Describing it as a difficult but prudent decision, President Michael H. Schill has announced that the University of Oregon will shift to primarily remote instruction for fall term due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 across the country.
The university will welcome first-year students who choose or need to live in campus residence halls this fall — thanks to robust testing, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine programs already in place — and provide them with a wealth of safe, on-campus services for a meaningful first-year experience.
Schill added that in limited circumstances, such as some labs, studio experiences and other small classes, the UO will provide in-person instruction in accordance with health and safety guidelines.
“Much has changed in the months since the UO announced our intention to try to offer an in-person curriculum this fall,” Schill said in an Aug. 26 email to students and employees. “We have learned valuable lessons from other states, communities and institutions of higher education about what works and, more importantly, what does not work as it relates to managing the spread of the coronavirus.”
“We have also listened to you, the members of the UO community,” he added. “We have heard your hopes and concerns.”
Schill cited three main reasons for the pivot to remote instruction: the ongoing development of local COVID testing and contact tracing capacity, the impact on UO employees of many K-12 school districts’ plans to teach online only, and the potential disruption of having to abruptly shift instruction modes midterm as some universities already have done.
To prepare for the shift, UO faculty members have put significant effort into revising courses to deliver high-quality remote and online classes, Schill said.
"When the pandemic first forced us to move to remote instruction during spring term, our faculty rose to the challenge in a very short time to meet the needs of our students,” said Patrick Phillips, the UO’s provost and senior vice president. “We used that experience to learn, make modifications, invest in new support systems, and overall strengthen how we will teach remotely and online for fall term. This is a challenging time for the entire UO community, but I’m fully confident that our faculty and staff will again rise to the occasion and deliver the high-quality instruction our students expect and deserve."
First-year students who live on campus will be provided “a rich and rewarding” experience, Schill said. Students will live in residence halls, eat at dining facilities and have access to a range of in-person academic seminars and faculty-led discussions, dozens of academic residential communities and first-year Interest groups, an expanded faculty fellows program, a full complement of both online and in-person academic and career advisors, more than 300 student clubs and affinity groups, the campus recreation center, and organized outdoor activities.
All students living on campus will be required to be tested for COVID-19 at move-in, again five to seven days later and periodically throughout the term. Contact tracing will be done for any positive cases through Lane County Public Health, with the assistance of the UO student contact tracers in the Corona Corps. The university has set aside isolation and quarantine spaces on campus for students who may need them.
“The safety of our students and employees is our first concern,” said André Le Duc, the UO’s chief resilience officer. “The resumption branch of our incident management team has spent countless hours developing plans and protocols for our residence and dining halls that minimize risk and will allow us to contain possible outbreaks through testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation. All services that will be available to first-year students on campus have gone through extensive vetting to ensure they’re as safe as possible.”
Le Duc added that the university has also put in significant work into preparing classrooms and other shared spaces for the return of students and employees, including reconfiguring and marking furniture to ensure appropriate physical distancing and adjusting air handling systems in buildings to maximize the circulation of outside air wherever possible.
“When we are prepared to bring more instructional offerings back to campus, the spaces will be ready,” Le Duc said.
Even though the UO will be largely remote, most campus amenities, resources and support services — including advising, UO Libraries, Erb Memorial Union, Student Recreation Center and others — will be available for use by all students this fall, providing a mix of in-person and remote services.
The university will soon release more information and details about fall plans, including testing and move-in protocols for first-year students. Additionally, the UO will host a virtual town hall for students Sept. 3 and one for all university employees Sept. 9.
The university will work to expand contact tracing and testing and to meet other infrastructure needs throughout the fall, with the goal of returning to predominantly in-person classes for the beginning of winter quarter in 2021.
Schill urged the campus community to lay the foundation for that return by following the university’s face-coverings and daily symptom self-checks policies, by respecting physical distancing guidelines, and avoiding large social gatherings and other activities that can spread the virus.
“We are all a community of Ducks, so let’s take care of ourselves and each other so that we can beat COVID-19 and return to something akin to normal,” Schill said.
—By Saul Hubbard, University Communications