2021 UO Board Summit Luncheon Remarks

President Michael H. Schill delivered the following remarks at the UO Board Summit lunch, a gathering of several hundred UO school, college, and unit volunteers and donors.

October 29, 2021

Good afternoon. Welcome! Welcome to those of you joining from around the US and world via livestream and to all of you here on the University of Oregon campus.

I am incredibly grateful that we are together again. I have greatly missed seeing you in person. To welcome you — our most committed, involved, and generous alumni and friends for Homecoming weekend — and to see our campus bustling again with students and activity, gives me more joy than I can express. I will never again complain about driving through the crowded campus at noon or waiting in lines at the EMU!

This afternoon we will celebrate the incredible accomplishments you helped us to achieve and look ahead to the exciting and ambitious opportunities for the UO to create an even greater global impact. But before we talk about our successful past and our bright future, I would like to talk about the present and how so many members of our community worked so hard and effectively to return to campus.

The pandemic presented the University of Oregon with some of the greatest challenges we have ever faced. Together we are not only overcoming these challenges, but we have emerged from the last year and a half stronger — more certain and committed to our mission of teaching, discovery, and service.

COVID-19 halted, changed, or disrupted every aspect of University of Oregon life. But history has shown, time and time again, that out of every great crisis, comes great progress and important lessons. These advances may not always be apparent in the moment but they are transformative nonetheless.

For the UO, many of the lessons of the pandemic are already quite clear and I would like to talk about how these lessons will inform our future.

Lesson One: Resilience

The first lesson that became apparent early on is that the University of Oregon community is incredibly resilient and innovative. Two years ago, we probably could not have imagined most of the university’s operations grinding to a halt and everyone rapidly switching to remote instruction in a matter of days.

We deployed technology, support, and resources to connect our students, instructors, and researchers to education and discovery across the state, world, and globe.

It wasn’t always easy or perfect. We sacrificed a lot in order to protect each other, but we also worked together to ensure our students could continue to pursue their educations. And last June, we celebrated —and some of us were moved to tears — as we watched our students collect their diplomas. Thanks to all these efforts nearly five thousand students earned their degrees from the University of Oregon this year.

Through it all, our faculty, sometimes under very difficult conditions, found inventive new ways to teach and mentor.

Our students explored creative ways to learn and create.

Our staff and administrators deployed safety strategies to protect our community — such as holding vaccine clinics, distributing supplies, and creating contact tracing teams.

Many of our top scholars created COVID-19 testing labs for our community and conducted COVID-19 research — such as how the virus spreads through the air, why misinformation spreads across the globe, and how to support children in the classroom.

And, our donors gave generously to help our students — including giving over $1 million for the student emergency fund and creating the Portland Internship Experience, which funded UO student internships for businesses and nonprofits hit hard by the pandemic.

There are a thousand examples of resilience and innovation — far too many to list — that show when the going got tough, Ducks got paddling. I am proud, grateful, and humbled by this incredible community’s determination not to let the virus close our university, stop our research, or keep our students from achieving their dreams.

Lesson Two: Value of the Residential University and Being Together

The second lesson of the pandemic is that while we can persevere while apart, we are, in fact, much better together.

Many of us suffered in the isolation and anxiety created by the pandemic. It was especially hard on our students. We knew we had so much to gain by returning to the classrooms, labs, studios, performance halls, and fields. Returning to campus was worth fighting for.

After more than 18 months of mostly remote instruction due to the pandemic, we were able to return to in-person teaching, research, and activities this fall. Thanks to the continued work of our faculty and staff, and our partnership with state and local health officials, we created comprehensive safety strategies. This included requiring vaccines, robust testing, mask wearing, case management, and other prevention measures. These strategies have made the University of Oregon among the safest places to be in Oregon.

Being apart reinforced for me and our community the undeniable value of the residential college experience at the University of Oregon.

When students live on a college campus, they become immersed in their education. For example, here at the UO, students have the opportunity to live with and take classes with faculty members in their residence halls. They participate in academic residential communities or freshman interest groups focused on their areas of study. They are able build relationships with their professors, meet with advisors and tutors, and benefit from the mentorship of the faculty.

Research shows that when students live on campus, they do better in their classes, are less likely to drop out, and are more likely to graduate on time.

Our residential campus also allows undergraduates to participate in hands-on research with the world-class faculty who are creating knowledge and making discoveries. They are encouraged to take chances and benefit from exploration. This opportunity to work in teams and solve real-world problems prepares our students to be problem solvers and collaborators — two highly sought-after skills by employers.

By living and learning on campus, our students also expand their social circles, experience new perspectives and cultures, and participate in activities that prepare them for their lives after college. This is a crucial part of supporting diversity and inclusion, so essential to a more just and equitable world.

The University of Oregon’s immersive residential experience is part of what gives our students a world-class education. Through all of these wonderful opportunities on campus our students graduate from the UO well educated, socially responsible, and career ready — prepared to pursue their dreams and take on the problems of today and tomorrow.

Lesson Three – Research Universities Importance and Impact

This brings me to the third lesson from the pandemic. The research, innovation, and impact of the University of Oregon — and research universities in general — is more important than ever.

