September 14, 2020
Dear members of the UO community,
I write today not to announce anything noteworthy. Instead, I want you to know how grateful I am that you are part of our community. It is my fervent belief that despite the gloominess surrounding us, we will get through this difficult period and emerge strong on the other side.
The horrendous wildfires affecting the entire West Coast and most especially the one in our own backyard must seem to some of you like the final straw. COVID-19 robbed some members of our community of their loved ones and livelihoods; it robbed all of us of the lives we had grown accustomed to and the simple pleasures of hugging each other or even being in the same room to share a meal. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many more led some of us to despondency about the inability of our country to come to grips with its original sin and others to lose their innocence about our progress toward making our nation’s ideals of equality for all a reality. And now the wildfires have quite literally taken away the lives and homes of our neighbors and, at least temporarily, even our precious sunshine and crisp, clean air.
Each one of us reacts in a different way to these types of challenges. Some of us crawl under the covers and cry. Some of us rush out to the front lines to volunteer and to help. Some of us become paralyzed, not knowing what to do. And some of us write letters to the community.
I want each of you to know that I believe that the UO community will emerge from this horrible sequence of events strong. I have already seen evidence of our resilience as faculty switched to remote education last spring with one week’s notice; as our custodians went above and beyond the call of duty to keep our community safe; as our administrators worked night and day and weekends to plan for whatever emergency came our way; as our students reached out to admitted students to encourage them to enroll and join the UO community. I saw this in the efforts of a group of researchers who put their own work on hold for months to develop a test for COVID-19 that will be administered to all students in our residence halls starting this week. And, I saw this spirit again last week as faculty, staff, and students dropped everything and sometimes put themselves at risk to help their neighbors by fighting fires, sorting donations, or donating money to the wildfire relief efforts.
This sense of community and caring is what gives me optimism as we begin our fall term. We have challenges ahead of us. The days to come will not be easy. There is no doubt that we will stumble. Cases of COVID-19 will rise and fall in our community as students return. The fires will continue to smolder, sending plumes of smoke our way every now and then. Our forward progress toward racial justice will not be in a straight line. While we will stumble, I am also confident that we will pick ourselves up and keep going. I believe that we have shown our ability to weather hardship again and again. We do it because we are a community. We do it because we are united in our belief in the mission of our university. Because what we do—educating the next generation and adding to knowledge—is a reaffirmation of humanity and the future.
I am proud to be part of our University of Oregon community and I want you to know how proud and grateful I am for each of you.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law