April 29, 2020
No doubt you read with interest the recent email from President Michael Schill describing our intent to open the campus to in-person instruction in the fall. We are still in the midst of planning exactly what this will look like, but I wanted to send you a note to let you know where we are in planning and emphasize that the health and safety of our campus community is our top priority. In addition, we will hold a community town hall next Thursday, May 7, at 12:30 pm to provide more information and to take your questions about the planning process and considerations. Please send questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org or anonymously through this webform.
How best to open up universities, and indeed most aspects of society, is an area of active discussion and we are proactively developing plans for a number of possible scenarios. We do not yet have all of the answers. The university is extremely fortunate to be in a state that moved quickly to address the crisis, with the additional advantage that we are in a fairly thinly populated region and have had low incidence of infection. Of course, if we have learned anything over the last two months, it is that things will continue to evolve.
With this in mind, the UO is part of a consortium of West Coast campuses, including all of the universities in Oregon, that are working together to understand how to employ best practices from a public health perspective to provide a safe environment for our faculty, staff, and students. We are very fortunate to have André Le Duc, our chief resilience officer, represent us in these groups. All of these efforts are being conducted in consultation with both local and state health authorities, as well as with public health experts at medical schools across the region.
There will be much to be conveyed over the coming weeks and months—and we are committed to sharing information as quickly and transparently as we possible—but I wanted to highlight some issues that may be of particular concern:
- The health and safety of the campus community is our top priority, and we recognize that community members in vulnerable populations are uniquely impacted by COVID-19. We will reach out to all faculty, administrators, and staff with information on how campus community members in vulnerable populations can request authorization to continue to work from home after campus has re-opened. We will also be providing guidance regarding how campus community members outside of those populations can ask to continue to work remotely. We want to remind everyone that campus community members with disabilities are encouraged to work with our ADA coordinator or Accessible Education Center on appropriate accommodations.
- Safely opening up the campus, and society as a whole, requires changes on several fronts, some behavioral and some technological. We will continue to implement physical distancing strategies, which in our case will be achieved via reduced densities in classrooms, residence halls, and common areas. This will likely be complemented by the use of masks, increased cleaning schedules, monitoring of gathering places, etc.
- A proper public health response requires adequate testing of both individuals suspected of being infected and those showing no symptoms. I hope that you have seen the stories about the UO helping to increase the testing capacity of Lane County. We are now seeking to establish a certified testing facility directly on campus so that we can fully utilize our prowess in genomics, molecular biology and bioinformatics for the broader public good. This work—led by Bill Cresko, Leslie Leve, Greg Shabram, and a number of other far-sighted individuals—illustrates the value of having a major research university in the heart of your community.
- In addition to expanded testing, the other critical public health response is contact tracing. We are in the process of exploring whether that is an effort that we should augment directly on campus or if it is better to partner with another organization to ensure that that work can be conducted at the scale needed to address our specific needs.
- On the education side, we are developing strategies that allow us to continue to provide high quality education under modified conditions. Our particular emphasis will be on courses that benefit most from in-person delivery, such as laboratories and studios.
- Because of the need for distancing, we are developing plans that will allow us to use a hybrid approach to course delivery, with large courses being delivered remotely when the whole class needs to be engaged, with augmentation via small discussion groups, split cohorts, etc., when such a modality fits the educational goals of the course.
- Under this scenario, smaller courses can still meet in person but will meet in larger classrooms to facilitate appropriate distancing as mandated by health authorities and best public health practices.
- As we work to restructure our class offerings in the fall to ensure we continue offering a high-quality, rich learning experience, we will also need to revise the fall course schedule, which was to be released on May 1 for a May 18 registration deadline. For this reason, we are postponing the schedule release date and the registration deadline. More information will be forthcoming on the input we will need from you to make those decisions, as well as new dates for the release of the schedule.
- Many people have contacted me about this being a particular moment in time for us to increase our capacity to teach more online or fully hybrid courses. And so we will, with an emphasis on the courses that will provide us with the greatest ability to provide a robust schedule of courses in the fall. To this end, Carol Stabile, associate dean for strategic initiatives in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Janet Woodruff-Borden, executive vice provost, have led a small group of faculty and administrators that has developed a set of guidelines for new efforts and investments in online education. We will quickly transfer these efforts to the level of each college so that deans and faculty can start to plan their individual activities. Somehow it feels an odd luxury to have more than a few weeks to get this planning into the hands of faculty for their input and ideas.
I will end with the recognition that none of us asked to be living in these difficult times. I have been impressed and truly overwhelmed by everyone’s efforts to make the spring term so successful in such short order. Thank you so much for that. And I recognize that the times continue to demand more and more from each of us. But, while we must and intend to prioritize the health and safety of our campus community, we must also respond to the challenge. To do otherwise is to risk the viability of the entire university. Hundreds if not thousands of jobs, as well as the educational dreams and opportunities of an entire generation, hang in the balance.
It is difficult to imagine that this won’t be the defining moment of our professional careers, just as wars and pandemics have defined the sacrifices of countless previous generations. And how we endeavor to face the next 12 months will leave its mark on the state for generations to come. I will not pretend that there will not be difficult times ahead. But I also have the full confidence that we can fully meet this challenge if we work together.
Provost and Senior Vice President