Latest news from the UO

  • UO prof testifies before subcommittee on environmental justice

    First published in Around the O on July 26. UO geography and ethnic studies professor Laura Pulido, who holds the Collins Chair, testified before a congressional subcommittee July 22, offering members an overview of issues exacerbating environmental justice issues in the United States. Pulido, who has studied environmental justice for more than 30 years, provided members of the Subcommittee of Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice, and Regulatory Oversite, chaired by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, with an update of some of the key issues. Those include the cumulative effect of pollutants on particular neighborhoods, climate change and rising heat, and access to clean water. This was subcommittee’s first hearing since environmental justice was officially added to its name. “Environmental justice refers to the fact that people of color and low-income populations in both urban and rural areas are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards,” Pulido testified. “Environmental justice is also the name of the movement that has arisen to challenge such injustices.” According to a statement from Merkley’s office, the hearing topics emphasized the need to address discriminatory processes that make it especially difficult for communities of color to access federal resources needed to recover from catastrophic storms and fires. It also addressed the importance of responding to needs voiced by environmental justice communities; the need to enforce existing laws and regulations pertaining to clean air, water and soil; and how to best ensure that cleanup funding and resources reach tribal communities, among others. “As climate chaos continues to ravage our country and our planet—from the 80 fires burning across 13 states, including the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, to more frequent, powerful, and destructive storms and flooding—we must recognize and address the fact that the worst consequences of this crisis disproportionately fall on communities of color and others with the fewest resources for adapting or recovering,” Merkley said in the statement. “I’m grateful that we are finally engaging in a long-overdue national conversation about environmental justice and the well-being of all of our communities, and am fully committed to doing everything I can as the Chair of this Subcommittee to ensure that action follows."

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  • Oregon colleges, universities to get basic needs coordinators under new law

    This article first appeared in The Register Guard on July 16, 2021.  When a college student is trying to study for a test, or working toward groundbreaking research, the last thing that should be on their mind is whether they have enough money to eat that day or if they will have somewhere safe to sleep.  Many students struggle with access to housing, food and other basic needs, things that can make or break someone's ability to attend and finish college.  "When your basic needs are unmet, it really takes a lot of energy and it has physiological and psychological impacts that make being a successful student extremely difficult," said Miguel Arellano, the basic needs navigator at Oregon State University. "I see students who after they meet with me, say ‘I don't know if I would be in college without this meeting.’" Arellano's position, created three years ago, is the first and only one of its kind in the state. Now, every college and university in Oregon will be required to have someone like Arellano on its staff. Lawmakers devoted nearly $5 million to hiring "benefits navigators" to help students get connected with public assistance programs, find housing or access technology for schoolwork with House Bill 2835, which was passed this session. "I see students setting up meetings with me because they're in financial crisis, or they're food-insecure or they’re homeless," Arellano said. "So being able to walk them through the steps of how to meet their basic needs … really alleviates a lot of the stress, and it’s just a big relief for students.  "That relief allows them to focus their energy on being a successful student." Oregon does not have a coordinated way to track the number of college students who are experiencing homelessness, KLCC reported in May. Higher Education Coordinating Commission spokesperson Endi Hartigan confirmed this remains the case. However, the need is still noticeable. A 2019 survey of 14 of Oregon's 17 community colleges found students are affected by these problems, though. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justicefound that out of 8,100 community college students 52% were housing insecure in the previous year, 20% were homeless in the previous year, and 41% were food insecure in the prior 30 days. This doesn't include those enrolled at the state's seven public universities. Also, according to federal point-in-time data, just more than 14,600 people were homeless in January 2020 and the issue has likely been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In his first two years, Arellano helped 568 students, holding just more than 800 meetings. "It really translates to helping students navigate red tape policies, eligibility criteria for community, state and federal resources," he said, "In my time here, I've helped students access over $1 million in state and federal resources such as SNAP." The position also helps with college-specific needs such as financial aid and grants and access to course materials.  The newly passed bill appropriated $4,999,150 out of the state's General Fund to HECC for more benefits coordinators. HECC then will distribute this money to the state's community colleges and public universities. "… There was a process by proponents of the bill with institutions to determine college and university specific amounts, which the HECC will use," Hartigan said. "The institution funding is intended to pay the salary and benefits of a staff person at each institution. There is also some funding included to support the coordination of an inter-institutional consortia." The bill requires institutions to employ and train a navigator and participate in a consortia with other higher education institutions to develop best practices, she said. The schools also have to provide "culturally specific resources" and make a way for students to give feedback on the process so it can improve. The University of Oregon advocated strongly for the bill, said UO spokesperson Kay Jarvis, and is already in the process of hiring. "The Office of the Dean of Students is in the process of hiring a food-security coordinator and a basic needs coordinator, both of whom should be in place by fall term," she asid. "Staff are currently looking at the details of the new legislation to understand requirements, potential funding from the state, and how that may support these new positions."

