Lessons from the Pandemic and the UO’s Future

The University of Oregon welcomed our students, faculty, and staff back together again on campus for the first time in 18 months this past fall. It was wonderful! We also welcomed the largest, most diverse, and most academically qualified freshman class in our history. Thanks to the generosity of our passionate alumni, we celebrated smashing through our original fundraising goal to reach $3.24 billion in gifts and pledges. And the recently opened Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, Hayward Field, and DeNorval Unthank Jr. Hall created new opportunities for faculty and students alike at the UO. 

We begin 2022 with the same innovation and resolve that helped us achieve those great successes. And after overcoming the daunting initial challenges of COVID-19, we also embark on the new year with important lessons learned.

First, the UO community is incredibly resilient and innovative. The determination of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni as they faced the greatest challenge of this generation is nothing short of amazing. The technological innovations, the generous support of students, and the unique collaborations over the past two years will have lasting benefit.

A second lesson is that while we can persevere apart, we are much better together. Many people suffered from the isolation and anxiety created by the pandemic, but it was especially hard on our students. Being apart reinforced the undeniable value of the residential college experience at the UO. Every day I hear from students, faculty, and staff about how happy they are to be back together on campus, and stories of how in-person experiences are essential for student success and discovery.

The third lesson from the pandemic is that the research and innovation at the UO is more important than ever. The last two years put on clear display the crucial role that leading research universities play in solving big problems. Universities were key in identifying COVID-19 and its variants, tracing the virus’s spread, and creating life-saving vaccines and treatments. At the UO, we created and are providing COVID-19 testing, innovated technologies to connect people, traced how the virus spreads through the air, identified disparities and impacts, and helped understand and address public health concerns. 

Lessons from the pandemic are informing how we protect society now, better prepare students for the future, create more opportunity and prosperity in our community, and continue to solve pressing problems. Our ability to provide insights and shift quickly to address issues is possible because we have robust problem-solving systems in place. Combined with our innovative mindset, we are well positioned to develop solutions for challenges whose scope is yet unknown. 

For example, we are expanding student support, exploring how to close achievement disparities, and creating more opportunities to launch graduates into successful careers. We are investing in our strong environmental programs across campus, encouraging collaborations that will help us understand and address climate change. We are partnering with other world-class research universities to research how top athletic performance can be applied to improving overall wellness for everyone. We are creating a research and policy center on racial disparities and resilience to develop solutions related to the historic racial inequities in society. We are expanding the Knight Campus, where researchers are merging engineering, science, and medicine to explore treatments and therapies ranging from preventing and treating diseases, to developing antibodies, to repairing tissue. These are just a few of the innovations and initiatives underway that are driven by our desire to create meaningful impact in the world.

We welcome 2022 with determination and a reinvigorated commitment to our mission. While new variants and the ups and downs of the coronavirus pandemic continue to require extreme vigilance and constant assessment, they are not holding us back from focusing on the UO’s bright future. Go Ducks!

—By Michael H. Schill, President and Professor of Law

—Photo By Charlie Litchfield, University Communications