Text of President Michael Gottfredson’s Oct. 11 remarks to the UO Senate

Thank you President Kyr.   I am very happy to be here---at the University of Oregon and   with you in the senate. I greatly look forward to working with those of you in the senate and to our future interactions.

Now, I have been here since the first of August – not such a long time, to be sure, but I was reporting to a group the other day that since I’ve been here the weather has been perfect – and not just good, actually, it’s been perfect. And, we recruited a distinguished group of students who came to campus a couple of weeks ago, and we haven’t yet lost a football game. But then somebody admonished me not to take credit for things I don’t have any responsibility for (and I’m weighing that advice.) But they also advised, “Be careful of taking credit for things that might change for the worse, because then people might hold you accountable – hold you responsible." I think that is good advice. So I’m not responsible for the weather. I think that’s likely to change. The other things… I think we’re safe to say are probably going to proceed along.

It really is a privilege to be here as your president. I’ve long admired the University of Oregon. It is one of the nation’s premier public research universities, and I’m just delighted to get the opportunity to serve it and serve it with you. It is a truly distinguished university with truly distinguished students, faculty and a very dedicated staff, so it’s just a great pleasure to be here, and a great privilege.

And I can report that, having toured around the state a fair amount since August, there is just an enormously enthusiastic and highly supportive community around the university – a community of alumni, friends and admirers. Throughout the state. Of course, as you know, it’s true throughout the nation and it’s true throughout the world.

We have very much to discuss and work on together, and I’m mindful of our busy agenda today and that this is only our first meeting among many. I thought I might take advantage, however, of our first meeting to say a few words about my own views on shared governance. I present these ideas for discussion, for reflection, for your comments, as we go forward. I would just like to initiate our conversation. Also, even though we have a full agenda, I should highlight a couple of matters of current activity for your information and also for your comments and questions. These include some modest reorganization that we’ve done in the administration and, of course, the recent activity related to the topic of institutional boards – a topic that I’m sure everyone’s concerned about.

So just starting with some general notions of governance and what my thinking has been about that, ideas crafted over the years working in public research universities, and reflecting on how we might work together: I find my ideas about shared governance in the very idea of the university itself – in the kind of university that we are – one of the nation’s premier public research universities. Every word of that [is] meaningful to me, as I’m sure it’s meaningful to you. Premier, public, research university. But it’s meaningful to me in a way that might be somewhat unusual to you. In that idea of being a premier public research university, I find the basis for our governance model.

First, we are a research university. There are other kinds of great higher education institutions. Many of them have great characteristics; not all of them [are] like the characteristics that we have as a public research university.

[The] research university idea means that we value certain things as faculty, as students, as staff here. We value discovery and creativity. We admire and reward accomplishment in scholarship, in research and in creative activities. Peer review is our standard in how we come to judgments of scholarship, research and creative activity.

As a research university, we also value freedom of inquiry, freedom of expression. We value academic freedom. We value freedom of speech. We value these nearly above all else, because we can’t imagine a research university that does not have inquiry and freedom of expression as its core value.

We value community; also we derive that from the idea of the university. We value community as a place where there is very high respect for idea of collegiality, and for civility in our interactions, because we know that such a community enhances and supports the pursuit of ideas, the pursuit of creativity, and the environment for academic freedom and freedom of expression. And I would say, obviously enough, that we value the transmission of knowledge. Teaching and learning are essential values, and they’re embedded in the idea of a university. So all of those ideas are essential to the idea of a research university.

Remembering that I said – it’s a public university, and that’s part of our mission. It is part of our understanding that gives us other essential core values. In a second I’m going to relate all these to the idea of governance, but I think you can see how I do this.

As a public university we must value – we do value – access for citizens of the state. Our test for access is preparation – it’s not financial status or stature. And that’s embedded in our DNA. So, too, is the idea of quality, because we know as a public research university that access without quality is a hollow promise. In everything we do, we value quality – especially in our faculty. This is essential to underwrite the public promise – the public interest. We don’t know of an idea of a public research university that does not value integrity. We derive that from a number of sources, but we also clearly must derive it from the public nature of our university, from the public interest, and that means open, honest, forthright and transparent activities, governance and administration.