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  • Guest Column: Support investments to fight wildfire and understand climate change

    This article first appeared in The Bend Bulletin on July 14, 2021. Written by Hank Skade. With wildfires in Central Oregon already prompting evacuations, I’m glad Oregon policymakers have made critical investments in funding for science and our public institutions of higher education. Oregon’s public universities do more than just prepare the next generation of Oregon’s leaders — they are researching human-caused climate change and what we should do about it. I am a proud graduate of the University of Oregon, where I received a Bachelor of Science and did graduate work in environmental studies. At the UO, researchers in the social, natural, and physical sciences study many aspects of climate change, including how it increases the number of wildfires, affects indigenous and rural communities, and changes the ecology of grasslands. In addition, UO’s Oregon Hazard Lab operates Oregon’s portion of the Alert Wildfire system, which provides state-of-the art pan-tilt-zoom fire cameras to help firefighters and first responders discover and locate fires quickly and help evacuations through enhanced situational awareness via a publicly accessible website. That’s why it’s more important than ever that our state and federal government make significant investments in our public universities. As a former board member of environmental organizations in San Francisco and Alaska, and a member of the American Sustainable Business Council, Sustainable Land Development International, and the California Association of Winegrape Growers, I am acutely aware of the impacts of the climate crisis on businesses and entire industries, including the wine industry. It is critical that universities have the funding they need to continue research to address the crisis and mitigate connected hazards, such as raised temperatures and longer, more dangerous wildfire seasons. During the past legislative session, Oregon legislators, including our own Sen. Tim Knopp and Rep. Jason Kropf (a fellow Oregon Duck), funded the Public University Support Fund at the higher education community’s request of $900 million. This funding will allow universities like my alma mater and our local Oregon State University to continue doing groundbreaking research to keep our communities safe and our industries thriving. I hope we will see state lawmakers continue to prioritize these investments. Our future depends on it. Additionally, I was pleased to see the entire Oregon House congressional delegation, including our congressman, Cliff Bentz, vote to pass the National Science Foundation for the Future Act. The National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent federal agency dedicated to promoting the progress of science, has an important partnership with Oregon’s three largest universities — UO, OSU, and Portland State University — and provided a total of $118.8 million in awards in Oregon last year. The NSF’s partnership with universities has led to incredible discoveries, like the internet and mRNA vaccines. This same partnership is fueling much of the research around climate change and wildfire science. Additionally, the NSF invested $7.4 million in Oregon startups through the agency’s small business program. As an entrepreneur, I know how important these investments can be to Oregon’s small tech companies. The National Science Foundation for the Future Act will allow Oregon’s research universities and small businesses to continue creating knowledge to address climate change and help our state and industries become more resilient. This summer, if you see our congressman or local legislators, make sure to thank them for supporting investments in science and higher education. Our ability to understand and mitigate the effects of climate change is key to the success of our state’s industries and the health and well-being of Oregonians. And as our neighbors leave their belongings behind, evacuating from yet another wildfire, this research is more pressing than ever.  

