Latest news from the UO

  • Blumenauer introduces bill to study the impact of autonomous vehicles

    January 31, 2021 10:14 am On January 21, 2021 Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) reintroduced a bill to study community-wide influences of autonomous vehicles. The Preparing Localities for an Autonomous and Connected Environment (PLACE) Act would create a federally funded clearinghouse to examine the secondary influences of autonomous vehicles and new mobility.  New mobility includes innovations such as rideshare, car-share, microtransit, bike-share, and scooter-share.  The PLACE Act would create a clearinghouse to be housed at a higher education institution. These facilities would be required to collect, conduct, and fund research to help understand how autonomous vehicles and new mobility can influence land use, real estate, transportation, municipal budgets, urban design, the environment, and social equity. The proposed clearinghouse is funded at $2 million annually and would be chosen by the Secretary of Transportation within 180 days of enactment. The Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon does leading research well aligned with these topics and is well positioned to compete for the national clearinghouse.  Urbanism Next has been building a body of work over the last five years around AV and new mobility impacts, works with public and private sector partners around the globe on these topics, and has been a leader in developing this area of research through its reports, yearly conference, and their NEXUS web-based resource.  Even if housed elsewhere, the clearinghouse would speed the dissemination of research by programs like the Urbanism Next Center. Last Congress, the PLACE Act was included in Section 5303 of the Moving Forward Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 1, 2020. The Moving Forward Act passed with leadership from Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the US House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. In a 2019 press release on the bill, Congressman Blumenauer remarked that “done right, autonomous vehicles can increase mobility, improve social equity, and solve some of the country’s most vexing problems. Done wrong, we may repeat the mistakes of the past. The PLACE Act will allow us to have the research at our disposal to create more livable communities for all.” Follow the PLACE Act as it moves through the current Congress here.

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  • Employee donations during food drive help fight student hunger

    First published in Around the O on January 29th. The annual Governor’s State Employees Food Drive gets underway this week, and UO employees can make a very local impact by bringing nonperishable items to the Student Food Pantry every Wednesday in February. According to the Oregon Food Bank Network, hunger has doubled across Oregon in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is reflected in the UO student population as well; food insecurity on campus has increased since last March, when the coronavirus emerged. During the pandemic FOOD for Lane County, which stocks the shelves for the Student Food Pantry, has been unable to hold their largest canned food drives. Donations from food drives usually provide variety in food options that the agency relies on to offer well-rounded, nourishing meals to pantry users. To address that need, the UO Food Drive Steering Committee has partnered with the UO Food Security Task Force, as well as Oregon Cheerleading, to host a series of canned food drives every Wednesday throughout the month of February. University volunteers and members of Oregon Cheerleading will accept nonperishable food donations in-person at the Student Food Pantry each Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations that the student pantry can’t store immediately will go to FOOD for Lane County’s central warehouse for distribution to the Lane County community.  To highlight some of the most-wanted foods, each day has been themed to encourage donation of these foods:   Feb. 3: Shelf-stable proteins like nut butters, legumes and canned tuna or chicken. Feb. 10: Culturally appropriate foods, including dried lentils or beans, curry paste and spices. Feb. 17: Meal building blocks, such as hearty soups, plant-based milks, cereals and cooking oils. Feb. 24: Canned fruits and vegetables, including low-sugar dried fruit.  Masks are required. Only nonperishable, in-date food items will be accepted. For more information and a more complete list of desired foods, visit the food drive website or email [email protected] https://around.uoregon.edu/content/employee-donations-during-food-drive-help-fight-student-hunger

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  • Historian Examines Native American Genocide, its Legacy, and Survivors

