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Highlights from Willamette's History

As the First University in the West, Willamette has a rich and complex history. Please read our Land Acknowledgement in recognition of this land and its Indigenous people, then explore the timeline of our university's history spanning from the present all the way back to 1834.

Willamette Timeline: 2010 - Present

2010

The Willamette community heard from two notable people through the Atkinson Lecture Series: novelist John Irving, author of “The World According to Garp” and “The Cider House Rules”; and New York Times journalist David Rohde, who was kidnapped and held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Willamette was one of only six colleges and universities nationwide to receive the Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll Presidential Award, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to service-learning and civic engagement.

In May, Willamette awarded 410 bachelor’s degrees in the College of Liberal Arts, 69 MBA degrees in the Atkinson Graduate School of Management, 138 JD and LLM degrees in the College of Law, and 96 MAT and MEd degrees in the Graduate School of Education.

Marlene Moore was appointed as the new dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

In late August, 432 new first-year and 47 transfer students enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts. Willamette also welcomed 161 first-year law students, 97 new MBA students, 84 new MAT students and 12 new MEd students.

The renovated playhouse debuted in the fall after undergoing a $5.6-million overhaul of the building’s infrastructure, creating a black box theatre and labs for theatre combat training, dance, costumes, acting, prosthetics, digital media and set design.

Willamette had its 10th professor since 1990 win Oregon Professor of the Year: Karen McFarlane Holman, associate professor of chemistry.

The Graduate School of Education became a stand-alone school and earned accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

2011

Former President M. Lee Pelton left Willamette after 13 years of distinguished leadership that helped the university attract some of the best faculty and brightest students while increasing its profile nationwide.

Stephen E. Thorsett became the 25th president of Willamette on July 1. He served previously as the dean of the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz. A noted physicist and astronomy scholar and son of a Willamette professor emeritus, Thorsett returned to Salem and the campus where he spent much of his childhood.

Two highly acclaimed writers visited Willamette as part of the Atkinson Lecture Series: New York Times political columnist David Brooks and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks.

College of Law Dean Symeon C. Symeonides stepped down from his position as dean to focus on teaching and writing full-time. Associate Dean Peter Letsou was named dean.

In May, Willamette awarded 420 bachelor’s degrees to graduates from the College of Liberal Arts; 157 MBA degrees in Atkinson Graduate School of Management; 131 JD and LLM degrees in the College of Law; and 89 MAT and MEd degrees in the Graduate School of Education.

Julie Gess-Newsome became the new dean of the Graduate School of Education.

In August, 623 new members of the class of 2015 enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts. Willamette also welcomed 150 first-year law students; 99 new MBA students; 66 new MAT students and 10 new MEd students.

World-renowned primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall visited in October to discuss the power of youth in the global environmental movement.

2012

The Board of Trustees installed Stephen E. Thorsett as the university’s 25th president on Feb. 10. The ceremony in Smith Auditorium was marked by music and speeches of welcome from representatives of Oregon’s Native American tribes, state and local government and numerous higher education institutions.

More than 200 Willamette University students, faculty and staff joined flood-abatement efforts throughout Salem in January when rainstorms caused the Willamette River to crest at 30 feet — two feet below a major flood stage.

Sixteen years after joining Willamette University’s football coaching staff, Glen Fowles ’96 was named the team’s new head coach Jan. 17. He replaced Mark Speckman, who resigned to become head football coach at Menlo College in California.

In May, Willamette awarded 427 bachelor's degrees to graduates from the College of Liberal Arts; 120 MBA degrees in Atkinson Graduate School of Management; 133 JD and LLM degrees in the College of Law; and 86 MAT and MEd degrees in the Graduate School of Education.

Former Bearcat runner Nick Symmonds ’06 set a personal record time at the London Olympics in August while taking fifth place in the final of the 800-meter run.

In August, Willamette welcomed one of its most diverse College of Liberal Arts classes in university history. The 530 students in the class of 2016 came from 23 states and four countries, and one third came from traditionally under-represented groups. Willamette University’s three graduate schools of education, law and management also welcomed more than 300 new students for the 2012-13 academic year.

A new Multicultural Resource Center — aimed at creating dialogue and engagement on such topics as gender, ability, sexual identity and religion — opened in the fall after being championed by several students. The center is located in Ford Hall.

