Latest news from the UO

  • Series on sexual assault in Alaska wins SOJC’s Payne Award

    First published in Around the O on April 2, 2021. In 2018, the Anchorage Daily News asked readers if they would share their stories of sexual violence to help determine why assault and murder cases in Alaska were increasing in numbers and severity. More than 200 people responded. The news staff partnered with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network to publish “Unheard,” a compilation of 29 stories from women and men speaking about their experiences with sexual assault. Their respectful exploration of this sensitive topic earned the 2021 Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism from the UO School of Journalism and Communication. Established in 1999 by the family of Seattle broadcasting legend Ancil Payne, the award recognizes the tough choices journalists make behind the scenes to meet the rigorous ethical standards of the journalism profession and bring the truth to the public despite personal, financial, legal or political pressures. The Payne Award’s focus on difficult ethical choices sets it apart from most other national journalism awards. “The nominations were exceptional this year, and the discussion about the ethical decisions the journalists faced was eye-opening and insightful,” said Juan-Carlos Molleda, Edwin L. Artzt Dean and professor in the School of Journalism and Communication. “The Anchorage Daily News/ProPublica collaboration stood out for a primary reason: The reporters set a strong example for the best ways to respectfully and humanely give voice to survivors of sexual assault while presenting a diversity of perspectives.” Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault cases in the nation. Approximately one-third of women in Alaska have experienced sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. Reporters for the two news organizations spoke with an initial group of respondents as well as hundreds of additional sexual assault survivors to identify recurring themes and systemic problems in how Alaskan police, prosecutors and courts handle sexual assault cases. “They often told stories of being sexually abused as children and again and again throughout adulthood,” said Kyle Hopkins, co-writer of the series and special project editor at the Anchorage Daily News. “When they reported the crimes, police sometimes failed to investigate, or prosecutors declined to file charges. After failing to see justice, some stopped reporting the rapes altogether.” Hopkins said two principles guided his team’s decisions. First, they couldn’t compromise their reporting standards in any way, meaning every story would be subject to the same rigorous fact-checking process as any piece they publish. Second, they would honor the participants’ wishes at every opportunity. They shared their experience in their own way, providing as much detail as they were comfortable with sharing. They worked with the newspaper’s photographers to create images that suited them, including decisions about the location, wardrobe and others they wanted in the picture. The journalists also followed five guiding principles when conducting their reporting: do no harm, adhere to journalistic standards, protect sources, avoid stigmatization and stereotyping, and avoid sensationalism. “In general, we avoided gratuitous detail in favor of clear-eyed and simple language that didn’t shy away from the horrors of these attacks but did not veer into over-description,” Hopkins said. “Another way we sought to avoid sensationalism was to not share links to individual survivors’ profiles so that they would not be the target of doxing or other derogatory comments.” At the end of the project, the staff arranged a Zoom meeting so all the participants could meet one another. The news organizations also partnered with the Anchorage Museum to set up an outdoor display of the survivors’ photos and stories with accompanying audio as another way for stories to be heard. The Ancil Payne Award Selection Committee, which includes working journalists and journalism educators, also recognized Amy Brittain, Reena Flores and Bishop Sand of The Washington Post, the Mississippi Free Press staff, and Margie Mason and Robin McDowell of the Associated Press as Ancil Payne Award finalists. “This year’s nomination pool included major national and international news organizations, regional and community journalists and several young journalists of color who bravely challenged conventions and assumptions in their newsrooms,” said Tim Gleason, journalism professor and director of the Payne Award. “The judges were inspired by the commitment of these young journalists to their communities and to the future of journalism.” Mason and McDowell won the 2016 Payne Award for their “Seafood from Slaves” series. This year they spent more than two years reporting “Fruits of Labor,” a series of interviews from children and palm oil workers who were trafficked, enslaved, abused and raped. The most important goal for the reporters, even more important than publishing the story, was protecting the workers at all costs. The Washington Post finalist is the first podcast the Payne Award Selection Committee has recognized. The seven-part podcast “Canary: The Washington Post Investigates” explores the decisions of two women to share their accounts of sexual assault and the consequences of those choices. “Canary” reveals systemic problems within the criminal justice system that illustrate how difficult it is for survivors to feel any sense of justice. The Mississippi Free Press finalist is for “‘The Fabric is Torn in Oxford’: UM Officials Decried Racism Publicly, Coddled it Privately.” A public records request provided the media outlet thousands of emails and other documents from the University of Mississippi, where a group of anonymous whistleblowers unearthed a collection of emails between university officials and wealthy donors expressing racist views. The newsroom balanced the need to protect the identities of the whistleblowers and other sources. The School of Journalism and Communication invites the UO community to the virtual Ancil Payne Award ceremony April 29 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. The 2020 and 2021 winners of the Payne Award, as well as the 2021 finalists, will discuss their stories and behind-the-scenes ethical decisions during a moderated conversation and audience Q&A. The event is free, but registration is required. —By Joanna Mann, School of Journalism and Communication