    First published in Around the O on January 20, 2021. Jeffrey Ostler has spent the better part of three decades researching and teaching the thorny legacies of the American frontier. His conclusion: the wars the US government waged against Native Americans from the 1600s to the 1900s differed in a fundamental way from this country’s other contemporaneous conflicts. “Against Native nations and communities,” he says, “it was genocidal war.” The Beekman Professor of Northwest and Pacific History at the University of Oregon believes that in their description of the conflicts with Native Americans, mainstream political and historical discourses in the United States have often obscured this deadly distinction.  His new book, Surviving Genocide: Native Nations and the United States from the American Revolution to Bleeding Kansas, is a thorough and unflinching review of the evidence. From his vast survey of tribal histories, Ostler concludes that the massacres evidenced a consciously genocidal impulse.  Published in 2019 and the first in a projected two-volume series, Surviving Genocide earned widespread acclaim in the academic field and notices from the popular press followed. The New York Review of Books concluded last summer the book “sets a bar from which subsequent scholarship and teaching cannot retreat.” Based on rigorous attention to treaty language, military records, demographic data, and the actual words of participants, Surviving Genocide documents the murderous intentions that lurked beneath the idealized self-imaging of a young American nation. “In order to have a ‘land of opportunity’ required space to expand,” Ostler notes. “Early American senses of ‘freedom’ fundamentally depended upon the taking of Native lands—which almost inevitably would lead to the taking of Native lives.” From the beginning, he believes, US leaders understood and embraced this grim calculus. However, they obscured their true aims with a series of self-serving narratives built around the ideal of “civilization.” At first, this was held forth as a precious and necessary gift the colonizers were offering to Indigenous populations. Later, “defending civilization” would be invoked as justification to kill them.  Jeff Ostler, the Beekman Professor of Northwest and Pacific History at the University of Oregon While the United States’ own sense of history was framed from the beginning by this “harmful evasion,” Ostler points out that Native people have seldom been fooled. “A major theme of my book is something I call ‘Indigenous awareness of genocide,’” he says. “The oratory of resistance leaders like Tecumseh shows they recognized that whites intended to kill them and steal their lands.” In 1775, the Cherokee chief Tsi’yu-gunsini or “Dragging Canoe” noted: “Whole Indian Nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man’s advance. They leave scarcely a name of our people except those wrongly recorded by their destroyers. . .Not being able to point out any further retreat for the miserable Tsalagi (Cherokees), the extinction of the whole race will be proclaimed.” He was speaking in opposition to a treaty that proposed the Cherokees sell off 20 million acres of homeland—a large portion of present-day Kentucky and Tennessee. This tension exploded with the commencement of independence hostilities in July 1776; some Cherokee leaders sided with the British, and in response the US charged thousands of colonial troops with “the utter extirpation of the Cherokee Nation.” “During this conflict and others in the so-called Indian Wars, attacking whole communities of Native men, women, and children was planned policy of the US government and army,” Ostler says. Of course, the intention to commit genocide is not sufficient to ensure its results. Native nations and communities persisted. Like the Cherokees, some that were displaced claimed new homelands, laying the foundations of their perseverance to the present day. And through armed struggle, diplomacy, spiritual fortitude, and cultural stamina, a few eastern tribes overcame tremendous odds and retained portions of their ancestral homelands.  Leopold Pokagon The Potawatomi of Michigan, for example, offer a striking example of political resistance, Ostler says. Traditional residents of the Great Lakes region, most Potawatomis were displaced farther west following the Treaty of Chicago in 1833. But Leopold Pokagon, leader of the tribe’s Catholic converts, obtained the support of a Michigan Supreme Court justice and negotiated an agreement allowing his community of around 280 people to remain on their traditional homelands. Later in the century, other Potawatomi bands returned to Michigan and established communities. In time, with struggle, these groups also attained land and federal recognition.  The most important part of his book’s title, Ostler insists, is the word “surviving.”  Ostler’s work exemplifies the university’s support for outstanding humanities scholarship. He is one of 10 inaugural Presidential Fellows in Humanistic Study, a fellowship provided by President Michael Schill. Ostler will use the fellowship for a second volume, which will cover regions of the continent west of the Mississippi River. He can’t predict when he’ll finish it—but notes he’s especially looking forward to the challenge and responsibility of digging into colonialism’s painful history close to home in the Pacific Northwest. “Here in the Willamette Valley, the University of Oregon is on land that was forcibly taken from the Kalapuya people,” he notes. “Wherever we live in America, I believe any of us is well served to learn the history of the land’s original inhabitants, and to acknowledge the extremes of violence in our own history by calling it what is was: genocide.” –By Jason Stone, a staff writer for University Communications.

