months in the United States, colleges and universities across the country have moved to a fully online format going into 2021. UC San Diego plans to do the opposite. “We had to be fully online while other universities got to do fun in-person stuff. Now I want to do in-person stuff,” Khosla complained in a video message embedded in a campus-wide email announcing the plan.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the university has been praised by some for taking innovative steps to slow and identify the spread of the virus through its community. The university’s use of smartphone contact tracing, frequent testing, and wastewater detection has been lauded by public health experts. While controversial among the general public, many epidemiologists support the plan to resume in-person classes by removing ceilings.

One such epidemiologist is Dr. Andrea Douglas, a UC San Diego professor studying infectious disease modeling, who was named as the head of this project. Questions were raised about her qualifications but she silenced her critics by stating “physicists and engineers have been trying to do my job for months posting graph after graph on Twitter modelling the spread of the pandemic, so I think it’s only fair that I get to do their job and figure out how to remove ceilings from lecture halls. I’ll probably use one of those machines with the big ball on a chain.”

Critics have raised concerns about how the lack of a ceiling would affect the student experience, especially as winter tends to be the region’s wettest season, with some areas on campus even having historically reported sightings of rain clouds, as well as the difficulty of replacing these ceilings after the pandemic had passed. Khosla reportedly shrugged off the questions, telling reporters at a press conference “if we can get back to in-person classes quickly enough, we won’t have to worry about this pandemic ever ending” and that they “should take a chill pill.”

Beyond the physical challenges of removing ceilings from lecture halls, the ceiling removal plan is expected to face legal challenges as well. The University of California legal counsel cited the executive order passed by Governor Gavin Newsom in March that defined outdoor spaces — which were exempt from some stricter social distancing requirements put in place — as a space “without a ceiling or with grass on the floor.” However, upon hearing of the plan to exploit this legal loophole, Governor Newsom reportedly texted Khosla “that’s clearly not what i meant >:( .” Khosla reacted with only an iMessage thumbs up.

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