Letter from President Wiewel, Feb. 25, 2021
Dear Lewis & Clark Community,
We all knew that this spring semester would be another test for us. Despite our great success last fall, we expected that delivering our highly personal form of education and experiences would not get easier in the middle of a pandemic.
What we didn’t expect: an ice storm of historic proportions that knocked out electricity for much of the Portland metropolitan area for multiple days. We were fortunate to regain power on the undergraduate campus within 24 hours of loss. Nevertheless, operations were disrupted, and we were closed for all instruction for two days. The campus suffered the collapse of the tennis dome, significant tree loss, and some roof damage on a few buildings. The bright spot of this difficult episode was how well students, faculty, and staff responded with the community spirit that I’ve seen time and time again since I joined Lewis & Clark. As we recover, we will use this event to continue to sharpen our emergency planning and procedures.
We began this semester with a COVID-19 testing approach that built on what we established in the fall. We conducted mandatory COVID testing for students, faculty, staff, contractors at the beginning of the semester and are continuing with weekly testing of a sample of the population. In addition to continuing to use effluent testing as a leading indicator in our residence halls, we are using this sampling approach with students as well. After a small number of positive cases identified in January, we have had no positive tests so far in February, and there are currently no students in isolation or quarantine on campus. This is a remarkable achievement.
We have been lucky that the positivity rate in Multnomah County is extremely low, but so much of the credit for our campus success goes to our students, faculty, and staff who have taken public health precautions seriously. And I can’t thank enough the dedicated staff of our Health Service, Health Promotion and Wellness staff, and the volunteers who have helped with our weekly testing clinics and public health campaigns. We know that adhering to community guidelines, especially for students, is not easy and often feels at odds with the kind of experiences we wish to offer. Because we are doing so well on campus and at the county level, we are in the process of relaxing some of the restrictions that have made activities and social life more difficult for on-campus residents.
Last Thursday and Friday we held another productive virtual meeting of the Board of Trustees. We had an extensive discussion about how the institution is positioned for a post-COVID future. We concluded that our current Strategic Plan still has us on the right course, even though much has changed in the world over the last year. However, we will continue to need to be aggressive and innovative in our approach to new academic programming that meets the demands of the day. We already have a great start on this through our Strategic Enrollment Management process. Additionally, the trustees heard about our continued fundraising success, as well as the design phase of a Templeton Student Center renovation that we plan to start later this year. We all know that revitalization of this central hub will pay dividends as a more active and welcoming place to gather and get things done.
Over Winter Break, Dean of Equity and Inclusion Mark Figueroa led a retreat for our Executive Council after we completed a 21-Day Equity Challenge. The self-reflection, critical lenses, and conversations are helping those of us on the leadership team to more deeply embed this work in our decision-making. We are in the process of developing a program to engage the wider campus community in similar conversations, beyond the good programming that we already see in evidence across our three campuses, during this Black History Month and throughout the entire academic year. As a reminder, here are the key strategies and institutional commitments to racial justice that we established last year and continue to work on.
An event that is happening Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m. that I wish to draw special attention to for CAS students is a Black Professionals Panel organized by the Black Student Union and Alumni and Parent Programs. An impressive group of alumni working in a variety of fields have volunteered to be resources for career preparation.
February may be our shortest month, but this year I’m not sure that many of us have felt its brevity. Difficult situations locally and globally continue to consume so much of our mental energy and make time even more elastic than usual. In closing for now, I’ll say this: I can’t imagine a better community to be doing the difficult work that we need for ourselves, each other, and society.