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  • #DoublePell campaign launched by APLU

    On June 13 higher education organizations launched #DoublePell, a new national campaign to double the maximum Pell Grant award. The campaign is aimed at encouraging current and future Pell Grant recipients and others to speak out and contact members of Congress to encourage their support of doubling the maximum Pell Grant to $13,000. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is coordinating the effort, which includes many higher education association partners, including the American Council on Education (ACE), the Association of American Universities (AAU), NASPA (an association of student affairs administrators in higher education), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The coalition, known as the Double Pell Alliance, is advocating for doubling the maximum Pell Grant by the 50th anniversary of the creation of the program in June 2022. The campaign features a new website, doublepell.org, that provides students and families with tools to communicate with Congress in support of doubling Pell, engage on social media, and share personal stories about how the Pell Grant has helped them. The  #DoublePell Background and Fast Facts About Doubling the Maximum Pell Grant handout provides talking points and statistics about the Pell Grant. Pell Grants help nearly 7 million low-and moderate-income students attend and complete college annually. That is 40 percent of undergraduates at U.S. colleges and universities.  Students from all 50 states and all corners of the country rely on the Pell Grant program to pursue their college aspirations and achieve a brighter future. Nearly 70 percent of Pell Grant dollars go to students with a family income below $30,000 and nearly 90 percent to students with a family income below $50,000.  Pell Grants are especially critical for students of color, with nearly 60 percent of Black students, and roughly half of American Indian or Alaska Native students and Hispanic students receiving a Pell Grant each year.  The share of college costs covered by the Pell Grant is at an all-time low. Nearly 50 years ago, the maximum grant covered more than three-quarters of the cost of attending a four-year public college. After decades of state budget cuts that drove up tuition, combined with flat household incomes over the same period, Pell Grants now cover less than one-third of those costs. The #DoublePell website includes a Take Action page, which includes a customizable letter that students, families, alumni, and other stakeholders can send to their members of Congress, and shareable social media graphics to amplify the #DoublePell campaign messages. In March, the UO signed on to a letter with 1,200 other organizations addressed to all members of Congress, asking them to double the amount of the maximum Pell Grant to approximately $13,000. Currently Congress is considering proposals to increase the Pell maximum by as much as $1,875. In addition, in late June, a group of senators reintroduced the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act.

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  • Fisher and RAPID-EC colleagues brief congressional staff on impacts of the pandemic on families and children

    On Thursday, July 8, Professor Phil Fisher, Director of the UO Center for Translational Neuroscience, and colleagues with the Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development - Early Childhood (RAPID-EC) project provided U.S. Senate staff with a briefing on a nation-wide longitudinal survey about childhood and family well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joining Fisher were Joan Lombardi, chair, National Advisory, RAPID-EC, and Sharon Mullings-Neilson, director of the Woodland Academy in Philadelphia, PA and early childhood education consultant. The virtual briefing was attend by more than 20 congressional staff. The RAPID-EC project is an early childhood family well-being survey designed to gather essential information in a continuous manner regarding the needs, health promoting behaviors, and well-being of children and their families during the COVID-19 outbreak and recovery in the United States. The survey focuses on better understanding child development (and parents’ concerns about development over time), caregiver mental health and well-being, and caregiver needs and utilization of resources. The survey collects snapshots of data across time with the ability to assess trends longitudinally. Twice per month, the team posts analyses of survey findings, including policy recommendations and resources for additional reading. The team has completed dozens of surveys which have resulted in multiple findings and reports. One report indicates that federal stimulus payments were essential to families with young children and provided important financial relief. RAPID-EC’s findings have been cited in many national and regional publications reporting on the impact of the pandemic on children and families.