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  • Neuroscience team wins grant to explore cognitive flexibility

    First published in Around the O on January 19, 2021. Using a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, a team of researchers in the UO’s Institute of Neuroscience hopes to better understand the neural mechanisms behind the ability to shift attention among differing tasks. “Imagine an athlete or a musician or a student trying to focus on the task at hand, while ignoring the things going on around them and then suddenly switching their attention to something else,” said David McCormick, Presidential Chair and director of the Institute of Neuroscience. “This is something that we all use and depend on in our real lives. You don’t realize how important it is until it malfunctions.” McCormick is a co-principal investigator on the five-year NIH grant to explore the phenomenon of cognitive flexibility. Funded through the BRAIN Initiative, the Obama-era program that aims to revolutionize the understanding of the human brain, the project involves neuroscientists from six UO research labs. Together, they will employ advanced research tools and techniques to shed light on how neural pathways enable behavioral flexibility. “It's kind of the culmination of a lot of different things that we've each worked on separately, and now it’s a matter of putting it all together into answering these questions,” said Cris Niell, professor of biology and co-principal investigator on the grant. “Together we’re studying vision and we're studying hearing. We're doing everything from watching the activity of hundreds to tens of thousands of neurons, either with advanced optics or the latest in electrical recording techniques. This massive amount of interesting and important data also requires advanced computational tools that tie it all together.” Along with McCormick and Niell, the team includes biology professor Santiago Jaramillo, psychology professors Michael Wehr and Matt Smear, and Luca Mazzucato, a professor in the Departments of Biology and Mathematics, all members of the Institute of Neuroscience. The team will begin by training mice in a series of tasks. They will observe changes in attention brought about by different sensory prompts, so a mouse focused on a visual task may be cued, through the presentation of a smell, to quickly change its focus to sounds while ignoring visual stimuli. Niell’s expertise in visual processes will meet with Jaramillo’s research on auditory coding, Wehr’s interest in the auditory cortex and Smear’s focus on olfactory function. While mice are performing their tasks, the team will use advanced techniques such as wide-field imaging, which will enable them to view a large portion of the surface of the mice’s brains. Recording tens of thousands of blinking neurons generates tremendous amounts of data, which is where computational neuroscientist Mazzucato comes in. To help sift through the mountain of information, he will use methods from statistical physics, information theory, machine learning and other areas of expertise. The project builds on McCormick’s research examining how a state of attention can modulate the function of the brain and Niell’s research showing how physical activity can enhance visual processing in mice. Niell and McCormick have previously explored similar questions about the behavioral state of animals and how their activity affects brain processing. Additionally, the project dovetails with Jaramillo’s research on neuronal circuits involved in behavioral flexibility and attention. McCormick, who came to the UO in 2017 from Yale University, said the project is just the kind of collaborative research challenge that attracted him to Oregon in the first place. Tackling such a large-scale project required tapping into the full depth of expertise and equipment available in the Institute of Neuroscience. “There are only a couple of other places in the world that have the number of people and skill sets and a critical mass like we do for this particular type of research,” McCormick said. One of the questions the team hopes to answer is what specific processes are driving the attentional shifts in mice. There is some evidence that the systems that regulate behavioral and brain arousal or other activities may be involved, and the team will examine the role that acetylcholine, norepinephrine and other neurotransmitters play. In the later stages of the project they will shift from observing and gathering data to manipulating the mechanisms in mice using techniques such as optogenetics, which allows researchers to monitor and control the activity of brain cells with light signals. Any kind of fundamental information the team can gain about how the brain processes information and moves it from one place to another is potentially valuable, and Niell said the research could have numerous uses down the road. There are potential implications for everything from improving people’s ability to focus on the tasks in their daily lives to addressing more serious conditions such as attention deficit disorder or even schizophrenia and some psychiatric diseases. Niell said it could help explain other phenomena, including the so-called “cocktail party effect.” The phenomenon, which is sometimes described as selective attention or selective hearing, refers to the brain’s ability to dial into one conversation while tuning out multiple different conversations happening nearby. What’s more, Niell said, the project has special resonance in our current era when so many of us are facing additional responsibilities and distractions. “Many of us have kids at home doing school work and we’re trying to avoid scrolling on our phones to figure out who won the election and things like that,” Niell said. “This research is especially relevant now, when we are in this world where there’s just too many things going on for us.” —By Lewis Taylor, University Communications

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  • New COVID-19 relief bill: emergency funding for UO