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  • UO President Schill is teaching an honors course spring term

    First published in Around the O on April 2, 2021. By taking just a few virtual steps west of his office in Johnson Hall, University of Oregon President Michael H. Schill is taking on an additional role spring term as he enters a Zoom classroom as a professor for the first time while at the UO. In a course he is well-qualified to teach, Schill will lead a group of Clark Honors College undergraduates as they explore “Higher Education in the United States: An Introduction to Key Issues and Challenges.” The class will address some of the challenges facing higher education today. American universities have seen an unprecedented year marked by COVID-19, racial reckoning and the Black Lives Matter movement, divisive politics, and the ever-increasing financial challenges facing higher education. Schill will draw from his professional experience leading the UO through such issues as he examines the structure of higher education and some of the changes that have taken place over the past 75 years. “The pandemic amplified and accelerated some of the ongoing pressures on higher education,” Schill said. “It also demonstrated the unique contributions public research universities offer to help solve some of our world’s most pressing problems. This course will delve into some of the challenges facing higher education and what that means for students and society.” One of the primary objectives of the class is to offer students the opportunity to develop skills to discuss, debate and share differing views and do so in a respectful manner. “When students get out of college, they will need to interact with, work for, do business with and understand people who have different points of view,” Schill said. “Students have the opportunity now to listen to each other and learn about how other people see the world. This is one of the most valuable parts of the college experience.” Impressed by the determination and innovation of UO faculty members who rapidly shifted to remote and hybrid instruction over the last year, Schill decided that spring term was a good time to return to the classroom. He sought advice from UO colleagues as he prepared his course materials. “I have always loved teaching,” he said. “It is both exciting and humbling to return to the classroom after many years away, especially in this unique instruction environment. I regularly guest lecture in the Clark Honors College, and the discussion is always lively and invigorating. I am really looking forward to and appreciate the guidance I’ve received from faculty on campus to prepare.” The course, which will predominantly operate in a discussion-based format, also will explore the financing of higher education and how it has affected tuition and increasingly widened the gap between well-funded “elite” institutions and the rest.  Schill and guest speakers will take on the issue of partisan politics, and students can expect to explore the critiques of universities as “neoliberal” institutions. The range of subjects will include access and affordability, diversity and inclusion, freedom of speech, lagging levels of student achievement and intercollegiate athletics. Clark Honors College interim Dean Carol Stabile said she is excited about the opportunity Schill is bringing to students. “We are delighted that President Schill will be teaching a course in the Robert D. Clark Honors College,” she said. “The CHC prides itself on providing seminars that allow students to learn from experts in their fields. Having President Schill teach a course on key issues and challenges in higher education gives our students the opportunity to do just that.” Schill gives a guest lecture in at least one class an academic year, but this is his first time teaching an entire class at the UO as part of his position as a professor. Prior to coming to UO in 2016, Schill served as dean at the University of Chicago Law School and dean of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. His faculty appointments include tenured positions at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania. Schill graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in public policy from Princeton University in 1980 and a doctoral degree in law from Yale Law School in 1984.

