September 03, 2020

Letter from President Wiewel, September 3

Welcome back! We approach every fall with a dose of nervous excitement, but this year even more so.

Dear Lewis & Clark Community,

Welcome back! We approach every fall with a dose of nervous excitement, but this year even more so. I’m happy that the semester is now underway. If you’re a newcomer to the community, thank you for joining us. We know that getting acclimated takes time, and we’ll continue to help you however we can.

This fall we have a mix of students, faculty, and staff taking classes, teaching, and working on-campus and in virtual environments. We’re so pleased that our total enrollment is almost the same as last year, and the vast majority of students are with us in person. A tremendous amount of effort went into making that possible. Thank you to everyone who played a vital role over the long summer.

As many of you know, we are fortunate that Oregon has a relatively low and declining COVID-19 infection rate. But we cannot let our guard down. We must act responsibly and follow rules and guidelines on healthy behaviors. The status of any positive COVID-19 tests on our campus can be found on our reporting and notification page. And we have developed a decision-making framework outlining our approaches to in-person instruction and residential life should circumstances begin to change.

While some colleges and universities have been making the news for raucous parties and large outbreaks, we hear almost nothing about the many schools that are quietly doing fine. I would like for Lewis & Clark to be noticed, but only because we are doing well. So far I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing and hearing in each of our three schools. We’re addressing logistical challenges as they arise, and we thank each of you for your flexibility and patience.

No doubt, we have a challenging fall ahead of us. In addition to the ever-present specter of COVID-19, we face extreme national divisiveness during a key national election year. I can’t say this loudly enough: please register and vote! Our democracy depends upon it.

And while a private liberal arts or professional education is in many ways a privilege, I believe it to be an essential part of addressing the problems of society. As I wrote earlier this year in the New Republic:

The liberal arts also enable us to navigate … core challenges arising from our embattled civic order—such as climate change, inequality, mass incarceration, and immigration—while exploring broader, more inclusive conceptions of the common good. Exploring means questioning received truths, being open to new understanding and ways of knowing, to learning that the old things aren’t always the way you thought they were. This is the core method behind educational inquiry of all kinds.

We know too that a strong community leads to better mutual understanding and support. Relationships and communication are key. This is especially evident as we are simultaneously reckoning with issues of racial justice, responses to sexual assault, and very real economic anxiety. Over the course of this year, I have been encouraged by the progress we are able to make–in the wider world and on campus–when we are able to really talk with each other.

The recent events in Kenosha, as well as the ongoing protests here in Portland, keep the issue of racial justice firmly at the center of our attention. Last week, the College of Arts and Sciences faculty and staff devoted a significant portion of its Fall Kick-Off programing to conversation and break-out discussions of antiracist work in the classroom and beyond. New Student Orientation included events that focused on these issues. The Board of Trustees is planning for additional diversity, equity, and inclusion training at its next meeting. A forthcoming update will include some great news about trustee support for a new partnership that will expand our ability to recruit and support Black and other students of color. Later this month, we will share a detailed plan for implementation of the commitments I made in my June 9 letter regarding further actions to address these issues. And please mark your calendars: on September 22, law professors Henry Drummonds and Janet Steverson will join a panel moderated by Professor John Parry on Fairness and Accounting for Portland’s Police. And the student-led 17th Annual Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies is scheduled for November 11 to 13. This year’s events will consider the many ways in which BIPOC individuals navigate the world.

We recently revised our policy on sexual misconduct with the help of students and community members who reviewed and commented on the draft. We have strengthened our focus on serving and supporting students, and our policies and practices surpass the federal Title IX mandates. We have also begun the process of increasing consistency and transparency in our process and procedures.

I wrote the first note of this kind back on March 26, shortly after we de-densified the campus. When I returned to that message I was struck by how that closing still fits our circumstances today:

“As we all continue to navigate uncharted waters, I am reminded, as I’m sure many of you are, of the brilliance, passion, and resilience of our students, staff, and faculty. They continue to inspire me and give me hope. Thank you for all you do as a part of this dynamic community.”

Indeed. Thank you, stay safe, and be well.


Wim Wiewel