January 14, 2021

Letter from President Wiewel, January 14

Over the winter break, I had planned to send you a simple positive note to begin the spring semester. But, while I continue to be hopeful for the year ahead, 2021 has already been profoundly unsettling and disturbing.

Dear Lewis & Clark Community,


Over the winter break, I had planned to send you a simple positive note to begin the spring semester. But, while I continue to be hopeful for the year ahead, 2021 has already been profoundly unsettling and disturbing.


Last week’s attacks on our democracy surpassed many of our worst nightmares. I’ve expressed before my grave misgivings about the direction of politics in our nation: the turn away from facts and truth, from civility, and toward authoritarianism. Lies and conspiratorial fantasy have taken great hold. That mobs would go as far as attempting to violently subvert the legitimate election outcome is not something I expected to see in my lifetime. If you haven’t seen my comments from last week, you may find them here. While events on the national stage have rightly captured so much of our attention and concern, we must maintain our focus on the task of educating students this semester and cultivating our worldwide community of critical thinkers.


One of the most encouraging developments of last year was the level of engagement, especially from alumni, in our virtual events and programming. The ability to be involved, regardless of geography, and the ways in which Zoom and other electronic tools have encouraged participation in classes and meetings by those who might otherwise not speak up has been an unexpected benefit of our circumstances. We will remember these lessons and will continue to use these powerful tools.


We start the new year with a resolve to make a success of this semester, even without yet having mass immunization against COVID-19. Although we have not received information from the state of Oregon about how or when vaccines will be made available to college students and employees, we intend to move quickly once we know more. The widespread vaccination of our community is crucial to our ability to return to more normal operations, particularly for our residential students. We are working closely with the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the Oregon Health Authority to make sure members of our community get vaccinated expeditiously. We’ll share more with you as we receive information and guidance from the state.


Until then, we cannot let our guard down when it comes to limiting the transmission of the virus. While we saw a slight uptick in positive cases at the end of last semester, our protocols and procedures were working, and our community’s adherence to public health rules and care for each other was key to keeping infection rates extremely low. Given the prevalence of the virus in our nation, we must continue to make the right choices in our behavior.


We will use what we learned last fall as we aim to replicate our successes. Students in each or our three schools have been asked to self-isolate before arrival. All will be tested, including faculty and staff who are coming to campus, and all classes will be virtual during the first week of the semester. Even more residential students will be joining us on campus this semester, and again we’ll be using effluent testing as an early-warning system for the presence of the coronavirus in our residence halls. As the semester proceeds, we anticipate conducting more mass testing than we did last fall.


I cannot express how much I look forward to a time when we’re gathered together in person in larger groups and without PPE. I miss the easy camaraderie, the social functions, the in-person lectures, and meeting alumni and donors on the road. Although we’ve gotten better at the substitutes and workarounds, it is not the same thing. Until then, we will remain vigilant and do the good hard work.


As most of you know, the Bates Center for Entrepreneurship and Leadership’s virtual Winterim experience will conclude tomorrow. As always, they’ve had some terrific speakers and great work by the students. And I highly encourage everyone to consider joining us for the Law School’s “Lessons of Martin Luther King Jr. in Oregon Courtrooms” event next Monday, January 18, at 5 p.m. Pacific. The virtual presentation will feature three of our Black alumni who are judges across the state.


All the best,


Wim Wiewel