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  • New SNAP eligibility means more college students can benefit

    First published in Around the O on April 1, 2021. The federal stimulus act passed in December made big changes to the grocery and food benefit program formerly known as food stamps that will allow more students to qualify. The changes relate to students who are eligible for federal work-study awards and those who reported an expected family contribution of zero on their federal financial aid form, known as FAFSFA. If a student meets either of the conditions and also meets the income requirement, as most students do, they are now likely eligible for the benefit. That means that thousands of students at the UO are now eligible to receive monthly benefits to help them buy fresh, nutritious food through the federal program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Those students were recently notified via email by the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships. What’s more, because of the pandemic, the maximum amount awarded to participants has also increased, up to $234 a month for qualifying individuals, and more if there are additional members of the household. “SNAP, also known as Oregon Trail, has always been one of the most reliable and impactful methods of combatting food insecurity,” said Taylor McHolm, one of the co-directors of the UO Food Security Task Force with Marcus Langford. “It allows people the freedom of choice, and it can be used directly at grocery stores where people would already be shopping. It works just like money, because it basically is money.” Langford said Oregon recently focused on college students’ eligibility, part of a wider reckoning with high levels of food insecurity on college campuses. At the UO, 36 percent of students are considered food insecure, based on data obtained through the HopeLab #RealCollege project run by Temple University. The rates are much higher for students of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ communities. The Food Security Task Force is actively gauging the effect of the pandemic. “Previously, a student needed to actually be awarded a work-study award,” McHolm said. “But the new eligibility guidelines mean that a student merely needs to be eligible for one, regardless of whether or not they received that award. Between that and the (expected family contribution) of zero dollars, we think there’s a few thousand students who are newly eligible for support.” Additional factors may affect eligibility, and the Oregon Department of Human Services ultimately determines eligibility and the benefit amount after meeting with the applicant. However, students have a number of resources they can use to get help applying for SNAP benefits, including:  Watching videos about eligibility and applying.  Directly applying online through the Oregon One Eligibility website.  Request help by filling out an online form.  Chatting online with a peer advisor Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Visiting the Duck Nest virtually or in person, the Student Food Pantry on Wednesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., or Produce Drops at the pantry on Tuesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. to talk to someone in person.   SNAP support is a part of a broad strategy to combat student food insecurity at UO called Feed the Flock. The Food Security Task Force meets regularly to discuss the various programs of Feed the Flock and ensure that they’re targeted and useful. In conjunction with the Governor’s State Employees Food Drive last month, the task force recently completed a guide for faculty and staff to help students access resources. It also offers some guidance on how to have conversations with students. “Regardless of the kind of interaction you have with students, even if you have no interaction with students, there are things you can do to help get food into students’ hands,” Langford said. He suggests that professors link resources on their syllabus or use the blurb created by education studies professor Sarah Stapleton, a member of the task force. Employers can talk to their students about the new eligibility and its ties to work-study. Staff members who don’t often have regular contact with students can share the resources with their colleagues who do.   Individuals or departments that would like to receive training on SNAP applications to better assist students can email [email protected] For more information, check out the UO Basic Needs Resource Guide and the Feed the Flock website.

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  • UO joins 1,200 organizations in urging Congress to double the Pell

    April 1, 2021 03:17 pm The University of Oregon signed on to a letter, dated March 25, to all members of Congress asking them to double the amount of the maximum Pell Grant to approximately $13,000. The letter was signed by nearly 1,200 organizations, including the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Oregon State Students Association. Also signing on were 900 colleges and universities. The Pell Grant program is the nation’s foundational investment in higher education. Pell Grants help nearly seven million low- and moderate-income students (4,800 at the University of Oregon) attend and complete college annually. At its peak, the maximum grant covered three-quarters of the cost of attending a four-year public college. Now, due to a combination of state disinvestment and insufficient increases to the Pell program, the maximum grant of $6,495 now covers less than one-third of attending a four-year public college. Coalitions are asking that the Pell Grant award be doubled to the amount of $13,000.The letter explains that students from low- and moderate-income families are in critical need of additional grant aid to pay for college; this important investment will drive economic recovery, help address racial and economic inequities in college completion rates and increase overall educational attainment. It goes on to say that doubling the maximum Pell Grant – and permanently indexing the grant to inflation to ensure its value does not diminish over time – will boost college enrollment, improve graduation rates, and honor the history and value of these grants as the keystone federal investment in college affordability. For more information, see APLU’s  #DoublePell advocacy two-pager.