So all of these values underwrite the critical nature of what it is that we represent, and that is a kind of organization, a kind of institution--like no other organization or institution – with a very noble purpose. The sole purpose [is] to enhance the quality of life for citizens of the state, the nation and the world.

This is how I come to the governance idea – all of these things that are in the idea of a public research university tell us how we must be governed. To protect these values, it is essential that we employ a shared governance model – active and meaningful collaboration, active faculty participation and a faculty authority for academic matters. This has meaning that’s informed by history and by peer reference.

Proper shared governance expects competency and places responsibility for the nature and care of the central mission of the university with the faculty. This includes the curriculum and programs of study, academic degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, honors [and] the qualifications of students. It includes standards for admissions and for academic scholarships, the qualifications of faculty, including hiring and promotion. These seem to me to be faculty responsibilities in a shared governance model, responsibilities that derive from the idea of the university and the duty and competence to defend the university’s core values. And, the faculty have a shared duty – the duty to ensure principles of community. A key faculty responsibility is to defend the core value of freedom of inquiry and expression.

At the same time the principle of shared governance tells us what the responsibilities of the administration are, and the competencies to be expected from the administration. Essentially, those are to manage the university to the public interest, consistent with the derived values that I just enumerated that are implicit in the idea of a public research university. They include the duty to be capable stewards consistent with the notions of community and to the requirements of our governing board and other authorities. Budget and finance, operational management, and adherence to policies of governing bodies are administrative duties in shared governance.

In my view, the administrative governance responsibilities only work when important policies and practices are informed by consultation and advice from the faculty, staff and students. Such consultation and advice can only be meaningful if it takes place in a spirit of transparency and knowledge and in a timely manner. There’s not much use in consulting after the fact – or not much use consistent with these ideas of governance, anyway.

So there’s an essential advisory role for the senate, even on administrative matters – an essential role on those matters that are central to the execution of our mission, like budget and finance, space and capital planning, athletics and of course participation in the selection and the evaluation of academic administrators.

So those are the general divisions of responsibility that I see, that I have found useful and which are, I believe, implicit in the idea of the kind of university that we have – and that we share with similar universities. Today’s senate meeting will be addressing many significant issues to help illustrate this division of responsibility.

One of the topics on our agenda is academic freedom. I’ve read a current senate document on this topic, which I don’t believe is quite ready for senate action. I believe that this concept, this idea and these principles of governance, are essentially a faculty matter, and that policies, rules, legislation and defense of this value is the purview of the faculty. And I should say, because I know that we have some law faculty in the room, consistent with the law and the constitution. This is particularly important, obviously, in talking about academic freedom and freedom of expression.

I also observe that [in] today’s agenda we have a time for discussion of a new administrative rule on drug testing. Now, I’d say a senate discussion on this topic is of great value and should be considered in a timely way, on what seems to be an administrative decision. Administrative decisions are always best informed by a broad engagement and commentary, particularly if there’s interest in them. I’m very grateful that President Berdahl postponed this particular matter until people came back to the university, and such discussion could take place.

I have been reading with a lot of admiration the University of Oregon's constitution. The document appears to express shared governance in the way that I just described, to be solidly grounded in law, and on our system of internal management directives, and I look forward to conversations about this document and learning from you if it is consistent with these ideas I have presented..

Now I should quickly add, that I realize that, as with all public institutions, the ultimate responsibility for decisions rests with the president, because he or she reports to a governing board from which all of these authorities also derive. But on matters of the academic core as just described, I believe that decision-making and responsibility should reside with the faculty, and I choose those words advisedly, consistent with my own experience working in major public research universities like ours. I think those are appropriately delegated decisions and responsibilities to the faculty. I would love to come back to these ideas – and know we will – and discuss them with you and get your ideas as we reflect on shared governance.

Very quickly then, President Kyr, there are a couple of recent items to comment on. One has to do with the administrative reorganization. The provost and I have recently created a somewhat different reporting structure or organizational chart for central administration. This has several features. There are several officers that will now have direct reporting lines to the president. This is posted on our website, by the way, so you can just take a look at the organizational chart, reflect on it and comment, and we’d love to receive your comments on it – both the provost and I would. There are several officers that will report directly to the president; the general counsel, director of athletics, vice president for development and vice president for finance and administration. All other senior officers report jointly with the provost. This is the so-called box structure that’s deployed in other universities. As I mentioned, we posted this on the website.