    The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (H.R. 133), approved by Congress and signed into law in late December, 2020,  is a massive legislative package containing several substantial bills, including an omnibus package of FY2021 funding bills and an emergency spending bill to address the impact of COVID-19. The relief bill includes $22.7 billion in emergency assistance higher education and students. The $22.7 million funding is divided into four pots: 89% of the total for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF);  7.5% of the total dedicated to historically Black colleges (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other minority serving institutions; 3% of the total for student emergency aid for students at for-profit institutions; and .5% of the total for grants to institutions particularly impacted by the pandemic or disadvantaged by the formula for intuitional aid. The American Council on Education (ACE), with assistance from The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), conducted a simulation on how the Department of Education might allocate the $20.2 billion pot of funding dedicated to about 3,500 public and private nonprofit institutions and their students. The formula for allocating funds relies on several measures of an institution’s enrollment, including the number of Pell and non-Pell students; full-time enrollment (FTE) and headcount; and students who were or were not exclusively online at the start of the pandemic. ACE estimates that the University of Oregon may receive approximately $24 million, with a minimum of $8.1 million of that allocated to direct grants to students. Student emergency funding can be used for a broad range of purposes, including anything that is covered under cost of attendance.  Similarly, institutional funds can be used for a wide range of purposes, including replacing lost revenue or paying for new expenses. The bill does not define which students are eligible to receive emergency aid, and current guidance restricts eligibility only to those students who are currently eligible to receive Title IV aid. It is expected that the Biden administration will expand eligibility more broadly when it takes office. A summary provide by ACE of the higher education provisions of H.R. 133 can be found here, and a breakdown of the simulated estimate for each institution can be found here.

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  • Oregon's colleges to get $228 million in COVID-19 relief money

    First published in The Register-Guard on January 9, 2021. Oregon's colleges and universities will get a needed boost from the newest federal COVID-19 relief and omnibus bill signed Dec. 27 by President Donald Trump.  The funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act's $22.7 billion dedicated to higher education across the U.S. comes at a time when low enrollment and other budget problems are cause for concern for Oregon's higher education institutions.  Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission estimates $228.1 million will come to the state from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, anticipating $102.4 million to public universities, $97.6 million for community colleges and $28.1 million for private institutions. It's not enough to fix the looming budget concerns of many colleges and universities, HECC Executive Director Ben Cannon said. Nearly all of the state's colleges and universities have seen declines in enrollment, which poses problems as many still rely on tuition for the bulk of revenue. The institutions also have lost revenue from areas such as housing and dining, athletic and parking revenues, he said. Public universities alone are projecting $327 million in lost revenues since March and through June 2021, Cannon said. This is on top of the approximately $82 million in direct costs public universities estimate to have incurred related to the pandemic.  "So it certainly helps to fill those gaps. It doesn't fully come close to fulfilling them, but it is a very important investment by Congress in colleges and universities at a really critical time," Cannon said.  Community colleges getting more The distribution of the relief will be a bit different than that of the $2.2 trillion CARES act signed by Trump in March. The formula for these latest relief funds has been "modified to equally weight full-time equivalent student counts and student headcounts," according to Kyle Thomas, HECC director of Legislative and Policy Affairs. The change will mean more resources for community colleges than before, because more of their students are enrolled part-time, he stated. Fall enrollment fell at every community college in the state over the previous year, a HECC report showed. For Lane Community College, which saw a 22% decline in fall enrollment this year, the reconfigured relief funds will make more operational sense.  It takes more resources for community colleges than universities to provide for one full-time equivalent student, LCC Spokesperson Brett Rowlett said, because one full-time equivalent student usually really means two or three students who need one advisor. "Oregon’s community colleges are experiencing enrollment declines greater than 20% while the costs of delivering quality education continue to increase," said LCC Provost Paul Jarrell in a statement. "We are very grateful for this federal assistance, which will help us better serve students during the pandemic while also making necessary investments for a safe return to campus later this year." No budget increase will feel like a cut  Institutions will be required to use at least as many dollars for direct emergency student aid as they were before under the CARES Act, Thomas stated, "however, because institutional allocations are larger in this funding round, less than 50% of total funds are required to be spent in such a manner." The new relief funds also include $4 billion for a Governor's Emergency Fund, which will distribute money to governors to use as they see fit for their state's needs. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown did not include a funding increase for higher education in her proposed budget for 2021-2023, though she did provide increases for K-12 schools. It's important to still think of the emergency fund and Gov. Brown's proposed budget separately, Cannon said, because the relief funds are to be used for emergency grants to students and shoring up budgets primarily this year, whereas Brown's budget impacts the following year, too. However, both play into colleges' financial outlooks for the 2021-2022 school year.  If Brown's proposed budget is approved, it will keep the funding levels for higher education the same as they were this biennium. However, colleges will feel this more as a decrease in funding the first year of the new biennium, according to Jamie Moffitt, University of Oregon's vice president for finance and administration and chief financial officer. At the last UO Board of Trustees meeting Dec. 3, Moffitt explained that just 49% of state funding is given the first year of the biennium, and 51% is given the following year.  "What that means that if the biennial budget stays steady, we actually see a cut, because you end up going from the year — which is this year — where we got 51% of the funding, to the first year of the biennium when you're back to 49% of the funding," Moffitt said. "The bottom line is, if the governor's (proposed budget) goes through, then the legislatively approved budget for the UO represents about a $3 million cut for next year." This is on top of ongoing costs the UO expects to see because of COVID-19 impacts on operations.  “The University of Oregon greatly appreciates the Oregon delegation that worked to secure funds, which will provide support for immediate basic and critical needs as our students, faculty and staff — and the university — face ongoing hardships,” UO spokesperson Kay Jarvis said in a statement. Groups representing higher education across the country requested $120 billion, she said, so this is far less than the $22.7 billion granted.  "The relief funds are a fraction of what is needed to help the university and students manage the current crisis and begin to recover,” she said. "We have experienced increased expenses associated with providing the technology and infrastructure necessary for remote and online instruction, and made significant investments in COVID-19 testing, health care, risk reduction strategies, and on-campus programs," Jarvis said "At the same time that costs are increasing, we have experienced significant reductions in tuition, housing and dining, and other auxiliary revenue due to the pandemic.” The UO does not yet know how much of the relief funds it will receive.  Cannon believes public higher education institutions will see budget struggles if the state funding levels stay the same. "State support will be vital for helping secure those budgets for the upcoming two years without major cuts to programs, faculty staffing, etc." he said.  Those in the HECC are going to work with the governor's office to come up with a plan for spending Oregon's portion of the Governor's Emergency Fund, just like they did with the CARES Act last year, and if any will go to higher education.  "That's an additional part that could help to support higher ed. It could also help to support the needs within K-12, and it will be ultimately at the discretion of the governor," Cannon said.    -By Jordyn Brown