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  • UO lab advances research on memory formation and recall

    First published in Around the O on March 31, 2021. Difficulty remembering a password or where a car is parked outside a store doesn’t necessarily suggest memory problems. It’s likely that interference is clouding the brain, suggests University of Oregon neuroscientist Brice Kuhl. How do people encode new information and accurately recall it later? That’s the focus of the Kuhl lab. His research is basic, or fundamental, science. Before treating disease, scientists first need to understand normal functioning, said Kuhl, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and a member of the Institute of Neuroscience. “We don’t study disease states, but the brain regions we are looking at are often compromised in disease states such as Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “We study memory interference, when memories are similar and overlap with others, and we have trouble keeping them separate. It’s a recipe for confusion.” In two recent studies, Kuhl’s lab has gleaned new insights from experiments with human subjects doing simple tasks and using magnetic resonance imaging. MRI scans help reveal how memories are represented in activity patterns in the brain’s ventral parietal cortex, which is vital to forming and recalling memories. In Current Biology, a study led by Kuhl’s former postdoctoral researcher Nicole M. Long found that activity patterns related to past memories tend to take precedence over incoming new but similar information. That activity, it was noted, may represent an in-the-moment occurrence not necessarily tied to stronger and deliberate reactivation of memories, which the project did not explore. The study reinforces previous findings in neuroscience that found neurons in the parietal cortex of rodents doing a new task continued to reflect activity related to previous similar experiences. “This study tells us that there are some parts of the brain — maybe not specific to memory, maybe just to internal thoughts — that show stronger representations of the past than information from the present,” Kuhl said. “This suggests some kind of memory specificity that we find interesting.” In the project, Long, now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, initially showed 33 participants photos of 24 different objects representing differing categories while they were being scanned by MRI. The subjects subsequently viewed 24 new but different objects from the same groupings. Subjects were nudged to either think of the new object or the similar previously viewed object. As in the rodents, the previous objects dominated the new ones in the parietal cortex. In a next step, Long and Kuhl turned to machine-learning algorithms to learn from the neural activity patterns and index the states of the brain, regardless of the instruction on which objects, old or new, to focus on. With this information, the researchers were able to detect brain states which predicted the expression of memories in the parietal cortex. “This validates the idea that there is a segregation of memory-related information versus perception,” Kuhl said. “This experience is common. When you are thinking about something else while driving to work, your eyes are open, you drive a few blocks, but you don’t remember those blocks because your consciousness was on the past.” In the Journal of Neuroscience, Kuhl’s doctoral student Yufei Zhao found that MRI-observed activity in the parietal cortex of 29 subjects reflected an exaggeration effect that reduces interference when encoding subtle differences between newly seen objects. That divergent brain activity patterns strengthens memory, the study concluded. Study participants viewed images of objects paired with photos of faces. Some of the objects were identical but with slight color differences. After practice and testing the tasks, the subjects’ parietal cortex activity was observed with MRI as they were shown a face and asked to adjust a color wheel to match which object corresponded to the face. The research team uncovered a consistent systematic error. The color differences displayed on the wheel constantly were always 24 degrees apart, but subjects systematically remembered the differences as being larger. “The further apart that they remembered the colors as being, the more likely they were to remember the faces associated with the objects,” Kuhl said. “What we show is that when we look at activity patterns in this part of the brain, the less similar those activity patterns are, the greater the exaggeration in memory. This exaggerated separation helps to avoid overlapping memory recall and avoid confusion.” Kuhl, who is in his third year of research under a five-year National Science Foundation Career Award, sees himself as a middleman in neuroscience. “I don’t work directly with patients with disease, but I am really interested in how the brain supports our normal functions with memory,” he said. “It’s incredibly complex. We’ve learned a lot, but there are a lot of things we don’t know. I think this problem of how we can avoid interference from memories has been around a long time.” The two studies were funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and Lewis Family Endowment, which supports the UO’s Robert and Beverly Lewis Center for Neuroimaging. —By Jim Barlow, University Communications

