Welcome to Winter Term 2021

January 4, 2021

University of Oregon President Michael H. Schill reflects on the past year and provides insight into the coming weeks and months of winter term and 2021.

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a safe and restful winter break.  

I for one am very glad to have 2020 behind us and am now setting my sights on having a great winter term at the University of Oregon. 

As we begin this new year and new term, we are, once again, charting new territory to ensure that we continue to safeguard ourselves and each other from COVID-19. We have learned a lot over the past 10 months—both from our experience and other universities— that will help us remain vigilant and begin to recover from the pandemic.  Among the lessons are that masks work; that frequent testing and contact tracing can flatten the curve; that with appropriate social distancing and mask wearing it is difficult to transmit the COVID-19 virus in classroom settings; and that the most dangerous environments are the most innocuous—small and large social gatherings off campus. 

We begin Week One completely remote and we will then move to a hybrid of remote and in-person instruction for the remainder of the term. Our libraries, residence halls, advising offices, and EMU: they’ll remain open to students to engage safely in person as well as virtually. We continue to find innovative ways to provide engaging remote instruction, offer career-building experiences, and create community in safe ways. 

Mask wearing, keeping a safe distance from each other, not gathering in groups, staying home if we don’t feel well have now become second nature to us. We have ample, free COVID-19 testing available for students, faculty, and staff, and I encourage each of you to take advantage of this easy screening. 

As our frontline health care workers and most vulnerable citizens begin receiving vaccines, I am incredibly optimistic about our ability to return to in-person classes in 2021.  It may not happen until the summer or fall, but I am confident it will happen. To hasten that day and to support our community, the University of Oregon will assist our public health partners wherever we can. Whether it’s distributing vaccines, whether it’s providing expertise, whether it’s through equipment (like freezers), or other support wherever it’s needed. We do not yet know when members of the university community will be able to be vaccinated, but when it is my turn, I’m going to eagerly roll up my sleeve to be vaccinated to help protect myself and our community and I hope you will too. 

While I am incredibly optimistic that I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, I don’t want us to be lulled into a sense of false security. The promise of immunization does not mean we can let down our guard now and forgo health precautions. With the virus continuing to spread across Oregon and the globe, we must all remain vigilant. 

I know many of us, myself included, are weary of the isolation and constraints, even as we know how important these sacrifices are for ourselves, our community, and our society.  But we have held on for over 10 months; let’s reach back and summon the fortitude to keep going this winter and spring. Thank you for continuing to care for each other. Thank you for staying strong. 

2021 is already shaping up to be a great year. We just formally opened our first Knight Campus building and already our faculty are busy using its laboratories and state-of-the-art facilities. We have taken over space on the second floor of the Knight Campus to expand our COVID-19 testing and our contact tracing efforts for both our university community as well as the broader community; and we are ready to help support local and state public health as vaccinations become available. 

And our Provost – Provost Phillips – he’s busy working with our faculty on an ambitious set of academic initiatives on the environment, human performance, racial disparities, and innovation all of which will be announced in the first half of the year.  

Now, as we move throughout this year, it will take our entire village to ensure that we come out of the pandemic without lasting damage. We need to ensure that our students graduate in a timely fashion with a degree that allows them to achieve their career ambitions. We need to support our faculty in their research and creative activities. We need to all pitch in to make our university more equitable. And we need to work hard to strengthen our financial position so that we can achieve these goals, make the university accessible to students of all incomes, and preserve jobs and livelihoods for our workforce. 

I am confident that together we will succeed. Thank you, and welcome back.