In December, Curtis Bridgeman was named the new dean of the university’s College of Law.

2013

Politics’ Sammy Basu was named the 2013 Oregon Professor of the Year. Eleven Willamette faculty members have earned the honor since CASE and Carnegie Foundation began granting the award in 1989.

Political commentator Andrew Sullivan and physicist Brian Greene spoke as part of Willamette’s Atkinson Lecture Series, while noted sustainable farmer Joel Salatin visited Willamette as part of the Dempsey Lecture Series.

In May, Willamette awarded nearly 480 bachelor’s degrees from the College of Liberal Arts; 123 JD and LLM degrees from the College of Law; and 91 MBA degrees from the Atkinson Graduate School of Management. In June, the Graduate School of Education awarded 87 MAT and MEd degrees.

Former Willamette University runner Nick Symmonds ’06 earned the silver medal in the 800-meter run at the World Championships in Moscow. and he made international headlines by speaking out for human rights in Russia.

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art unveiled its landmark, “Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth Exhibit,” showcasing 64 objects that represented some of the world’s oldest civilizations.

In August, 552 new students enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts. Willamette also welcomed 124 new first-year law students and 88 new MBA students.

Biology professor Chris Smith was awarded an $850,000 National Science Foundation CAREER grant to support his research studying Joshua trees and yucca moths. The grant — the most prestigious awarded by the NSF — recognizes junior faculty members for their excellence in teaching and research.

Construction commenced on a $6.5 million enhancement of the Sparks Athletic Center. The first of the two-phase project included renovating the fitness center, sports medicine center, multipurpose spaces and the classroom.

With 1,060 game players, the Willamette community helped shatter the world record in the game of Red Light/Green Light.

2014

Conner Mertens '17 came out as bisexual in an article in Outsports magazine — the first college football player in the United States to do so publicly while still playing.

Best-selling author and filmmaker Sherman Alexie and actor and social justice advocate George Takei spoke as part of Willamette’s Atkinson Lecture series, while writer and director Annie Leonard came to Willamette as part of the Dempsey Lecture Series.

For the first time at Willamette University, two students and a choral group were recognized for their musical prowess by DownBeat magazine. Harris Long ’14 was named Best Jazz Soloist and Matt Sazima ’14 won for Best Jazz Arrangement. The Willamette Singers, a 17-member vocal jazz group, was named Best Large Jazz Ensemble. The awards are given to students and student groups from middle schools, high schools and universities from around the world.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave Willamette a $700,000 grant to fund “LARC 2.0: Integration of Research Across the Curriculum.” Through the program, more than 70 courses were developed, redesigned and enriched to include interdisciplinary research and exploration.

With the help of a $400,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, Willamette University implemented a new program to develop intercultural understanding and communication through the study of Asia and environmental sustainability. The grant funded curriculum and faculty development, place-based learning in Japan, symposia and workshops on Asia and environmental sustainability, and the Zena Sustainability Institute — a summer program for Willamette students and students in the American Studies Program.

At Commencement ceremonies, the university awarded degrees to 507 students from the College of Liberal Arts, 119 from the College of Law, and 114 from Atkinson Graduate School of Management.

The Graduate School of Education closed its doors after 26 years, awarding 46 MAT and six Med degrees in June.

In August, 560 new students enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts. An additional 119 and 108 new students enrolled at the College of Law and Atkinson Graduate School of Management, respectively.

The Carson Undergraduate Research Grant program, which funds undergraduates’ scholarly, creative and professional projects, celebrated its 25th anniversary with a reception attended by more than a dozen current and former scholars. Founder Bill Long ’59 and former College of Liberal Arts Dean Julie Carson — for whom the program was named — were also in attendance.

The College of Law ranked first in the Pacific Northwest for placing graduates in full-time, long-term, JD-preferred/JD-required jobs for the Class of 2014.

Associate professor of art history Ricardo De Mambro Santos helped discover a previously unknown 17th century portrait painted by Peter Paul Rubens.

In fall, the university debuted its new flagship publication, Willamette magazine.

Businessweek ranked the Atkinson Graduate School of Management among the nation’s best business schools. AGSM was the only Oregon school on the list and one of two in the Northwest.