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  • New virtual challenge rewards students’ COVID-19 knowledge

    First published in Around the O on March 29, 2021. After a year of learning and living with rules and requirements for COVID-19 safety, UO students have the chance to test their knowledge and earn prizes. It’s all part of the Crush COVID-19 Challenge, a new online activity created by UO staff and students just for Ducks. The Crush COVID-19 Challenge launched March 29, with weekly challenges running through the end of spring term. “Our Ducks have achieved the impossible this year on so many levels, following COVID-19 safety practices that frequently and quickly shifted,” said Kris Winter, associate vice president for student life and dean of students. “This challenge aims to engage students in recommitting to COVID-19 safety and reward our amazing students for choosing each other above all.” To participate, students register at the crushcovid site, provide contact information, create a unique user name, and log on to complete challenges and invite other Ducks to join in. Challenges range from multiple-choice quizzes to photo and video uploads, with a new set added each week. They spotlight COVID-19 information and safe practices in an engaging way while informing and reminding participants about prevention steps and the resources available to students. Students earn prizes by completing the weekly challenges and by inviting other Ducks to play, tracking results on the game’s leaderboards. The challenge also offers weekly random prize drawings, which include gift cards from GrubHub, Instacart and the DuckStore, along with headphones, iPads, Oculus Quests and MacBook Pros. A “Supercharged” category yields some exclusive experiences: dinner with UO President Michael Schill (when it is safe to do so), tours of Matt Knight Arena or Autzen Stadium, or a guided visit to the top of the new Hayward Tower. The challenge was created by the Division of Student Life, the Location Innovation Lab of the Campus GIS and Mapping Program and the incident management team. Student focus groups and student employees helped design the challenge and contributed feedback. With Lane County in the low risk category entering the term, vaccines for all students coming in May, and the promise of a fall return to in-person classes, Winter said the challenge offers a way for students to reflect on what they’ve experienced and feel upbeat about getting through turbulent times. “All year, students have responded to the changes caused by the pandemic,” she said. “As our current status shows, they’ve been crushing COVID in real life. Now they have a chance to crush it in the challenge, and in the process earn some well-deserved rewards.”

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  • UO chemist Christopher Hendon named Cottrell Scholar

    First published in Around the O on March 22, 2021. UO chemist Christopher H. Hendon has been named a Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, which supports both research and teaching in chemistry, physics and astronomy. Hendon, who is known widely as Dr. Coffee, was selected for the proposal “Inorganic Defects in Metal-Organic Frameworks.” In his research, he will look at chemical properties of imperfect inorganic materials using high-performance computing. “Nature isn’t perfect. In every crystal there may be an atom or two out of place, and that mistake may govern the entire property of the material,” said Hendon, an assistant professor and computational chemist in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “An example is the perfect diamond, which is shiny and clear, but its defects cause them to be colored and less shiny.” “Since the first class of Cottrell Scholars in 1994, this community has provided leadership and guidance that has made a big impact on science, on students and across academia,” said Silvia Ronco, senior program director at the research corporation, a private foundation that supports catalytic funding for research in the physical sciences at colleges and universities. Hendon turned to his work in the coffee industry as inspiration for the teaching portion of the Cottrell Scholarship. “My education proposal came from reflecting on this past year,” he said. “One category of classes that really struggled with the transition to remote learning were those with a laboratory component, where students do hands-on work. I teach general chemistry in cafés every day, so I figured why not develop an entire general chemistry laboratory class on coffee. It is accessible to most people and could be done for around $100 in homemade equipment.” Hendon will get $100,000 as a Cottrell Scholar. He joins 24 others in the 2021 class and is now among a handful of UO Cottrell Scholars. “The Cottrell Scholarship is unique,” he said. “Once you become part of the community, you are in it forever.”

