Normally, my introduction to Oregon Quarterly focuses on the fascinating articles in the magazine. However, in this edition I’m making a change. The COVID-19 pandemic and the movement to address systemic racism are impacting every aspect of the University of Oregon’s mission. I am proud of how we are facing these challenges. Given the unprecedented upheaval facing our nation and its universities, I’d like to answer questions I have heard from our alumni and friends.
1) How are you addressing the challenges presented by COVID-19 for fall term?
We intend to return to in-person instruction in the fall, if it is safe and responsible to do so. We will prioritize health and safety. Also important is to resume, to the extent safely possible, our meaningful residential campus experience for students. Large classes will be taught remotely. Smaller classes, labs, and studios will be in-person, but in larger spaces for physical distancing. Face coverings are required inside all UO buildings. Individuals will be required to stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms. We will test, contact trace, and provide support to students who must isolate. We will ask every member of campus to take precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the virus’ spread. Our work is in partnership with public health agencies and our student leaders.
Click here for more information on how the UO is working to safely reopen campus in Fall 2020.
2) In response to the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movement, you recommended and the Board of Trustees unanimously approved renaming Deady Hall. Why was that the right decision?
Our nation is painfully coming to grips with the reality of systemic racism woven into the fabric of our society for generations. The tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of white policemen, and the spate of other senseless murders of Black people, have refocused our attention on the need to do more, do better, and adopt new approaches to equity, as a nation and a university.
As I stated to the Board of Trustees, it is now clear to me that as long as Matthew Deady’s name remained in a place of honor on our campus, our students of color would not feel valued—they would not feel that this institution is their institution. Our mission is to educate all students—regardless of race, gender, or nationality. Anything that impedes this mission must be seriously addressed. Removing Matthew Deady’s name from a building was appropriate, under the circumstances. Importantly, however, we should learn from history and not cover it up. We will create an appropriate learning experience to describe Deady and his legacy—the good and the bad.
3) The Pioneer and Pioneer Mother statues are in storage after protesters tore them down as “symbols of racism and oppression.” What will happen to them?
The statues will not return to their original locations. Even if those locations were appropriate—and many faculty members, alumni, and students feel they are not—we would not be able to protect them from future vandalism. Instead, we will work with campus stakeholders and the sculptor’s family to find a way to display the statues in an environment that will provide adequate contextualization to explain the role of the pioneers in the history of our state. Over the coming months, a committee will consider the pioneer statues and other artwork on campus, with an eye toward telling the full story of Oregon, in all its complexity. I do not condone the vandalism of the pioneer statues, which violated the principles of law and deliberation that undergird our university.
4) The pandemic and racial unrest made for a tumultuous year capped by moving commencement to a live webcast. What stands out as you consider the 2019–20 academic year?
During this very difficult time, I have been profoundly proud to work shoulder-to-shoulder with our outstanding faculty members, officers of administration, staff, and graduate employees. I am astounded by their work, energy, creativity, and dedication to students.
When the world flipped on its head in March and we had to move to a remote system of learning, research, and work, the university community made a Herculean transformation under great pressure. I am also impressed with the resilience of our students, who overcame daunting uncertainty. Together as a community we came together and persevered. We need to continue in that spirit of unity as we face the challenges of the future.
5) Given COVID-19 and the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement, what do you see for the future of the university?
Our mission of teaching, research, and service is more urgent than ever. The UO and other great research universities play a critical role in discoveries that will help us overcome the pandemic. Universities—as epicenters of social, institutional, and societal change—must also help lead efforts to overcome racism through research and educating the next generation of change makers. While the current crises are testing our world and university, we will push forward, meet the challenges head on, and overcome—together.
Michael H. Schill, President and Professor of Law