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  • Carmen Rubio, Portland’s 1st Latinx City Commissioner and proven bridge-builder, takes office

    First published in The Oregonian on January 5, 2021. By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh | The Oregonian/OregonLive Some residents in East Portland must take multiple buses to get to a doctor’s appointment. In some families, three school-aged children share a single computer for virtual public-school classes while their parent works a frontline job. These are the people on Carmen Rubio’s mind as she prepares for her first week in elected office. “How do we make sure that the city of Portland represents them too?” she asked in an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive. It’s a challenge — and opportunity — that the 47-year-old might be uniquely suited for. After two decades in government and nonprofit work focused on those historically overlooked by city leaders, Rubio will begin a four-year term on the Portland City Council, becoming the first Latinx commissioner in its history. Rubio, who was born and raised in Hillsboro in a family that immigrated from Mexico, “will ensure communities of color and others who are marginalized have a voice at the table when decisions critical to their lives are made,” said Serena Cruz, a former Multnomah County Commissioner. “Representation matters. It makes a difference.” Rubio became the first in her family to attend college — studying political science at the University of Oregon — and entered public service after graduating. She spent the late 1990s and early 2000s working as a policy adviser for Cruz and then-Portland Commissioner Nick Fish, as well as director of community affairs for former Portland Mayor Tom Potter. Rubio then went on to work more than a decade as the executive director of the Latino Network, which serves Latinx youth and families in Multnomah County. The experience provided a firsthand view into the lives of Portlanders struggling to get by even as the city flourished economically. It also compelled her to run for the seat being vacated by longtime Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “Many of the people I’ve worked with, you know, are working so hard just to provide for their families,” Rubio said. “Those are the stories that we need to lift up.” She won the election to replace Fritz outright in the May primary, capturing more than two-thirds of the vote in a crowded field of seven candidates. Rubio received the backing of nearly every swath of the city’s political establishment, including elected leaders, unions and business groups. By the standards of Portland city politics, she’s relatively moderate, more bridge-builder than firebrand or radical reformer. A studied, deliberate approach to policy has earned her the praise of progressives and business leaders alike throughout her career. On the council, Rubio wants to play the role of a problem solver and consensus builder, even on the most contentious issues, she said. “I will be the person committed to listening to all stakeholders to achieve a solution or goal, to know all sides of an issue” she said. “That’s the only way you can truly tackle things at their root cause.” How such an approach might play out during such a divisive time in politics, both locally and nationally, is yet to be seen. But Rubio said she feels undeterred. “It’s incumbent upon us to do the work to make sure we have carefully considered and weighed everything,” she said. “That’s often going to involve hard decisions. But I’m under no illusion that’s part of this job.”