2015

The OnStage blog named Willamette’s theatre program as the nation’s best.

Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, dished out business advice at the March Atkinson Lecture. Robert Edsel, best-selling author and founder of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, took listeners on a World War II treasure hunt in the October Atkinson Lecture. Internationally renowned Chinese activist Ma Jun spoke about environmental reform in the Dempsey Lecture.

For the second time in three years, visiting English professor Andrea Stolowitz won an Oregon Book Award.

For the second straight year, DownBeat magazine named the Willamette Singers as Best Undergraduate Large Vocal Jazz Ensemble.

Christian Oldham ’14, MBA’15 became the first Willamette student to win the prestigious national Luce Scholar fellowship.

Atkinson Graduate School of Management celebrated its 40th anniversary.

Willamette was named to the 2014 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Each year, Willamette students, faculty and staff volunteer about 67,000 hours.

In May, Willamette celebrated Commencement with the Class of 2015, awarding degrees to 507 students from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 119 from the College of Law, and 81 early career and career-change MBA students from the AGSM.

Willamette reclaimed its Red Light/Green Light world record when 1,203 people played the game on the Quad.

Princeton Review’s popular guidebook, “The Best 380 Colleges,” named Willamette University as one of the nation’s top green colleges. Ranked 13th among environmentally friendly and sustainable colleges, Willamette scored all possible 99 points.

The men’s cross country athletes won the team title for the fourth year in a row at the Northwest Conference Championships. The women’s team scored a second straight NCAA West Regional title.

Assistant Professor of Psychology Courtney Stevens was featured in NerdScholar’s “40 Under 40: Professors Who Inspire.”

Symeon Symeonides, law professor and dean emeritus, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Comparative Law.

Valery Cleary became the first Black woman to serve as Willamette’s director of athletics, overseeing all varsity sports.

Professor of Exercise and Health Science Peter Harmer received the 2015 Mentor Award from the Medical Research Foundation, administered by the Oregon Health and Science University.

2016

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Leonard Pitts Jr. spoke during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. The Atkinson Lecture Series featured two best-selling authors: Reza Aslan presented “Holy Wars: Religion and Violence at Home and Abroad,” and Roxane Gay read from her collection of essays, “Bad Feminist.”

History professor Bianca Murillo became the 15th Willamette professor to receive the Graves Award in the Humanities.

Willamette’s CLA Academic Council endorsed a recommendation by the Faculty Admission Committee to adopt a standardized test-optional admission process beginning in fall 2017.

Ruth Feingold started her tenure as dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Former CLA Dean and longtime Professor of English Carol Long returned to serve as interim senior vice president and eventually was named provost and senior vice president.

On May 15, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown gave the commencement address for the College of Liberal Arts ceremony. Willamette awarded degrees to 366 students from the College of Liberal Arts, 141 from the College of Law and 92 students from AGSM’s Early Career and Career Change MBA.

Psychology professor Courtney Stevens received a national award for teaching excellence from the American Psychological Association’s Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

Law student Melissa Cohen JD ’18 became the fourth consecutive Willamette student elected as Pacific Northwest regional director for the National Asian Pacific American Law Students Association.

The university was named one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright Scholars for the 2015-16 academic year — one of only two undergraduate colleges in Oregon to make the list.

In August, Emilio Solano ’09 was named executive director of Willamette Academy.

Students and community members packed Cat Cavern to watch and discuss the Clinton-Trump debates in three DebateWatch events hosted by civic communication and media students.

In October, students competed in the first WU EcoChallenge to see which residence hall could most reduce their energy consumption.

Director of Native American Programs Liz Bahe, Sadarah Witherspoon ’17, Montreal Gray ’19 and Alexus Uentillie ’19 spent winter break at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation supporting the protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline by feeding the fires, restocking supplies and serving food.

The Willamette Science Outreach Program, also known as the Webber Scholars, celebrated its 20th anniversary of scholarships for women in STEM and programming that mixes teaching, peer mentorship and work within the community.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry David Griffith received a three-year, $325,157 National Science Foundation grant to investigate the chemical factors that control halogenated estrogen and the results of releasing the hormone into aquatic environments.

2017

On Feb. 1, Willamette celebrated its 175th anniversary and kicked off a year of special events themed “Future First.”

