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Text of Chancellor Robert Berdahl's May 10 announcement modifying campus SARS policy for international summer school students

This is the text of remarks made by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl at a press conference Saturday, May 10, to announce modifications to the campus's SARS policy for international summer school students. The Chancellor's remarks are followed by the text of a question-and-answer session with reporters.

Press release detailing Chancellor Berdahl's May 10 update on campus SARS policy for international summer school students

– I'm pleased to announce today that we are able to lift some of the limits on enrollments in some of our summer school academic programs. We established these limits last week on students from countries most affected by the SARS epidemic. We are not able to lift all of the limits, but we are able to lift some of them.

There are two reasons that prompt us to update the decision that we made last week to selectively lift these enrollment restrictions. First, what we know about SARS changes almost every day. For example, when we announced our policy, Singapore was on the list. Because of CDC removing Singapore from the list of travel advisory areas, we were able to remove Singapore from that list even after we had announced the policy. So things are in flux with this very, very changing situation.

Second, we have worked to make significant improvements in our ability to care for Asian students who might become ill after they arrive on the Berkeley campus. Our original decision, the decision last week, was guided by the CDC advisories that cover several geographic areas. Because we had a large number of students who were scheduled to come from those areas, we felt we could not accommodate that large number of students, and so we put restrictions on their attending our summer programs, our summer programs only at Berkeley. In effect, our decision was defined by geographic areas as they were identified by the CDC Travel Advisories.

As we considered the impact of this, and what might be done to selectively admit students to programs, we realized that by opening up a few programs to students, we could programmatically provide access without having the problem of large numbers. And by limiting those programs to those which we're providing access, we thus limit the numbers with which we would have to deal.

Today, I am offering access to selected summer session programs, especially our core academic programs, to students from SARS-affected areas. By doing so, we are now able to accommodate a manageable number of these students without compromising any of our health concerns.

We are able to do so because as of late yesterday, we have succeeded in identifying and preparing sufficient space to identify students who might present symptoms after arriving. We now have the capacity to deal with a limited number of enrollees from areas listed on the CDC advisory. We are not yet able to accommodate all of the students who would like to study in our special summer programs in English as a Second Language, which we offer through University Extension. But as the campus's readiness to accommodate this larger group of students improves, we may be able to review and reconsider whether enrollment in any of those programs would be possible.

We are also very concerned that our decision to limit enrollment in our summer programs has created the impression here and abroad that UC Berkeley was actually banning students from studying here, or was not welcoming Asian students at all. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For the past month, the UC Berkeley SARS Task Force has been working to monitor the SARS epidemic to ensure that we have facilities and procedures in place to meet our highest responsibility - and that is that this campus is a safe, welcoming and supportive environment for every student, whether they come from Hong Kong or Long Beach, Taipei or New York.

Our policies are, as we have said from the outset, and will continue to be, flexible because we receive new information about this epidemic every day.

Let me underscore for emphasis, the key factors in our original decision included the large number of students from SARS-affected regions expected to enroll in our summer classes, and our campus's limited ability to provide adequate care and service to students from these areas if more than a few required isolation after they arrived on campus.

Having addressed the issue of limiting the numbers and the need to provide isolation facilities, we are now able to offer enrollment in core academic summer programs to students from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. We will continue, as I've said, to review our summer extension programs in the hope of possibly being able to offer some of our English-language enrollees some access to courses later this summer.

We came to this decision after consultation with the CDC, local and state public health agencies, as well as discussions with educational officials in the SARS-affected areas. In addition, we are working and will continue to work with individual students, their parents and their universities to help schedule their trip to Berkeley.

As I said on Monday, this is a quickly changing situation, and there will be continual updates as we learn more about the disease of SARS, and today's announcement, in that light, is an update. We are updating our policy in appropriate ways to accommodate as many students as possible from SARS-affected areas without compromising the health of any member of the Berkeley community.

These are difficult times, particularly for friends in East Asia, with economies reeling in the wake of the SARS outbreak, personal lives have been disrupted, and the social fabric has been frayed. Many, tragically, have died. This is a time for all of us to be compassionate, humble and united in our expression of support for our friends who have for so long entrusted us with the education of their children. We at Berkeley are proud of our long-standing relationship, and the many friends we have in East Asia, and we honor the mutual trust that has developed.

As we prepare our community here for the summer session, and for the return of all of our students in the fall, we would like to call attention to the principle of shared responsibility that binds our community. Individuals must take appropriate health prevention measures to ensure that they do not get sick or make others sick. And institutions, such as Berkeley, must ensure that we reduce potential health risks to the lowest possible levels.

We believe our continuing close collaboration with students, parents, public health and education officials will ensure that every student who studies here will do so in a safe and supportive environment.

One of the joys of being Chancellor is welcoming students from around the world to this wonderfully diverse and international place. I am delighted that we will be able to accommodate safely more international students this summer than we had originally anticipated.

Thank you and I will now take your questions.

Questions and Answers

Reporter: Was there really a perception out there that the university was banning students, as you had mentioned?

Berdahl: We've been led to believe that there are some people who, indeed some people even in our own community, suggested that we are banning students. We were not banning students. We had to limit access because of the large numbers that ordinarily enroll in our summer programs. And we're able now to modify that limitation so that we are able to accommodate more students in our programs.

Reporter: So how many students are expected to come now? ... originally about 500, now significantly less than that?

Berdahl: Yes, significantly less than 500. The summer academic program ordinarily includes about 80 students, and that's roughly the number that we're looking at who would be anticipated to come in the summer academic program. As I said, the English as a Second Language program, which enrolls a much larger group of students, is still an area in which we cannot provide access at this time, and we will be assessing that as we go forward.

Reporter: What's the economic impact of the university of not having so many ... (students)?

Berdahl: That's a significant impact on the university. University extension stands to lose in excess of $1 million dollars from the English as a Second Language program, but as I said, we're not prepared at this point to open that. It may be possible to open it to a limited number of students. But that program, which actually, is not scheduled to begin until July, gives us a bit more time to continue to assess where we are.

Reporter: So did the backlash involved ... play a role at all in going back and looking to see if you could bring in some of the students?

Berdahl: I wouldn't call it a backlash. We had expressions of concern, but that's not really a backlash. It's very clear that students were very disappointed, upset, they had made their plans. And, particularly, many of the students, the students who were planning on coming to our academic programs, which are credit-bearing programs, were very affected. That, we are concerned about, as we are concerned with every student who would be disappointed at not suddenly having access to Berkeley. So that did cause us to reconsider how is it that we might be able to look at this, consistent with CDC guidelines, but still be able to reopen some programs to admit a limited number of students to these programs.

Reporter: What are you telling the local community about this change?

Berdahl: What I can say to the community is that everything we are doing is consistent with CDC guidelines. And we are prepared to deal with anyone who presents symptoms, with an isolation capacity and with assistance in evaluation and monitoring.

There are people who continue to come to the United States from Asia. Last night, I hosted a dinner for a delegation from Peking, from a university from Beijing. So there are visitors, there has been no ban on visitors coming to the United States.

[In regard to our policy], our policy was simply that we had a very large number of students scheduled to come to this campus. A larger number than we were prepared to be able to make certain that we could assure we had a sufficient number of isolation facilities and public health and university health officials who could care for them. So the decision was to restrict the number in a way that is manageable and in a way that happens daily of people coming into the United States.

Reporter: Who will be the first international summer students arriving on campus?

Berdahl: There will probably be roughly between 20 and 30 from Asia, almost all from Hong Kong, who would arrive May 27. Others would arrive later in the summer.