A message to the UO community

President Scholz sent the following message to students, faculty, and staff on Friday, May 10, 2024.

Dear members of the University of Oregon community,

Today marks day 12 of the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” In that time, I have received many emails and other forms of communication from UO faculty and staff. I apologize that I have not responded to each. Please know they are being read.

This is a challenging time; challenging for the students in the encampment, the UO and, of course, the world. As I mentioned in my statement on Tuesday, I am grateful to our students and others for the absence of violence, threats, destruction of property, and their efforts thus far to engage in peaceful dialogue. I respect the right of all to protest peacefully and express their views. And I understand and value UO’s tradition of engaging with the issues of the day and its support of activism and civil protest.

With all that in mind, we have continued open discussions with the encampment. We have taken seriously the issues and concerns of the encampment and, in the spirit of dialogue and understanding, met with many student groups, staff and faculty, and the encampment negotiation team daily over the past 12 days and continue to update the chronology of these meetings. Responses to the demands of the encampment were presented on Thursday, but there has thus far been no substantive response to our attempts at constructive engagement. Earlier statements and timeline can be found at freespeech.uoregon.edu

As the university president, I am asked to do one thing: steward the institution in a way that leaves it stronger in the future than how I found it. There are many moving pieces to make that happen. We need to support the educational environment for all who are here. We need to support staff, faculty, and graduate and student employees. We need to strengthen the financial foundations of the university. We need to clearly state and live up to our values of academic freedom, creative expression, and intellectual discourse. And we must uphold our commitment to foster equity and inclusion in a welcoming, safe, and respectful community.

I worry for our students in the encampment. We prohibit overnight camping on the UO campus for good reasons: there are health and safety issues that arise with extended outdoor camping; there are also exceptionally challenging security concerns that arise. This is not simply overzealous worry or false rhetoric: we have seen awful, heartbreaking examples of the destruction of property at Portland State and violence at UCLA and elsewhere.

I worry about the disruption of the educational enterprise. The encampment is centrally located. There is use of amplified sound. Some printed material distributed in and around the encampment contains language that many find threatening and disturbing. Areas that should be open to all now present challenges to students and employees who do not wish to encounter or engage the encampment.

There is no doubt that the issues at play in the Middle East are complex and the human suffering immense. I do not fault our students for wanting a swift end to the conflict and a just path forward for all. Were it within my power to grant this I would not be writing to you today. And yet a lasting and humane solution to the many issues involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict has eluded generations of talented diplomats, politicians, and leaders.

In the distressing absence of progress on the ground, it is tempting to use the power of language to bolster a moral argument. However, it is unproductive to do so in defense of an organization that has enshrined in its founding principles the call for the obliteration of a people. At the same time, and as we see daily, nation-states can also act with extreme violence. The application of a moral claim on any side does nothing to alleviate the suffering of many, and in fact fosters and propels mistrust and division. Institutions – but especially universities – have the responsibility of holding a mirror to history and maintaining a neutral position on geopolitical events, providing members in our institutions with the ability to speak, debate, and seek understanding and solutions.

It is equally tempting to look to punitive measures, such as boycott or divestment, to apply pressure to one side. Unfortunately, data show almost no effect from efforts like BDS on either easing the suffering of non-combatants or a swifter end to hostilities. In our case, using our investments as a political tool compromises our fiduciary responsibility, reduces our ability to wisely steward and grow the financial resources of the university, and limits our ability to seek the best investments, with the best managers, in service to the university’s long-term benefit – including its future students and faculty.

Over this weekend I will be anxiously watching for news of progress toward an end to hostilities and a cessation of the suffering of so many. I assert and reiterate my hopes for peace, our willingness to listen to our students – even if our answers are not what they prefer to hear – and to seek greater understanding and a most just world through our educational mission.

I once again ask for the overnight encampment to end. We will continue to vigorously uphold the right to free speech, and encourage members of the encampment and others in our UO community to use any of the several means available to them to make their voices heard. 


Karl Scholz