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  • College of Education team develops inclusive K-12 curriculum

    First published in Around the O on March 22, 2021. A research project in the College of Education is helping educators create more inclusive classroom environments and embrace a state requirement to incorporate Native American culture and history into curriculums. Senate Bill 13, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2017, addressed a concern that Oregon has been “missing a critical opportunity to fully leverage the strengths, assets and contributions our Native American students bring to their communities.” The bill requires Oregon school districts to include Native American curriculum in lesson plans and includes lessons written by the Oregon Department of Education as well as each of the federally recognized tribal nations in Oregon who developed their own place-based curriculum units. Stephanie Wood, a research associate in the Center for Equity Promotion, works with her team to develop K­-12 curriculums that include Native American cultures and their histories. Though not part of the Senate Bill 13: Tribal History/Shared History curriculum mandate, these curriculum units nevertheless fill an important gap with respect to Native studies curriculum. The  study units are available to all teachers as downloadable PDFs and are created for diverse grade levels and subjects. Education about Native American history in the U.S. is often not comprehensive. Eighty-seven percent of content taught about Native Americans in school includes only history before 1900, according to a study in the journal Theory & Research in Social Education, and 27 states surveyed did not name one Native American individual in their teachings. In fact, most Americans do not even know that there is more than one Native American tribe, the study says. “Because so many U.S. citizens are barely aware that tribal nations continue to exist, and few know that these are diverse cultures with varying historical experiences, we have worked to ensure Native voices get into more classrooms nationwide,” Wood said. “We hope that a more balanced education will help reverse achievement gaps for Native students and broaden the appreciation for Indigenous cultures for non-Native students.” To ensure Native voices are heard, the project includes primarily Indigenous curriculum designers. Curriculum designers receive support locating primary sources and crafting lessons that encourage critical thinking and ensuring their units are easily transferrable to a range of classrooms. A recent grant from the Department of the Interior has helped develop 10 new lesson units. Funds helped recruit designers, conduct research, edit curriculum and publish the units on the Honoring Tribal Legacies website. Founded at the University of Oregon in 2010, Honoring Tribal Legacies is a project that initially sought to build upon a digital video archive — “Tribal Legacy” — of hundreds of educators and tribal leaders sharing their stories. Wood’s team is now expanding the free online curriculum that educators can use in their own classrooms. “Our project aims to promote greater diversity and balance in U.S. classrooms by supplying information that has been ignored and points of view that have been overlooked,” Wood said. “If our curriculum design practice can serve as a model for others seeking to address state laws for shared histories and improve conditions for native students, that would be a victory.” —By Meghan Mortensen, College of Education

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  • Latest COVID-19 relief package includes $39.6 million for higher ed

    March 16, 2021 01:20 pm On Thursday, March 11, President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a nearly $1.9 trillion package to provide another round of COVID-19 relief funding.   The legislation was developed and passed through the budget reconciliation process, which directed authorizing committees to draft sections of a budget reconciliation bill based on President Biden’s COVID-19 relief proposal released shortly after his inauguration. The American Rescue Plan Act includes $39.6 billion in additional funding for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). The bill also includes a House-passed provision that proposes changes to the 90/10 rule, which expands the 90 percent cap on revenue for-profit colleges can receive from the government to include all types of federal assistance. Also included in the measure is $100 million for the Institute of Education Sciences for research to address learning loss due to the pandemic and $135 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities. A new provision in the bill would ensure that any type of student loan forgiveness passed over the next five years is tax-free. National associations representing the UO and the full spectrum of higher education institutions wrote letters to House and Senate leaders expressing their strong support the legislation. The letters noted that while the $40 billion included in the measure for higher education relief falls short of the $97 billion needed to address student and institutional needs, it “represents the largest federal effort so far to address the crippling impact of the pandemic on colleges and universities.” Under HEERF, UO is expected to receive approximately $43 million with a required minimum distribution in direct grants to students of at least half the award. Total HEERF awards still fall far short of the university’s reported new costs and losses. For more, read the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU) analysis of the legislation here.

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