Three Department of English faculty members, Danielle Cadena Deulen, Scott Nadelson and Andrea Stolowitz, were named finalists for the 2017 Oregon Book Awards.

In February, author, journalist and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates gave a combined Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration speech and Atkinson Lecture, “A Deeper Black: Race in America.” Journalist, activist and author Masha Gessen delivered the fall Atkinson Lecture, “What Russia Can Teach Us About the United States.” Indian Country Conversations featured Burns Paiute Tribal Councilman Jarvis Kennedy and Oregon’s Poet Laureate Elizabeth Woody.

Willamette MBA Professor of Management Practice Larry Ettner guided his 100th team through the Practical Application for Careers and Enterprises program, which he’d led for nearly a decade.

Professor of Sociology Jade Aguilar became the university’s first Vice President of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

The College of Liberal Arts conferred 374 degrees, Atkinson Graduate School of Management graduated a combined 113 MBA and MBA-P students, and the College of Law graduated 109 students. Speakers included Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. (CLA), President of the Oregon State Bar Michael D. Levelle JD'90 (Law), and President and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance Sandra McDonough (MBA).

Sparks Athletic Center’s renovation earned a U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification.

The Office of Foundation Relations and Office for Faculty Research and Resources were combined into the Office of Grants and Strategic Initiatives in order to generate, refine and connect creative ideas that advance the university’s strategic priorities.

Groundskeeper Jim Andersen and the grounds crew won Large Sustainable Business of the Year at the 2017 Mid-Willamette Valley Green Awards.

Atkinson Graduate School of Management was named a CEO Magazine Tier 1 MBA program for the second year in a row. In its “Best Business Schools” list, Forbes ranked Willamette MBA the top program in Oregon. For the fourth consecutive year, Bloomberg Businessweek named Willamette MBA one of the 85 Best Business Schools in the United States and as the top-listed Oregon program.

The Sexual Assault Response Allies (SARAs), who provide victims of sexual assault the option of speaking confidentially and anonymously to a fellow student, celebrated 10 years of service.

On Aug. 21, hundreds of scientists from around the world and about 2,000 visitors packed the North Lawn to view a total solar eclipse. PBS NOVA, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, The Weather Channel, NPR and OPB covered the viewing party — “The Phenomenon on the Lawn.” For its coverage of the event, University Communications won the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil Award.

Assistant Professor of Music Héctor Agüero was one of 22 Oregon artists awarded a Career Opportunity Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission.

Assistant Professor of Civic Communication and Media Vincent Pham received the Outstanding New Investigator Award from the Critical/Cultural Division of the National Communication Association (NCA).

In July, Willamette University President Steve Thorsett and Claremont School of Theology President Jeffrey Kuan announced the schools would begin due diligence to explore embedding Claremont within Willamette University.

Waller Hall, the oldest university building west of the Mississippi River still in use, turned 150 years old Oct. 23.

Men’s Cross Country won its sixth consecutive Northwest Conference Championship. Men’s Soccer won its first Northwest Conference Championship and secured its first NCAA tournament berth in team history.

Melissa Cohen JD’18 and Megan Oshiro JD’18 were named Students of the Year at the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Convention.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities chose to feature Willamette’s Department of Civic Communication and Media as one of 22 models of civic learning for universities nationwide.

The National Science Foundation awarded Willamette $646,986 as part of the NSF’s national S-STEM Program, which offers scholarships for underrepresented students with financial need to pursue bachelor’s degrees in biology, chemistry, computer science, pre-engineering, mathematics or physics.

After a three-year hiatus, the annual Star Trees Lighting resumed at the Holiday Celebration to close the celebration of Willamette's 175th anniversary.

2018

Assistant Professor of English Danielle Cadena Deulen won a 2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship from Literary Arts.

During January’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, Andre E. Johnson (University of Memphis) gave the lecture, “Why America May Go to Hell: The Prophetic Pessimism of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Trump Era.”

Peg Swadener was named Northwest Conference Women's Basketball Coach of the Year after leading the Bearcats to second place in the conference tournament. Kylie Towry ’18 became the Bearcats' all-time scoring leader in women's basketball with 1,433 points.

