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August 13, 2020 LA GRANDE, Ore. – The Eastern Oregon University Board of Trustees unanimously elected Richard Chaves to serve as Chair of the Board through November 2021. Chaves, a member of the EOU governing board since its inception in 2015, is a business owner in Baker County and an alumnus of the university.
“EOU instilled in me that I had what it took to do whatever I chose to do. It taught me that rural communities have a lot of advantages,” Chaves said. “The chance to make a difference in altering the paths of young peoples’ lives, that’s what it’s all about and that’s what nourishes my soul.”
Chaves served on the EOU Foundation Board of Directors prior to joining the school’s governing board. He highlighted several priorities for his term, including an increased presence in Salem, a focus on creative problem solving, and willingness to make tough decisions and stand behind them.
Board members met in a hybrid format, with some on-campus wearing masks and physically distant, and others participating via Zoom.
Trustees recognized retiring Board Chair David Nelson, and welcomed incoming members Karyn Gomez and Danny Bailey. Gomez, a professor in the College of Education, was appointed to serve as the faculty trustee, and Bailey, who works in the Financial Aid Office as the Scholarship Coordinator, was appointed to serve as staff trustee. New shared governance leaders for the coming academic year were also in attendance.
Board members responded to legislative and financial updates regarding COVID-19 and its impact throughout the state. Vice President for Finance and Administration Lara Moore reported that state funding for higher education would not be affected in 2021, but the coming bienniums could bring significant challenges.
“I’m grateful we have 2021 to further prepare,” she said. “Our efforts to reduce spending since spring have been fruitful. With many employees working reduced hours, implementing a not quite hiring freeze but a hiring frost, and virtually no travel, EOU will end FY 20 with $11 million in reserve—the strongest position EOU has ever been in—which will be necessary to weather the coming storm.”
The governing board will review the university’s final budget at its regular meeting this fall.
In addition to the pandemic, lawmakers and educators across the state have also been engaged with the worldwide movement for racial justice. EOU President Tom Insko also highlighted the university’s growing diversity of students.
“Part of our access mission is around achieving equity,” Insko said. “The ethnically diverse student population at EOU has doubled in five years, and we’ve implemented programs that have helped shrink the academic achievement gap from 5% to less than 1% for on-campus students.”
As the start of fall term approaches, the Board was also tasked with approving the university’s proposed plans for resuming on-campus activities and classes.
“We’re doing everything possible to have as much in-person instruction as possible this fall,” Insko said.
Fall sports schedules have been moved to spring, a change Insko advocated for to mitigate the risk of transmitting disease. He said shifting employees to remote work where possible and halting large group activities have reduced the risk of disease.
Students in the university’s Master of Art in Teaching program met for their two weeks of on-campus instruction with general success. Some lectures were held outdoors, and all participants and instructors wore face coverings.
“63% of our students come from underserved communities, which are more significantly impacted by COVID-19,” Insko said. “If we don’t offer the personalized education EOU is known for, I’m concerned those students won’t continue on and complete a degree. That’s why we’re choosing this more complicated pathway: it’s about altruism. Returning to campus offers the greatest possibility to serve those who need it most.”
Provost Sarah Witte has taken on the role of Resumption Planning Coordinator for EOU, and she led the presentation as staff members shared details and answered questions about how academic affairs, human resources, student affairs, facilities, and athletics have prepared for students and employees to return to campus. Trustees asked about specific protocols and safety measures, as well as benchmarks for each phase of resumption.
“It’s great to see us getting beyond simple binary decisions to start exploring the complexity of this new challenge that we face,” Trustee Bill Johnson said. “This work we’ve done to date is commendable and it’s good to see the progress we’ve made.”
The university doubled the number of class sections offered for lab courses in order to ensure appropriate physical distancing. Supervisors completed risk assessments for every job on campus, and laid out expectations for employees to stay home if they or a family member is unwell. Student Affairs will serve as the hub for student concerns, responding to possible exposures and coordinating care for those in quarantine. Facilities staff are evaluating every HVAC system and installing new filters, as well as ordering masks, signage and sanitizer stations.
“Students are coming here to achieve a goal, and it’s our responsibility to help them reach that goal with whatever tools and modalities we have available,” Witte said.
Trustees approved the plan unanimously and concluded their Monday session. When the group reconvened Tuesday morning, they were joined via Zoom by Dr. Emily Drew who led a discussion about institutionalized racism.
Trustee Roberta Conner explained that the construct of race is a creation of Western science that now has become ingrained in society.
“I believe we have a great deal of distance to cover,” Conner said. “Much of the institutional racism that we endure comes from attempts by those in power to convince themselves that African Americans, American Indians or indigenous peoples the world over have different sizes of craniums, different capacities for intellect, different capacities for achievement—and those constructs have resulted in the world we live in today.”
The Board plans to develop a statement on equity, rights and inclusion. Trustees created an ad hoc committee to engage with EOU’s Diversity Committee and other advocacy groups on campus in shaping this statement and how it will meaningfully advance work on this challenge.
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