Recent Updates

Dear Willamette students,

I write on behalf of Willamette’s Reopening Operations Committee (ROC) to share key aspects of our current plans to welcome students, faculty, and staff back to campus in the fall. Thank you for your patience as we have awaited state guidance.

As we reopen the university, our goal is to provide the highest-quality programs while protecting the health and safety of our community. This will require cooperation and flexibility from everyone and an understanding that even as we move past the extreme isolation of the last few months, it will still be far from business-as-usual this fall.

The ROC and its associated working groups have been developing policies and procedures for social distancing; personal protective equipment use; virus testing; classroom configuration and course schedules; dining; large events; and more. They must prepare both a baseline scenario and contingency plans to allow for our still-evolving understanding of the disease and the pandemic.

Highlights of the planned changes include:

  • A Fall 2020 semester calendar starting Monday, August 24, and finishing on Wednesday, November 25. Labor Day will be an instructional day, and fall break is eliminated, in the interest of reducing student travel to and from campus;
  • Reassignments of campus space to reduce density in classrooms, workplaces, and residence halls, and the use of physical barriers and masks when needed to augment distancing strategies;
  • New protocols for enhanced cleaning and disinfection of facilities;
  • Collaboration with local public health authorities for virus testing, contact tracing, and isolation, and quarantine protocols for the event of exposure or illness.


As noted, in-person instruction for all schools will begin Monday, August 24, and end Wednesday, November 25. Final exams will be administered online or through other alternate means, beginning Monday, November 30. In most cases, students should plan to return home from Thanksgiving until the start of the spring semester in January. Resident students needing an exemption (including some athletes) may request a waiver to remain on campus after the end of classes, but should not plan to travel outside the Salem area at Thanksgiving.

Claremont School of Theology is on a slightly different schedule with hybrid classes starting on August 24 and in-person classes beginning on Tuesday, September 1.

Opening Days and arrival information varies by college:

  • College of Arts and Sciences - Move-in will be by appointment, to manage group size and crowding. New undergraduate students will move in on either August 18 or August 19, depending on the assigned advising group. Students will be informed of their move-in day in early July, and will then sign up for a specific time. Other residential students will be asked to register for a move-in time on either August 22 or August 23.
  • College of Law - Orientation for first-year students is scheduled for Monday, August 17, through Wednesday, August 19, and will include a mix of online and in-person activities.
  • Atkinson Graduate School of Management - Compass Week orientation goes from Monday, August 17 through Friday, August 21, and will be in-person with an option to participate remotely. The required International Orientation for international students will be held on Friday, August 14. International students should connect with the Office of International Education to participate remotely.


Maximum classroom capacities will be reduced to meet state density standards, and audio and video technology has been installed whenever possible to support mixed-mode teaching and learning to allow the full participation of those who, because of either chronic or transient needs, cannot safely be physically present in class.

Residence hall density will be reduced, and no rooms will house more than two students. Common areas are being reconfigured to support physical distancing.


Planning continues on ways to maximize dining options and flexibility while reducing density and eliminating high-risk features like buffet lines. Still under review are options such as staggering course schedules to reduce times of particular crowding, as well as dining space expansions with covered outdoor seating. Goudy will not be open to the public this fall, focusing on students with meal plans. Faculty, staff, and non-resident students will find Grab and Go options at the University Center (in the former Mill Stream Market) and at Rick's Cafe. Kaneko Cafe will be closed at least through fall semester.

We anticipate that the Bistro will be open. Bon Appetit staff are helping develop plans for Bistro traffic flow, seating and food service options.


Bishop Wellness Center expects to have adequate in-house capacity to do COVID-19 testing of students who are symptomatic or who have had close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19 status. Employee testing will, in most cases, be done through local providers under the university’s employee health insurance plan. Working closely with the local county health department and the Oregon Health Authority, Willamette has developed plans and identified appropriate spaces on campus to isolate students who are sick and quarantine those who may have been exposed. We will work closely with these county and state officials to manage an outbreak if it occurs, and will support contact tracing protocols. In what we hope is the unlikely event of a serious illness, we have a major regional health center with substantial experience treating Covid cases right across the street from campus.

Here are other key aspects of our reopening plans:

  • Consistent with the Governor’s order and public health recommendations, masks are required to be worn inside buildings on campus (including classrooms, workspaces and meeting rooms) and in other settings where maintaining 6 feet of distance is not feasible, both indoors and outdoors. For students without a mask, Willamette will provide washable, cloth face coverings. Students unable to wear a mask for health reasons, or for whom masks create a barrier to educational resources (e.g., for a student dependent on lip-reading), should contact the Accessible Education Office before returning to campus so an accommodation can be identified.
  • To limit channels for disease transmission and to facilitate contact tracing, campus spaces and buildings may be used only for official university business, remaining closed to the general public until further notice.
  • Students, staff, and faculty will be asked to conduct a self-check for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to campus every day.
  • Signage will be used to remind everyone on campus of the importance of simple public health practices, including handwashing and/or the use of hand sanitizers, physical distancing, and the wearing of masks.
  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfection of campus spaces and the installation of plexiglass barriers in offices that experience high foot traffic will augment these basic precautions.