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  • Mullens Named to Congressional Commission

    First published in GoDucks.com on January 5, 2021. Oregon director of athletics Rob Mullens has been appointed to a Congressional commission tasked with assessing the state of U.S. participation in the Olympic and Paralympic games.Congress has charged a commission with submitting a report with findings, conclusions, recommendations and suggested policy changes for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, under the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who represented central and eastern Oregon for 22 years before retiring at the end of the most recent Congress, appointed Mullens and three others to the newly formed Commission on the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics.Walden (R-OR) was ranking member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee in the 116th Congress. Leadership from the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over amateur athletics were charged with making appointments to the new commission.Under the leadership of Mullens, Oregon's pursuit of broad-based excellence has resulted in two top-10 finishes in the Directors' Cup ranking of collegiate athletic departments. Along with successes including the football team's appearance in the College Football Playoff and men's basketball's trip to the 2017 Final Four, the women's track and field program won the "Triple Crown" of national championships in 2016-17, and the women's basketball program has become a national powerhouse.While leading UO athletics to unprecedented heights during the past decade, Mullens has been consulted for leadership across the landscape of amateur athletics in recent years. He serves on an advisory council to the USOPC and spent four years on the College Football Playoff selection committee, including two years as chair.The new Congressional commission is a 16-member body that will take a holistic look at the structure and achievements of the USOPC, including as it relates to the diversity of its board of directors, and participation levels in amateur athletics by women, disabled individuals and minorities. It also will provide an assessment of the USOPC's finances, and review recent reforms including recommendations made in 2018 in the wake of findings of sexual abuse within the USOPC.Along with Mullens, Walden nominated Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue University; Melissa Stockwell, a U.S. Army veteran who lost her left leg while deployed in Iraq and now competes as a Paralympian; and former Defense Department official Joe Schmitz, who wrestled for the U.S. Naval Academy."As we continue our work to ensure athletes have a safe, welcoming environment – and undertake serious reforms at the highest level of sport – I am pleased to announce my appointments to the Commission on the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics," Walden said. "After reviewing and considering numerous recommendations for many qualified candidates, I am confident these four individuals will provide valuable insight and expertise to ensure the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee lives up to the high standards expected of it."The United States should always lead the world by example, and athletics is no exception. I thank Governor Daniels, Ms. Stockwell, Mr. Mullens, and Mr. Schmitz for agreeing to serve."   By Rob Moseley

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  • UO research team solves an ancient Colorado River mystery

    First published in Around the O on December 21, 2020. Two new studies by Rebecca Dorsey’s University of Oregon research group have validated the idea that the ebb and flow of seawater tides, amid a wet climate more than 5 million years ago, covered basins that are now part of the arid lower reaches of the Colorado River valley. The evidence emerged from separate projects northeast of the Chocolate Mountains in a region that now encompasses the small desert communities of Cibola, Arizona, and Palo Verde, California. The region is in the southern Bouse Formation near Blythe, California. The studies, funded by the National Science Foundation, were published online ahead of print in the international journal Sedimentology. “Taken together, our new papers provide conclusive evidence that the southern Bouse Formation formed in and around the margins of a marine tidal strait that filled the lower Colorado River valley prior to arrival of the modern river system,” said Dorsey, a professor in the UO’s Department of Earth Sciences. The first paper, led by former master’s student Brennan O’Connell, published Oct. 29. The research focused on sediments of the late Miocene to early Pliocene east of the Colorado River and south of Blythe. The Miocene, a geological epoch, lasted from 23 million years ago to 5.3 million years ago; the Pliocene occurred between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago. O’Connell and co-authors describe a rich mixture of carbonate mudstones, plant debris and traces of ancient organisms that record brackish water conditions where seawater was diluted by a large influx of fresh water due to high annual rainfall, before waters of the Colorado River flowed into the area. Previously, O’Connell, who is now pursuing a doctorate at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and UO colleagues had found evidence that the Gulf of California once reached as far north as Blythe, as detailed in the journal Geology in 2017. The sediments, O’Connell’s new study concludes, formed in wide tidal flats along an ancient, humid-climate marine shoreline. An abrupt transition to low-energy subtidal lime mudstone, she found, records widespread marine flooding associated with a long-lived regional rise in sea level. Relative sea level rise happened when the land sank due to long-term tectonic activity. The combined evidence from paleontology, ichnology and process sedimentology “provides a clear record of freshwater input and brackish water conditions due to mixing of freshwater and seawater in a humid climate with high annual precipitation,” O’Connell’s team wrote.

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