April 09, 2020

Letter from President Wiewel, April 9

Are we settling into a new normal? No one can answer with confidence. But for most of us, I think, each day is no longer built entirely from scratch…

Dear Lewis & Clark Community,

Are we settling into a new normal? No one can answer with confidence. But for most of us, I think, each day is no longer built entirely from scratch. We’re past the beginning transitions of a few weeks ago. Some still live on campus and others head there regularly to maintain vital services. It is beautiful as always, but it is also quiet and not the same. We’ve set up home offices and classrooms, we’ve negotiated with loved ones or roommates about who gets the best workspace or the best light or both, and we’ve mostly figured out how to get groceries. We might say we’re moving toward a rhythm if not quite a routine.

Some of us saw evidence of that on Tuesday afternoon during the College of Arts and Sciences faculty meeting. As Zoom met Robert’s Rules of Order, more than 120 professors remotely conducted the usual business of the spring semester and moved forward by approving a new Health Studies minor. Even before recent events, national trends showed that undergraduate public health degrees are increasing in popularity. We know too that we are likely to increase enrollment and retention by leveraging our strengths to better serve interested students with an interdisciplinary minor as well as a new curricular and co-curricular home. Yesterday was a big step in that direction.

Meanwhile, our Graduate School has for a number of weeks now been providing telecounseling to individuals and families in need. This vital work provides steady access to community mental health resources as well as required practical experience for our licensure candidates. So too, the students, staff, and faculty in our legal clinics continue working with clients they can no longer meet with in person. Each day we refine and use the tools at hand to fulfill our mission.

And while our conversations with donors no longer happen at coffee shops or lunch spots, they are happening. Many in our community of alumni and supporters are eager to talk about how they can help us reach our goals. Just yesterday Pamplin Professor Emeritus of History Stephen Dow Beckham presented “Changes in the Land: Oregon 1800 to 2020,” to an online audience of more than 125 alumni and parents. Even when “retired,” we do not stop.

All that said, there’s so much that is not normal. There’s so much yet unknown. In many areas of the country and the world, the peak of the disease is yet to come, and there may be second and third waves until we have adequate treatments or new vaccines.

So as an institution we are thinking through and planning for difficult scenarios. We need to prepare for a potentially lower student population of new and returning students. We must consider the possible need for online instruction beyond this semester. We must consider the possibility that Overseas Study may be limited this fall. We must think about how and when to take full advantage of state and federal help available to individuals and organizations. Simply said, the road ahead is not clear or easy. But I know we have the resilience and resources to do much more than survive.

I wish to acknowledge, too, that as individuals our circumstances and needs vary, sometimes day to day. We worry about ourselves, our families and friends, our countries. If you are struggling, reach out. Beyond trusted advisors, mentors, and friends, there are institutional resources available to you. But you might also feel lonely when you hang up the phone or log out of a chat. We miss the in-person faces, the ability to scan a room, to hear the chatter at the end of class and the sidebars after a meeting ends. And we are often tired. It’s like when we learn a new language, or begin speaking it all the time when we arrive in a new country: our brains are working overtime.

As you may already know, I often turn to the words of our own Kim Stafford at times like these. In addition to being a teacher and administrator at the Graduate School, Kim is Oregon’s poet laureate. He has embarked on a pandemic poems project, which the Oregonian will feature this weekend. I’ll leave you for now with one of his new poems. Worth noting, too, that we presented Dr. Anthony Fauci with an honorary degree when he was our CAS commencement speaker back in 2004. Small world.

Dr. Fauci’s Smile

Now we live for the day
the good doctor can stand
at the microphone, his
furrowed brow softening,
a modern renaissance beginning
as a wistful Mona Lisa smile
slowly ghosts his face, and he
speaks the four-beat line:

       We got through it.

What does it take to get there?
Shelter in place. Lead a simple life.
Learn how little you need.
Prepare to smile.