August 26, 2020
Dear University of Oregon community,
As promised, I am writing today to provide you with information about plans for fall operations at the University of Oregon. Let me first hit the headlines and then I will provide more detail.
- We will shift to primarily remote and online instruction for the fall term.
- In limited circumstances, such as with some labs, studio experiences, and other small classes, we will provide in-person instruction, in accordance with health and safety guidelines.
- We will welcome the freshman class to campus this fall by instituting a robust testing, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine program in our residence halls. First-year students will participate in an enhanced set of safe and responsible in-person and virtual intellectual, recreational, and social experiences.
- All of our students will have access to remote and in-person services, programs, and activities in places such as the libraries, Erb Memorial Union, and Student Rec Center, where strategies are in place to keep our community safe. There are plenty of quiet, supportive study spaces and on-campus wi-fi.
- Faculty and staff will continue to have access to offices, research facilities, and some classrooms, in accordance with appropriate health and safety guidelines.
- We continue to focus on building our testing and contact tracing capacity and further preparing campus throughout the fall with the goal of returning to predominantly in-person instruction in January 2021.
Much has changed in the months since the UO announced our intention to try to offer an in-person curriculum this fall. We have seen the number of COVID-19 cases rapidly increase nationally, although thankfully the prevalence of infections in Eugene and Lane County has been relatively low. We have learned valuable lessons from other states, communities, and institutions of higher education about what works and, more importantly, what does not work as it relates to managing the spread of the coronavirus. We have also listened to you, the members of the UO community, through direct conversations with campus stakeholder groups, informal chats with friends and peers, as well as through more structured surveys of students, prospective students, faculty, and other employee groups. We have heard your hopes and concerns. We have also listened to the best available public health guidance from the Oregon Health Authority and Lane County Public Health, two agencies that we’ll continue to closely coordinate with on an on-going basis. The decision to move to a predominantly remote and online form of instruction in the fall was not easy. We know that the vast majority of our students are itching to get back into the classroom. Many of our faculty and staff members feel exactly the same way. However, due to a confluence of factors we need to pivot.
When COVID-19 began, I stated the health and safety of our students and faculty was my paramount concern and the decision I am announcing today is rooted in that commitment. Our researchers have led an awe-inspiring effort to build our own state-of-the-art testing program. The capacity that they have built will allow us to open our residence halls this fall. Our teams continue working long hours with our public health partners to expand testing capacity over the fall term. In addition to testing, we also need robust contact tracing. To this end, the UO has been working with local public health authorities to increase contact tracing capacity with our Corona Corps, which provides students an opportunity to assist during the global pandemic. Another factor was that many of the local K-12 school districts announced plans to be 100 percent online through the end of the calendar year, which makes it exceedingly difficult for a large portion of our faculty and staff to be on campus. I recognize the stress this puts on families, which makes it necessary to operate the university in a way that supports UO employees and their families as much as possible during these challenging times. Finally, all of us have watched other institutions abruptly shift gears over the last week or so, and I decided that the potential for disruption to our students and our campus community was just too high. It is far more prudent for the UO to take a more phased approach—as we’re seeking to do now.
What does this realistically mean for the coming fall? For most students, we will continue to offer predominantly remote and online instruction. For those of you who are disappointed by this change of plans, I want you to know that our faculty has put a huge amount of effort into preparing classes this fall that will provide the high quality education you have come to expect from the UO. In a limited number of circumstances, such as with some labs, studio experiences, and other small classes, we will provide in-person instruction, in accordance with health and safety protocols. This applies to training opportunities for graduate students. Even though we will largely be remote, many of our campus amenities, resources, and support services—academic and career advising, libraries, the Erb Memorial Union, the Student Rec Center, etc.—will be available to all students (operations, obviously, will adhere to all applicable health and safety protocols). Our campus buildings will not be open to the general public, however, to assist in reducing density on campus and to keep our spaces focused on the UO’s core missions of instruction and research.
We will communicate with our first-year students in the coming days, but the underlying message is we want as many freshmen as possible to join us here in Eugene for a rich and rewarding in-person experience. I know how important it is for folks new to college to take part in experiences that make their four years incredibly special. That is why I am very excited about the plans that are taking shape. Students will live in our residence halls, eat at our dining facilities, and have access to a wide range of in-person academic seminars and faculty-led discussions, dozens of Academic Residential Communities (ARCs) and First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs), an expanded Faculty Fellows program, a full complement of academic and career advisors (online and in-person), student clubs and affinity groups, the campus recreation center, organized outdoor activities, and much more. Our goal is to help first-year students build community, make lasting connections with friends and faculty, and become engaged in all the facets of campus life that make the UO such an amazing place to live and learn. All students living in our residence halls will be required to be tested for COVID-19 at move-in, again five to seven days later, and periodically throughout the term.
I would like to address tuition and fees, because I know it will be a question that many students and families will ask about. Even as we shift to a predominantly remote experience, the cost of providing a UO education has not changed nor has the value of a UO degree. We still have to pay our faculty; we still provide academic and career advisors; we still maintain our facilities. In fact, we have increased expenses associated with providing the technological infrastructure for remote and online education and made additional investments in testing, health care, risk reduction strategies, and on-campus programs. For those reasons, and to maintain the long-term viability of the institution, we cannot reduce tuition. All of our financial aid and scholarship programs continue to be available for those who qualify, including PathwayOregon, which covers all tuition and fees for qualified Pell Grant-eligible Oregonians. For those students experiencing financial hardships related to COVID-19, a variety of grants are available through the Office of the Dean of Students and our Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships that provide direct financial support for qualifying needs. Indeed, in the spring we gave out more than $6 million in additional assistance. We will do everything we can to support our students during this unprecedented time.
Finally, we will continue to work hard this fall to expand contact tracing, testing, and other infrastructure needs, so that, by the beginning of the winter term, we will be able to return to classes being predominantly in-person. At no time, however, will we sacrifice the health and safety of our faculty, staff, and students. As I stated back in March and repeatedly since then, it remains above all our top priority. If we do this right, then we can have a successful fall term and lay the foundation for in-person instruction in 2021. It means that face coverings will be required for everyone on campus and physical distancing will be the norm. It means doing a daily symptom self-check and staying home if you are sick. It means keeping your circle of contacts small, avoiding large social gatherings, and refraining from other activities that could spread the virus. We are a community of Ducks, so let’s take care of ourselves and each other so that we can beat COVID-19 and return to something akin to normal.
There will be much more information in the coming days and weeks. Indeed, incoming first-year students can expect many more details about testing and move-in protocols. We will host a virtual town hall for students on September 3 and one for all university employees on September 9. Keep an eye on your email, AroundtheO, and other UO channels for details. We have the latest information on our UO Coronavirus Information website, which is updated almost daily, and if you can’t find answers on the website, you can submit questions via a web form or by calling 541-346-7007 (staffed 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Pacific time, Monday to Friday). You have my commitment that we will continue to communicate new information or changes to our operational status as quickly as we can.
Thank you for your time and your patience.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law