As long as it is, this letter captures only a broad view of the preparation work underway, and I’m sure it raises as many new questions as it answers. In the weeks ahead, as we and the health offices that support us continue to work towards a fully articulated infectious disease management plan, we’ll continue to provide updates and details. As updates become more detailed, we may target information to specific groups (such as faculty, graduate students, etc.), but all of the material will also be incorporated into our reopening website starting next week.

This is a new situation for all of us and not one that anybody would choose. But as we think about the ways that life on campus must be different this fall, I can’t help but reflect on how these months of social isolation have made me even more excited than I usually am about Opening Days and the annual autumnal renewal of our vibrant academic community.

We are fortunate to be part of a human-scale university, filled with creative people who are committed to finding ways to be safe in these unprecedented times without giving up the things that make Willamette such a special place. I want to make a special call-out to everyone on the Reopening Operations Committee and its subgroups, who are even now thinking about everything from lab safety to employee travel to football practices. Every activity, every space, every process is being carefully considered through a pandemic and equity lens, so we will be ready for a safe and successful 2020-21 academic year. We look forward to seeing you in eight weeks!

Steve Thorsett

Dear Willamette Community,

Now that the class of 2020 has been successfully launched, our full attention turns to planning for fall and the preparations needed for the return of students and employees to campus.

As I noted in an earlier Words from Waller, the recent improvements in the public health situation in our region, along with draft guidance from the state and information from local health providers, have given us confidence that we will be able to return to in-person instruction in August safely. Today I want to share more details about the work being done to ensure that plans and protocols are in place, and that all members of the community understand their roles in protecting the health of themselves and others.

Our work is led by the same task force that developed our initial response to the crisis, now shifting its focus to planning for the resumption of our operations, as well as for various possible scenarios if the pandemic re-emerges into active growth in the fall or winter.

The Reopening Operations Committee (ROC) has segmented its work, led by four members of the university’s leadership team:

  • Academics (led by Provost Carol Long): instruction, technology infrastructure and academic services
  • Student Services (led by Don Thomson, Bishop Wellness Center Director in June and then Lisa Landreman, incoming VP for Student Affairs in July): housing, dining, and campus life
  • Human Resources (led by Shana Sechrist, VP for Human Resources and Risk Management): return to work plans for faculty and staff
  • Facilities and Physical Spaces (led by Dan Valles, VP for Finance): operations, capacity adjustments, protective equipment, cleaning

Within the ROC are workgroups formulating operational plans about public health protocols and education, research protocols, classroom structure and preparedness, housing protocols, dining protocols, and athletics.

All work is referenced back to county, regional, state, and federal public guidance, with allowance for the evolution of that guidance as more is learned about the epidemiology of the virus and testing and treatment protocols improve. It will be essential in the year ahead that Willamette University remains prepared to adapt nimbly, just as we successfully did in March with our shift to distance education.

If reliance on the guidance of the public health experts at the Oregon Health Authority and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which is aimed at protecting the health and safety of our community members is our first principle for fall planning, our second is to focus on our core educational mission. It is the value of what we do in our classrooms and labs, our studios, and performance spaces that makes it so essential that we get back to that work as soon as possible this fall.

The ROC will send regular updates this summer as decisions are finalized about any necessary adjustments to our normal operations. Information will also be shared on our website.

One of the first important changes we are making is to our academic calendar to limit the number of times students must travel long distances to and from campus while maintaining the normal semester length.

In-person instruction in the undergraduate college will begin about a week earlier than previously planned, on Monday, August 24. Labor Day and the previously-scheduled mid-semester break day will be used as instructional days, and fall semester classes will end on Wednesday, November 25, after which students will return home until the start of the spring semester in January. Final exams will be administered online beginning Monday, November 30. (Students without home internet access may request an exception to be allowed to remain on campus for final exams.)

Detailed scheduling information for orientation, move-in and opening days will be shared directly with students next week.

As you know, for now, Willamette continues to operate under the Governor’s Executive Order limiting in-person activity on university campuses through June 13. Despite the anticipated expiration of that order, the Willamette campus will remain closed to the public through July, and those employees who can work at home will continue to be required to do so until August 1. Any requests for expanded use of campus spaces in June or July must be approved in advance by a dean or vice president, to ensure they are properly aligned with our health and safety guidelines.

I appreciate that there are many questions about everything from dining services to athletics to requirements for the use of personal protective equipment. Our immediate priorities include addressing long lead-time facility needs, finalizing course capacity decisions that might require adjustments of teaching schedules, and preparing residence hall plans, but be assured that the ROC is carefully tracking concerns raised by students, staff, and faculty, and will respond to them in the weeks ahead.



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