Oregon universities continue to plan for fall term amid the COVID-19 pandemic

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Aug. 19, 2020 6:44 p.m.

With fall term beginning next month in Oregon, most of the state’s major public universities are taking a cautious approach to COVID-19 — largely offering online classes.

This comes as other schools around the nation face major challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which saw more than 100 students test positive for the virus last week.


For Oregon State University, planning for fall term has been in the works for months. School leaders announced last week that more than 90% of classes at its Corvallis campus would be offered remotely.

Students walk across Oregon State University's Corvallis campus in this Oct. 27, 2017, file photo.

Students walk across Oregon State University's Corvallis campus in this Oct. 27, 2017, file photo. The campus will be mostly empty during the fall 2020 quarter as the country continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Bryan M. Vance / OPB

“We think it’s very important that our faculty and staff and students and their parents, and the Corvallis and Bend communities where we have two campuses, know what our plans are,” said Steve Clark, the school’s vice president for university relations and marketing. “It’s very important for both academic planning for course instruction, for research, for the operations that we conduct in OSU extensions throughout the state, for everyone to have a clear picture on what the future this fall looks like.”

Clark said courses offered in-person are largely upper-division classes that require laboratory work, say in fields like engineering or sciences.

“There are a limited number of outdoor activity classes that require in-person outdoor activities,” Clark said. Those may include archery, dance and mountain biking classes.

Related: Bend asks tourists to stay away amid ongoing coronavirus concerns

At OSU Cascades, about 50% of classes will be offered either in-person or as a blend of in-person and online, Clark said that’s due to the Bend campus’ smaller size, about 1,300 students compared to more than 24,000 in Corvallis.

The new academic building on the OSU-Cascades campus in west Bend is slated to open Sept. 13, 2016.

An academic building on the OSU-Cascades campus in west Bend pictured in 2016.

Amanda Peacher / OPB

Clark said the university is making decisions based on different “levels of operation.” Level 1 would be the lowest level of risk if there was a treatment or vaccine available for COVID-19. Level 2 would mean “COVID-19 is in the area,” Level 3 is “the prevalence is increasing” and health provisions in a given county are stressed and Level 4 would dictate an active outbreak in a given community.

“In Benton County, in Corvallis, we believe we’re moving from Level 2 to Level 3,” Clark said. “That’s why last week we announced that matters are serious, and in some respects getting worse, and we are going to move to largely, almost primarily remote delivery.”

Related: The pandemic has revealed the scope of Oregon's child care problem


In Deschutes County, where OSU Cascades is located, the university has decided the community is at Level 2.

At OSU Cascades, Clark said, he expects the campus’ one residence hall to be filled at half capacity, with one student per residence hall room. In Corvallis, the university is following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for its residence halls, he said, offering only double or single residence hall rooms.

For both Corvallis and Bend, dining halls will offer takeout food only.

For any on-campus activities, Clark said, the university will continue implementing face covering and physical distancing requirements.

“We are ready to pivot at any moment,” he said. “We are continuing to take measures to work with our faculty, staff, students and the Corvallis and Bend communities to provide for safety. Safety is our first priority.”

Other universities like Portland State University and Southern Oregon University, in Ashland, are also planning for mostly remote classes.

Related: College students living on-campus adapt to a new way of life amid the pandemic

Western Oregon University in Monmouth, is planning for a mix of in-person and remote classes, as well as a hybrid of the two, citing its rural location, smaller campus and classrooms that can accommodate physical distancing.

Earlier this month, Eastern Oregon University, located in La Grande, said it is “committed to resume classes in-person and in flexible formats.” The university said it will have a “modified in-person experience for students in fall 2020” in order to comply with federal, state and local public health guidelines.

That could include courses being taught as a combination of in-person and online, EOU said. The university said after Thanksgiving, its fall courses will transition to remote learning for the last week of the term and finals week, “so students will not be required to return to campus for the remainder of the term.”

Other, smaller private universities are also taking a flexible approach in the fall. Reed College in Portland said it would provide a mix of in-person and online classes.

Lewis and Clark’s College of Arts and Sciences is planning for a similar mix of in-person and remote learning, according to its website. Its law school is offering in-person classes with the option of attending classes remotely.

The University of Portland announced that all of its classes will be held remotely in the fall, and that most faculty and staff will work remotely.

The University of Oregon is the only major, public Oregon university that has not yet announced a solidified plan for the fall.

The university’s website said it is “planning for a responsible and safe return to in-person instruction,” with additional information to come by Aug. 26.