After student backlash, UC Davis reverses decision and closes campus due to smoke; Sac State also closed

UC Davis reversed Tuesday night’s decision to resume classes Wednesday following outrage expressed by thousands of students and faculty as wildfire smoke continues to create unhealthy air conditions in the region.

The campus will now be closed for the day with the exception of health care facilities, including UC Davis hospitals, care clinics and the Student Health and Wellness center, UC Davis announced Wednesday morning.

Classes at the UC Davis main campus and satellite campus in Sacramento were canceled Tuesday due to smoke from the Camp Fire that has blanketed the region since the weekend.

Sacramento State also closed its campus Tuesday and Wednesday. An announcement Wednesday afternoon said Sacramento State would remain closed Thursday but planned to reopen Friday.

UC Davis initially said classes would resume as normal Wednesday, but reversed that decision in a 6:50 a.m. statement.

“Chancellor (Gary) May and other campus leaders have heard the community’s concerns,” the statement said. “The Chancellor regrets any stress or inconvenience our previous update caused. We are all learning together.”

In the previous statement made 9 p.m. Tuesday, UC Davis said all classes, with the exception of outdoor physical education, would resume as normal. The news release advised students, faculty and staff to limit outdoor physical activity and track Air Quality Index (AQI) in the area. The university said a “limited supply” of N95 respirator masks would be available midday Wednesday on a first-come, first-served basis.

Outrage ensued among many students.

By 6:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, a petition urging UC Davis to cancel classes that day had acquired more than 16,000 signatures. Its description simply read: “The air quality is worsening and they refuse to cancel classes.”

A tweet by the university saying classes would resume was met with more than 200 replies Tuesday into early Wednesday, virtually all of them criticizing the decision; some pointed out that AQI readings for Wednesday in Davis actually predict poorer quality than on Tuesday, in the 150 to 200 AQI range denoted as “unhealthy.”

UC Davis said in its earlier statement it would offer free bus rides on campus to students, faculty and staff, starting at 7 a.m. Users pointed out on Twitter — some of them feigning enthusiasm — that Unitrans buses are already free for students.

Thousands of students use bikes to commute to the large campus and travel between lecture halls.

“What are we supposed to do to limit our time outside, in Hell?” one student questioned in a Twitter response Tuesday night.

A biology professor at UC Davis, Jonathan Eisen, tweeted that he would have canceled his classes Wednesday if he were teaching that day.

“It seems to me that, sadly, that this claim ‘Our concern for the health and safety of our community is our priority’ from @ucdavis is just not being reflected in decisions being made,” Eisen said in one tweet.

UC Davis has a student population of about 38,000, according to a student profile on the university’s website.

UC Davis uses a 10-week quarter system; the fall quarter ends Dec. 7.

Petitions to close schools due to air quality concerns stemming from the Butte County wildfire have also popped up farther south, including the Bay Area. More than 85,000 have signed another petition, this one urging public schools in all affected Bay Area counties to close as a public health precaution.

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