Professor Maegan Parker Brooks (civic communication and media, American ethnic studies), in partnership with critically acclaimed filmmakers, civil rights scholars and Tougaloo College, received a $272,106 W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant to produce a documentary and curriculum about civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer.

The Renjen Center, the new home of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Student Center for Equity & Empowerment, was dedicated in March.

Sabrina Hockett won Top Paper at the 2018 WSCA Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference with her essay, “Public Criticism, Gender, and President Trump’s Twitter.”

Shelby Smith JD’18 and Erin Roycroft JD’18 were named Next Generation Leaders for the American Constitution Society, a rare feat for two students from the same school to accomplish in the same year.

The College of Liberal Arts conferred 395 degrees, Atkinson Graduate School of Management awarded 118 degrees and the College of Law conferred 91 degrees. Commencement speakers included pianist and Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale (CLA), 36th Governor of Oregon Theodore R. Kulongoski (AGSM) and Oregon Supreme Court Justice Lynn Nakamoto (Law).

Dean of the Atkinson School of Management Debra Ringold returned to the faculty at the conclusion of the 2017–18 academic year. Professor Mike Hand served as interim dean before eventually assuming the role permanently in May 2019.

Men’s Baseball won the 2018 Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament and secured a bid in the NCAA Tournament. As the lowest seed in the West Regional, the Bearcats advanced to the finals before falling to Texas Lutheran.

Golfer Sam Hinton ’19 sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to take first place at the 2018 Northwest Conference Tournament.

Jack Glenn ’20 and Christopher Gatling ’21 took first and second places at the Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Contest.

The Organization of American Historians named Professor of History Seth Cotlar one of 26 2018 OAH Distinguished Lecturers.

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University named Assistant Professor of English Stephanie DeGooyer the 2018–19 Frieda L. Miller Fellow.

Professor of Marketing Elliot Maltz was awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, his second Fulbright in five years.

National Communication Association named Cindy Koenig Richards ’01, associate professor of civic communication and media, the recipient of the Donald H. Ecroyd Award for Outstanding Teaching in Higher Education, the highest honor for college professors in this field.

Professor of Psychology Courtney Stevens and her colleague, Professor Amanda Hampton Wray at Michigan State University, received a $469,903 Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for their project, “Attentional Control in Children Who Stutter.”

The Gender Resource and Advocacy Center opened in the Montag Loft.

Women’s Cross Country won the Northwest Conference Championship.

2019

In February, the College of Liberal Arts faculty approved new majors in data science and public health. The programs commenced in August.

The women’s lacrosse team defeated Johnson & Wales University (Denver) 16–5 in their first match at Sparks Field in February.

In May 2019, the boards of trustees from Willamette University and Claremont School of Theology approved an affiliation agreement, bringing together the two institutions in a common mission to educate students and prepare them for lives that contribute to and transform their communities.

The university conferred 374 CLA degrees, 106 Willamette MBA degrees and 91 Willamette Law degrees. Commencement speakers included astrophysicist Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (CLA), Albertsons Vice President of External Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Jonathan O. Mayes, Esq. JD’87 (Law), and CEO of Deloitte Global Punit Renjen MM’86 (MBA).

The College of Law posted top employment numbers in the state of Oregon for the class of 2018 and had the top numbers in six of the previous seven years.

Willamette ranked No. 9 in the nation for small college Peace Corps volunteers. The university ranked among the top small colleges 15 of the past 17 years.

On June 1, 2019, Lynne Saxton ’76 became the first woman to lead Willamette University’s Board of Trustees.

College of Law Professor and internationally recognized children’s rights advocate Warren Binford and a team of lawyers discovered hundreds of refugee and immigrant children whose basic standards of living were being violated at Border Patrol facilities in Clint, Texas. Binford was featured across dozens of news media outlets advocating for the protection and care of these children. A number of law students joined Binford at the border to fight for these children’s rights and protections.

The MBA for Professionals program began offering a Certificate in Data Science.

On March 1, Willamette Law alumnus and Governor Jay Inslee JD’76, D–Wash., announced his candidacy for president of the United States with a platform centered on combating climate change. Jamal Raad ’08 served as Inslee’s campaign director. Islee suspended his campaign in August.

Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings named Willamette eighth in the nation for best student and faculty interaction out of nearly 1,000 colleges and universities. U.S. News and World Report ranked Willamette the highest of Oregon's liberal arts schools.

