1. The University of Oregon is back to in-person classes. How did the UO prepare for the return of students after last year’s pandemic disruptions?
It is wonderful to see our campus bustling with students again. I promise I will never ever complain about the traffic jams accompanying move-in again! I am proud of how our faculty and staff prepared for our return to in-person instruction and activities. We began this school year at a particularly challenging time in the pandemic. Fortunately, we have strong tools such as vaccination and mask mandates, testing, and changes to classroom ventilation that give us the confidence to safely come back together.
Our students have so much to gain from returning to residential academic life: interacting with professors and classmates, meeting people who are different from themselves, returning to labs and studios, participating in internships, and study abroad. And our society has much to gain from the collaborative discovery and innovation produced by our scientists and researchers.
We know there will be challenges ahead. COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, but we are prepared and resolute, and we will overcome these challenges for the sake of our students, state, and world.
2. The university surpassed its $3 billion fundraising goal. What does this mean for the university, alumni, and friends?
Our donors’ generosity is staggering. Raising $3.24 billion breaks university and state records. But the true success of this campaign is demonstrated through the people it helps—and their remarkable accomplishments. We have increased support for faculty research and knowledge creation, and we have increased scholarships, support, and opportunity for students.
Philanthropy has paved the way for the excellence, impact, and innovation that would not be possible otherwise. Even as we celebrate this achievement, we know that we will need future giving to provide access and opportunity to the students of tomorrow, solve problems we can only imagine today, and pave the way for greater accomplishments and eminence at the University of Oregon.
3. Those who haven’t been to campus lately may be surprised by the physical changes. What’s important about the additions?
People are probably most familiar with the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact and Hayward Field. These facilities are among the best in the world and will help us to advance science, human performance, track and field, and more. But people may be surprised to see, right across the street from Hayward Field, the new DeNorval Unthank Jr. Hall, a residence hall that combines an innovative approach to academic residential communities with dining facilities and a family welcome center that serve the entire campus. We also have a new outdoor classroom and a number of projects that are just getting underway. Visitors who venture inside buildings will find newly renovated laboratories and classrooms that are vital to our mission of creating and disseminating knowledge to future generations.
From research opportunities to world-class competitions to lifelong connections, these spaces create new possibilities for our students, faculty, and staff to engage with each other—and ideas—in new ways.
4. What is top of mind for you regarding diversity and inclusion?
As we begin the school year, I am committed to making progress in closing the gaps in graduation rates and other student success metrics between our majority students, on one hand, and first-generation, Pell grant recipients, and underrepresented minority students, on the other. These disparities are not unique to the UO, but to ensure the success of all students and help address the impacts of systemic racism in our society, we must significantly reduce or eliminate these gaps. As part of this commitment, we are investing in a diverse faculty and a racial disparities research and policy center to better understand and address racial disparities in areas such as health, education, housing, employment, and wealth.
We also continue to seek new ways to foster inclusion and attract a more diverse population to our campus though outreach, student success initiatives, our new Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center, academic residential communities, and academic programs such as our new Black studies minor and Native American and Indigenous studies major. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to correct the actions and inaction of the past. But I have great optimism that we will make progress. As Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Yvette Alex-Assensoh reminded me recently, paraphrasing Dr. Benjamin Mays, the real sin is aiming too low in one’s aspirations.
5. What are you most looking forward to this year?
Being back together on campus—seeing students, staff, and faculty face-to-face again. For most of the pandemic, I continued to come to campus and it just felt empty. I am looking forward to seeing students and colleagues in-person again, instead of on boxes on a computer screen. I am eager to return with vigor to helping our students thrive and building on our academic strengths in our residential campus that is founded on interpersonal collaboration. The pandemic reaffirmed how important it is to be able to be together as a community.
We have overcome so many challenges in the past year-and-a-half. We’ve met them as a community and moved forward together. Certainly, more challenges and opportunities lie ahead, and I am confident we will face them in the same way: together.