August 10, 2020
Dear University of Oregon students,
I hope you and your families are all safe, healthy, and enjoying your summers, despite these unusual and challenging circumstances. I will not linger today on the many unprecedented challenges facing the University of Oregon, our nation, or the world—we can save many of those conversations for the fall term—because I want to focus on COVID-19 and the steps we are taking at the UO to safeguard you and the entire community when classes resume on September 29. As you know, we are planning to offer an on-campus experience this fall, and hundreds of faculty members, researchers, academic advisors, health experts, administrators, and more are working nearly around-the-clock so that we are prepared to safely and responsibly welcome you to Eugene this fall.
While an on-campus experience is the goal, it is important to recognize that we do not control the coronavirus. Due to continually changing events we will almost certainly have to make some changes to our plans before the start of the term. We are assessing the situation on a daily basis and seeking guidance from local, state, and national public health authorities as well as advice and counsel from peer institutions of higher education throughout the nation. Because the UO is on a quarter schedule we have a later starting date than many other schools, so we will be able to learn from their experiences in the coming weeks and months. As I have said repeatedly, the health and safety of the entire UO community is our number one priority. If, for any reason, the UO does not have confidence in our ability to manage the COVID-19 conditions, we will transition to more limited operations. Our goal is to communicate our final plans by the end of the month, hopefully sooner.
Let me turn to testing. The UO’s top researchers have built robust testing capabilities on our campus, including a lab that will be able to conduct more than 1,000 tests per day on a sustained basis if needed. Later this week, those of you who will be living on campus will be provided with details about the testing program in our residence halls. All students living in the UO’s residence halls will be required to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and a minimum of one other occasion during the fall term. In addition, the UO will conduct voluntary random spot testing of all students to assess community spread. We are still finalizing details about this voluntary community testing program, but diagnostic testing is already available and will continue to be available through University of Oregon Health Services for those who feel ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus. Contact tracing is led by county health officials in Oregon, but I am proud to say that a significant portion of that work will be conducted by UO’s own “Corona Corps,” an effort led by our faculty and UO health care professionals to train and deploy students to support the county’s contact tracing program.
When it comes to what to expect in the classroom, our current plan is that a significant number of classes with 50 or fewer students will be conducted in person, following strict physical distancing protocols and other safety measures. Face coverings or shields will be required in all classes, desks and work stations will be positioned 6 feet apart, faculty lecterns will have Plexiglas barriers, and the class schedule has been adjusted to allow for more time for students to move between buildings. All campus buildings will have enhanced cleaning protocols. Classes with more than 50 students will be completely remote, online, or delivered in a hybrid model, meaning the lecture might be posted or delivered online but smaller discussion sessions may take place in person. If you want a completely online schedule, we will work to accommodate your request. Flexibility is the key, and we want students to have choices that match their needs and preferences for maintaining health and safety.
Finally, our Student Life professionals are working hard to make sure that your time outside the classroom is safe, supportive, fun, and engaging. Even though the term ahead may look much different than it has in the past, we want you to thrive here at the UO in every aspect of your life. We are modifying how you access some of the traditional events while creating new programs and experiences. This includes things such as career fairs, club sports, the outdoor program, activities within the Erb Memorial Union, multicultural and identity-based support programs, and much more. The goal is to provide ways for you to safely interact with your classmates, create shared community experiences, and make the most of the college experience. More to come on that in the coming weeks.
I thank each and every one of you for your patience and understanding. These are incredibly challenging times for all of us. I firmly believe that if we pull together as a community—if we take steps to take care of ourselves and others—if we wear face coverings, wash hands, practice physical distancing, avoid large gatherings, and stay home if we’re sick, then we can make this fall term a success for everyone. You have my commitment that we will provide information as soon as we have it. Please keep an eye on your email and regularly check the UO’s COVID-19 Resources website.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law