National Jurist magazine recognized the College of Law as one of the best law schools in the country at placing students in jobs at firms with fewer than 100 attorneys.

Atkinson Graduate School of Management expanded its offerings to include a new undergraduate minor in business, government and not-for-profit management.

Forbes magazine featured Willamette MBA as the sole Oregon entry on its biannual “Best Business Schools” list.

The National Science Foundation granted $999,899 to Advancing STEM Careers by Empowering Network Development, a collaboration led by Willamette Professor of Chemistry Sarah Kirk that involved six partner institutions and participants from schools nationwide.

Emma Giron ’18 became Willamette’s first graduate to receive the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellowship for foreign service through the U.S. Department of State.

Stephen Patterson, George H. Atkinson professor of religious and ethical studies, received the 2020 Grawemeyer Award, an honor recognizing the most outstanding ideas in religion, music composition, world order, psychology and education.

In October, the board of trustees voted to rename the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS). The official effective date for the change was the start of the 2020–21 academic year, but CAS was in common usage by Commencement in May.

In December, Brian R. Gallini was named dean of the College of Law. Galini came to Willamette from University of Arkansas School of Law, where he served as professor of criminal law, director of distance learning initiatives and head coach of men’s ice hockey. Galini started his tenure at Willamette Law in July 2020.

2020

In January, Willamette Men’s Basketball Head Coach Kip Ioane gained national recognition in an NCAA magazine cover story for his Teams of Men program, which nurtures a culture of healthy masculinity amid a national college culture of prevalent sexual violence toward women.

FamilyCare Health President and CEO Jeff Heatherington LHD ’65 and the Heatherington Foundation made a $6 million endowed gift to take Willamette’s public health program to the next level.

Best-selling author and Founding President of Interfaith Youth Core Eboo Patel delivered the Atkinson Lecture, “Diversity is not just the differences you like.”

In March, the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic took the United States by storm. Willamette closed its campus to everyone except staff essential to maintaining operations and services for the couple hundred students who remained on campus. All classes and meetings were restructured to be held remotely via the Zoom app. Tokyo International University recalled the American Studies Program to Japan, and Tokyo International University of America shut down completely. All athletics and arts performances were canceled. Faculty, staff and students volunteered for the pandemic mitigation efforts by sewing masks, making large vats of hand sanitizer and repurposing unused computers for the worldwide network calculating COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations. The newly formed Reopening Operations Committee created a plan to allow classes to resume on campus in August. Students and professors had the option of holding and attending fall classes in person or remotely. All community members on campus signed the WU Well U Agreement to follow the university’s COVID-19 protocols.

In May, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. The Black Lives Matter movement led nationwide protests that continued throughout the summer and fall. When classes resumed in the fall, Willamette launched a number of initiatives on antiracism, inclusion and diversity, such as the “Reckoning with Oregon’s History Discussion Series,” the College of Arts & Sciences Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and new curriculum, such as the Willamette Law course “Police Discretion.”

Amid unprecedented stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, the community gathered online for virtual Commencement ceremonies and smaller group celebrations and gatherings on Zoom. The College of Arts & Sciences celebrated 349 undergraduates and featured speaker Alexandra Binder ’20. Atkinson Graduate School of Management recognized 119 graduates, including those in the new Data Science for Professionals program, and featured speaker Melissa Joe ’20, president of the Atkinson Student Association. The College of Law honored 108 graduates and featured speaker Meagan A. Flynn ’89, associate justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.

For fiscal year 2020, advancement raised $19.1 million in new gifts and commitments, the third highest FY total in the university’s history and the highest total since President Thorsett's inauguration.

In September, unprecedented wildfires throughout the western U.S. burned more than 1 million acres in Oregon and killed at least 11 Oregonians. Willamette’s beloved Thetford Lodge burned along with thousands of homes and businesses. For 11 consecutive days, the skies of Salem were black, red, orange and grey. Smoke and air quality was in the hazardous range, forcing classes to be held remotely.

In September, Willamette University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) announced an agreement for the Northwest’s oldest professional school of art and design to become an independent college within Willamette.

U.S. News and World Report named Willamette University the best in the Pacific Northwest for economic diversity.