President discusses plans for spring term, vaccines and fall

UO President Michael Schill

UO President Michael H. Schill sent the following message to the campus community Jan. 19:

Dear University of Oregon community,

With the winter academic term underway, we are looking to spring and beyond. I am writing to share information about spring term instruction, our support of public efforts to provide access to vaccines, and how we are planning for fall term.

Every meeting I have with faculty, staff, and students reflects a growing desire to return to in-person education. I share that desire and I see us doing that late this summer or in the fall. But for now, with COVID-19 indicators still extremely high in our community, state, and nation, and vaccine supply still far too short of need, we must continue to maintain the status quo and do our part to reduce the spread of the virus. Please do not let your guard down—wear your masks and maintain social distance.

Spring Term

For spring term, we will continue to operate as we have for fall and winter terms—with a mix of remote, online, and some in-person courses. We will continue to offer some in-person activities at our libraries, EMU, advising offices, labs, and elsewhere following COVID-19 safety protocols and following public health orders and guidance. Course planning is underway and will include a survey of faculty and GEs this week. The spring term course catalog is expected to be released February 5.

Vaccination Support and Planning

Last week, I met with leaders of city, county, public health, higher education, and K-12 schools. We are committed to working together to help our community weather the pandemic and begin to recover from its impacts. I offered all of the university’s resources to helping in this effort and, following the governor’s priorities, getting K-12 teachers and staff vaccinated as quickly as possible. Once this occurs the burdens on many of our faculty and staff, which I recognize have been heavy, should be lightened. The UO is supporting government and public health vaccination efforts, as part of the Lane County Regional COVID-19 Vaccination Collaborative, to provide access to vaccines as supply becomes available. We are playing a key role by providing logistical support that draws on our experience staging large events and from meningococcal vaccination clinics several years ago.

We do not control supply of nor set prioritization for vaccinations but in addition to supporting the efforts to vaccinate K-12 teachers and especially vulnerable populations we are strongly advocating at the state level on behalf of our own students, faculty, and staff. We will continue to stress the importance of higher education to the wellbeing of our community, economy, and society as vaccine prioritizations are finalized. 

The UO will provide access to vaccines for students, faculty, and staff as quickly as we are permitted, as supply is available, in accordance with state and federal prioritization guidelines. Our intent is to vaccinate people working on campus first. This is my top priority. More information about the UO COVID-19 vaccination planning is available on the UO coronavirus vaccine webpage.

Planning for Fall Term

In my recent welcome back message to the community I stated that I was confident that we would be back to predominantly in-person education this fall. From all of the research I have read, all of the conversations I have had with experts, and all of the anecdotal information I have gleaned from meetings with other presidents and the press, it appears that the risk of transmission in classroom settings is extremely low provided that strict use of masks and appropriate distancing occurs. When added to the widespread availability of vaccines expected for late spring or summer and our late start at the end of September, I do not think this confidence is misplaced. However, I want everyone to understand that our decision making will not be based upon the impatience of our community to get “back to normal.” It will always be guided by the science and concern for public health.

At first, we gradually plan to increase in-person instruction and activities over the summer, and then return to predominantly in-person instruction and activities in the fall. Of course, this will all be dependent on public health conditions and under the guidance of our state and local health authorities.

As we return to more in-person activities, we want you to know that safety will continue to be at the forefront of our planning. Indeed, even as individuals get vaccinated, the protective strategies that we all have become accustomed to—face coverings, physical distancing, symptom self-checks, limited gathering, and taking advantage of free MAP testing—will continue to be important components of our plans.

Access to vaccines is an exciting development in what has been a long journey, but we must all continue to be vigilant in our use of safety precautions and do our part to keep each other and the community safe.

Thank you for your continued dedication to protecting yourselves and our community. I anticipate there will be many more opportunities for us to communicate and consult over the next nine months about the summer and fall. I encourage and welcome that opportunity as does Provost Patrick Phillips. As always, you may email me at pres@uoregon.edu. You can also ask questions or share feedback using our COVID-19 web form. Please continue to refer to the UO coronavirus website for the latest information about the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sincerely,

Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law