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  • University of Oregon to renovate University and Villard halls with new state funding

    This article first appeared in The Register Guard on July 15. Two founding, historical buildings on the University of Oregon's campus will get a facelift with new money allocated by state lawmakers this legislative session.  University Hall (formerly named Deady Hall) and Villard Hall are UO's two founding buildings and more than 150 years old, according to an announcement on UO's website. Together, these two halls make up one of 17 National Historic Landmarks in Oregon.  Because of their age, UO requested the state fund renovations to the halls to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, improve the heating and cooling systems, and make them seismically safe and more modern.  UO is calling the improvement The Heritage Renovation Project. The bill by the Oregon Legislature also appropriated bond funds to 15 other colleges and universities for capital projects. "The UO requested $58.5 million to renovate University and Villard halls, the university’s two founding buildings. These buildings are designated National Historic Landmarks, and we are thankful the state approved funding for these renovations and funds to cover the issuance of bonds," UO spokesperson Kay Jarvis said. "The total projected cost of the project is $64.35 million. The funding model for this project requires the university to provide a minimum match of 10% of the state’s contribution. For the Heritage Renovation Project, the university’s contribution is $5.85 million." These two buildings are notorious among UO students and faculty for being antiquated. University Hall, for instance, has an elevator which is frequently broken or unable to be used. Two faculty members testified to the need for upgrades in letters submitted to lawmakers.  "As a professor who ‘lived’ and taught extensively in University Hall, I’m intimately familiar with the need for renovations to this building," wrote Hal Sadofsky, the divisional dean for Natural Sciences. He mentioned the "huge temperature fluctuations" and lack of energy efficiency that comes from having an outdated heating system and no cooling.  "We teach and work in summer, too, and I’ve seen sensitive students simply have to leave third-floor classrooms in spring and summer when temperatures on that floor went into the 90s," he wrote. "A few years ago, a faculty member walked into their office to discover their whiteboard shattered due to the high temperature."  Other issues Sadofsky identified were the lack of accessibility for all students and needed seismic, fire and safety upgrades.  "Funding for this project would provide these life-saving renovations and ensure that future generations are able to experience the birthplace of public higher education in Oregon," he wrote. Theresa May, associate professor and director of graduate studies for Theatre Arts, also submitted a letter encouraging lawmakers to fund the project. "Our students deserve to learn, grow and hone their acting abilities in an accessible, safe facility," May wrote. "Villard Hall, like University Hall, is not currently accessible for all students. Doorways lack adequate height and necessary width for ADA accessibility. The narrow, tight spaces and ADA inaccessibility is consistent throughout Villard and University halls, in stairways, bathrooms, elevators and lobby spaces." Villard Hall houses the UO's theater arts program, and May noted the program hopes to host in-person performances again in the near future, and without renovations, doing so would be inviting them to "attend performances in a severely seismically deficient building." "As an actress, I am well-versed in creating illusions, but it is difficult to suspend disbelief in a space that is dangerous for our faculty, staff and students," May wrote. Construction is expected to begin in early 2023 with the projects expected to be completed in late 2024, Jarvis said. The plan is to renovate both buildings at the same time, though this has not been planned out in detail yet. "Our current plan is to find temporary homes for all activities in both buildings," she said. "The objective of every project on campus is to minimize disruptions inherent with any construction project."

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  • History is clear: University research translates into economic prosperity

    Guest Opinion by Cassandra Moseley and Matt Beaudet, first published in the Statesman Journal on July 2, 2021. It is hard to imagine how we would have made it through the COVID-19 crisis without the internet. With virtual schooling, online grocery shopping, nonstop video conferencing and even endless doom scrolling, the internet kept us tethered together throughout the pandemic. Today, when we think of the internet, we think of firms such as Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. But these global giants might not exist without the collaboration between research universities and the federal government that created the internet. The internet is not the only great discovery to emerge from partnerships between the federal government and research universities. GPS satellite technology, the iPhone, self-driving cars and mRNA vaccines are all products of a U.S. system for supporting research and fueling innovation at universities dating back to World War II. Congress is currently considering an expansion of the National Science Foundation and an increase in funding for research in emerging technologies at NSF and other science agencies. These investments are vital, now more than ever. Federally funded researchers are addressing pressing challenges such as climate change, social equity, mental health and many more. Investments in research sustain our country’s global competitiveness and are one reason the U.S. continues to lead in global research and development, even as China and other nations invest heavily to boost their own innovation capabilities. To remain competitive and maintain the health of a prosperous economy, it is critical that the U.S. build on innovation fueled by university-led research.  These federal research investments result in new businesses, create jobs and boost the economy. These investments can be seen in contributions to our state and local economy and in our state’s tax base.   InVivo Biosystems is one Oregon company that traces its roots to university research. What began as federally funded experiments in labs at the University of Oregon has evolved into a growing scientific research and development services firm with 46 employees. The company pays above state median wages and attracts a range of employees, including entry-level workers, scientists with doctorates and all types in between. InVivo isn’t just good for the Oregon economy, but benefits society as well. The company is committed to making vital improvements to human health and does so by powering research exploring aging, development and disease, by contributing to countless new discoveries by top genomics researchers and by expanding our understanding of life sciences. Scientists work in conjunction with large pharmaceutical companies using zebrafish to model rare diseases and leveraging other breakthrough technologies such as CRISPR gene-editing. There is no telling what the next internet or mRNA vaccine will be, but the path to the next great innovation is paved with federal investment in fundamental research, the commitment of universities to discovery and the entrepreneurial energy of private industry. It is time to redouble our efforts to ensure the American scientific enterprise and its workforce remain a strong backbone of society and the economy.