It has a couple of purposes. One is a division of labor, frankly, and recognizes also the expectations of attention and time for the president and the provost. It also recognizes that the provost, as the chief academic officer of the university, is also the chief operating officer for the campus. And should that reorganization be of interest, if people have comments, [I’d] love to hear them. Both the provost and I would love your feedback about that.

Very quickly then, a current topic that I would report to you, and I know everyone is interested in, has to do with the matter of institutional boards. I have recently communicated to the campus about this matter, including posting a letter that I sent to the chairs of the special legislative committee, who worked over the summer and early fall to produce a report – a set of recommendations; a draft bill which would authorize, should it be adopted, institutional boards both for UO and for PSU.

I'm very encouraged by the work of the special committee, as you’ll see if you read the letter I sent to them. I’m very optimistic about it; I think they’ve made great progress on a difficult matter – progress largely consistent with the public interest, and as such, the interest of the university. I offered some congratulations to them, described their report in a highly positive way, and noted some issues that we would like to review as we go forward.

There are a handful of those issues that require attention and some additional communications as this draft bill moves through the legislative process. I’m very optimistic about the process. I should say I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people, as you might imagine, around state government and the other universities. I think the likelihood of a new set of governance relationships that enhance the public interest is very high.

This effort responds, of course, to a national problem. It’s a problem of great moment here in Oregon; however, it’s a national matter that's been going on now for some time. It stems from the highly problematic circumstance that states are withdrawing financial support from public higher education. It’s been going on for 15 years or more, as the proportion of state expenditures to universities are decreasing – very dramatically so in Oregon and elsewhere. And this is increasingly problematic during this recession. It has resulted in many states, including ours, in institutions seeking a governance model that produces flexibility, financial strategies and sensitive governance that allows institutions to respond.

We have no intention, I have no intention, I’m sure you have no intention, of changing our mission – as a premier national public research university. We won’t change our focus on access. We can’t – it derives from the idea of the university. We won’t change our focus on quality. We can’t – it derives from the idea of the university.

What we must do, and are doing, is changing the financial strategies that underpin our organization, and we're doing that with collaboration of a lot of friends of the university – including alumni – and I am very optimistic as this new governance model takes shape here for us, that it will have very beneficial consequences for changing our financial underpinning in a way consistent with our mission. I just want to emphasize that, again and again and again: consistent with our mission. It will be consistent with our mission, or we wouldn’t do it.

I’m very optimistic that governance changes will help enhance our financial stability, give us the management tools necessary to flourish, sustain what we do – actually flourish. There’s very, very good reason to believe that it will enable the broadening of our portfolio, of how we finance ourselves – in straightforward ways, in non-problematic ways – and so I’m looking forward to that. I can see how we will both be successful and sustain what we do now, which is superb, and enhance the stature of the University of Oregon, both as a greater place to work and a greater place to study. I have no doubt about that. I think there’s very strong reason to be optimistic about our future.

Let me just end now by saying something that may not be obvious. I came to work in a research university for the reasons that many of you did – because I got very engaged and attracted to my discipline, to  research and scholarship, teaching about a field that I find to be extremely important, very engaging, and worthy of serious research and thought. That’s why I started working in our kind of organization, just as you did. I discovered that over the course of time, my own values are most consistent with and are best expressed by public universities – public universities that have a commitment to research and being at the top tier. As are yours.

I’m delighted and privileged to be here to work with you, sustaining and enhancing what I believe is a very noble enterprise, and I hope you do, too. As I mentioned before, we only stand for good things. It is in our mission. It’s what a public research university is for, to provide opportunities for the highest quality educational experience, because we know – as Abraham Lincoln knew when he signed the Morrill Act during the civil war – that what’s very important for the county is individual, social and economic mobility. And, as a consequence, collective social and economic mobility. The very best way to underwrite that is access to higher education – access that does not depend on status or stature. I believe that we’re doing a good job at that, and that we’re going to fix the financial basis for it.