March 15, 2020
Thank You Bearcats
I want to thank everyone who has been working hard in the last week to prepare the Willamette community for the challenge of the global coronavirus pandemic. Our highest priority is the health of our students, faculty, and staff, and of the broader community beyond Willamette. To that end, we continue to follow the recommendations and guidance of the Centers for Disease Control, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and the state's Higher Education Coordinating Commission. But there is still much that is not known about COVID-19, its epidemiology, and optimal public health strategies. In this unpredictable and dynamic environment, I am particularly grateful for the leadership of Bishop Wellness Center director Don Thomson and the members of the task forces that are meeting seven days a week to guide Willamette’s response.
I am grateful for the faculty and staff who are working to ensure that Willamette’s important educational mission is also sustained. It is hard not to feel great sadness for our students, particularly our seniors, who have already had study-abroad programs disrupted, events canceled, and the athletic season ended.
This week will likely have additional bumps and frustrations as we move to distance learning methods, but I have confidence that we are all going to figure out how to continue to provide our high-quality, personalized, rigorous programs, including the various support services many students rely upon.
Campus operations will also be in a transitional period this week as we adapt to a smaller campus population and continue to implement federal and state recommendations for “social distancing”. The campus remains open to students, staff, and faculty, including the residence halls and dining (although Bon Appetit is making operational changes in response to OHA recommendations and changing demand). We will be closing all facilities including our dining halls to members of the general public.
Tomorrow there will be a general COVID-19 update message with more specific information about adjustments to campus operations. Our goal is to provide daily operational updates, most likely integrated in the existing Today@ bulletin, even if there is no new news to report. I anticipate using my weekly Words from Waller for more general community updates.
I know there is considerable interest and concern about the long-term course of the pandemic and what it means for Willamette’s operations after April 12. We will make and communicate decisions about a return to in-person instruction and about spring events, including commencement, no later than April 3.
Although many of us remain on campus, I am asking that we be thoughtful about limiting in-person contact, especially for those in vulnerable populations. Most meetings can be moved to Zoom or Facetime or to the old fashioned telephone. I suggest that even those who are not in vulnerable groups avoid crowded environments, whether on campus or off. Our goal of maintaining an open, healthy campus depends on everyone doing their part.
There is nothing natural or appealing about social distancing. The best I can promise is that this, too, shall pass, though whether it is weeks or months until normalcy returns is something nobody knows. Please stay in touch with each other in every way you can. As a parent of a child who lives far away, let me make a special plea to those who are remaining on campus to think of friends and family far away who may be worrying about you. Give them a call.
With sincere thanks for your patience and flexibility,