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  • Merkley, Bonamici lead efforts in support of IES appropriations

    June 30, 2021 04:35 pm   As Congress considers appropriations for FY22, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) have led efforts to secure funding for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). On June 4, Sen. Merkley, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and fifteen additional senators sent a letter to the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies of the Senate Appropriations Committee urging the committee to appropriate $700 million for the IES. The letter states, “IES received an increase in funds in FY2021, but some programs are still operating at funding levels lower than in years past. IES research has produced great results, but it has been highly constrained by limited investment. For example, for every ten applications that IES receives, including those received by National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), only one is funded...This means many pressing questions, including questions regarding school safety, serving non-traditional student populations, and creating affordable pathways for good paying jobs, remain unanswered.” The Senate letter follows an April 28 letter sent to leaders of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee also requesting $700 million for IES. Congresswoman Bonamici and Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) were lead signers, and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) joined 28 others as additional signatories. The letter states, “IES has an important role to play in hastening the educational recovery necessary from the COVID-19 pandemic…Even with the increases to programs within the IES budget over the past few years, the investment in IES has not caught up to account for lost purchasing power during the past decade. With these funding constraints, the ability of IES to foster new and innovative ideas to drive success in our schools and better instructional practices for our teachers has been severely reduced. This especially harms disadvantaged students by limiting the use of evidence necessary for them to learn and succeed.” UO’s College of Education is one of the top recipients of IES funding among public universities. The college’s Special Education program, which includes faculty who receive NCSER funding, is the third highest ranked graduate program of it’s kind in the nation. Friends of IES also sent a letter, which the UO signed, to House and Senate Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittee leaders on March 23 requesting at least $700 million for the IES in FY22.

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  • Lawmakers fund renovations of University and Villard halls

    This article first appeared in Around the O on June 30. The Oregon Legislature approved funding for the University of Oregon’s capital construction request before closing out the 2021 legislative session. The Heritage Project will receive $58.5 million in bond funding to renovate University and Villard Halls, the UO’s two founding buildings that together make up one of only 17 National Historic Landmarks in Oregon. The buildings are more than 150 years old, and the funding will cover updated accessibility to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, improved and more efficient heating and cooling systems, modern classrooms, and essential seismic upgrades. Current and former UO students and faculty members who have taken classes or taught in the buildings shared concerns about interior conditions with legislators as they considered the capital construction funding request. Advocates shared phrases like “miserable places to be in cold or hot weather” and “upgrades are needed to match other facilities on campus.” “We are thrilled that this funding has been secured and we can update these two historical buildings to better serve our students, faculty and staff,” said Christine Thompson, UO’s director of campus planning. “We will take the next few months to work out the logistics and prepare for project initiation in the fall.” As part of the renovation, the university will consider ways to contextualize the building’s history of University Hall, which was renamed last year as part of the effort to remove names associated with racist beliefs or history. The Heritage Project is anticipated to be completed by 2025.

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