As our most involved volunteers, you have long understood the role universities play in advancing society. Well, the last year and a half clearly put on display the crucial role that America’s leading research universities play in helping solve big problems.

Researchers at universities like our own have been at the forefront of creating solutions during this pandemic.

Universities were key in identifying COVID-19 and its variants, tracing the virus’ spread, creating life-saving vaccines, finding ways to test for COVID, discovering treatments, innovating technology to connect people, identifying health disparities among different communities, and providing direct access to services.

Here at the UO, I mentioned earlier a few of the ways we contributed to our community and nation’s response to the virus.

Another example: we were able to draw from our faculty’s expertise in biology and data analytics to turn some of the Knight Campus research labs into COVID-19 testing facilities. These programs are providing testing on campus, to all of Lane County (including Lane Community College), and are now serving K-12 schools throughout our region.

Another example — our researchers who study sustainable design and energy efficiency in architecture helped us understand how COVID-19 moves through the air and how to increase air flow to protect the spread of the virus.

A third example is how our science communication researchers provided insights and counsel about public health perceptions, how to influence behavior and create campaigns to help people understand the science and take actions to protect themselves and our community.

Our ability to provide these insights, and to shift quickly to address these problems, is made possible because we already had the problem-solving system in place.

That’s the beauty and importance of a research university — we are always innovating. We create solutions for today’s problems and even for challenges whose scope is unknown today.

These lessons demonstrating our teaching, research, and service mission are more vital than ever.

Progress through the Pandemic

While the pandemic challenged us and taught us important lessons, it did not stop our progress!

This fall we welcomed our largest, most academically qualified, and most diverse first-year class in the history of the University of Oregon. It is an incredible testament to our faculty and our enrollment management staff that these talented and dedicated students chose to come to the University of Oregon, even though many had never stepped foot on our campus due to the pandemic.

Our students arrived for in-person classes and they encountered a campus transformed over the last year by the opening of iconic, new buildings including the first phase of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, Hayward Field — the world’s greatest track and field venue, and Unthank Hall — a state-of-the-art welcome center, residence hall, and dining facility.

Speaking of the Knight Campus, we received a second $500 million dollar gift earlier this year from the incredible Penny and Phil Knight, which will allow us to expand to a second building, hire more faculty, teach more students, and create additional core research facilities and laboratories that will support applied science and bioengineering research.

Indeed, this fall the doctoral program in bioengineering has about 20 students. It’s a joint venture with — hold your breath — Oregon State University and it’s the UO’s first degree offering in engineering.  

Our Knight Campus faculty continue to make an impact on the world. They have established first-of-their-kind technologies such as high-resolution 3D-printing methods with the potential to make advanced medical implants. These versatile materials have potential applications throughout the body, such as artificial blood vessels, dental implants, bone and tendon repairs, and nerve regeneration.

Other recent innovations include creating sensors that allow doctors to monitor the progress of bone regeneration in trauma patients, devising new methods to design proteins and genetic therapies to treat disease, as well as coming up with new strategies to deliver proteins to repair damaged tissues.

This summer, Hayward Field opened and impressed the world with the NCAA Track and Field Championships, the Olympic Trials, and the Prefontaine Classic.  Next summer, of course, the World Athletics Championships will thrill people around the globe and demonstrate the power of our university and its wonderful history.

Our strength in athletics competition, human physiology, and the Knight Campus provided us with a terrific opportunity to partner with five other universities including Stanford and Harvard. This Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance will study human health through the science of peak performance.

This focus on sport and wellness is one of several areas we are investing in to create more impact for our students and world.

These academic initiatives are focused on sustainability, innovation, diversity, wellness, and data science. Each of these initiatives leverages areas of significant strength, areas that we will grow so that they will reach their full potential. Our students and the world will be the beneficiaries.

In addition, since we were last together in person two years ago, the UO has also invested in other academic programs that will continue to elevate the university as a premier institution of impact and excellence.

Our College of Arts and Sciences established a new and innovative School of Global Studies. The School of Music and Dance created a new BFA in dance and we created a major in Native American and Indigenous studies as well as minors in LatinX studies and Black studies.    

All of these advances were made possible by you and other alumni, volunteers, and donors. You have pushed us to dream big, challenged us to innovate, and enabled us to reach for greatness.

Celebrating our $3.24 billion Achievement

That brings us to perhaps our most tangible achievement of the last year. In the spring we met — and surpassed — our campaign fundraising goal, raising $3.24 billion dollars. We called it audacious when we set a goal of two billion. We ran through the tape and in 2018 raised the stakes and the goal to $3 billion.

The more than 500,000 gifts provided by alumni and friends set a university record, broke state records, and inspired the largest single gift to a comprehensive public research university in the US.

I am deeply grateful for our donors’ willingness to invest in this university, our students and faculty, and our vision for a better future. Now, we’ll pause to learn more about the impact of these efforts.

The significance of this campaign cannot be measured in dollars alone. It is more accurately measured in the lives that are changed and the future accomplishments of our students, faculty members, and alumni.

Because of donors and friends like you, more first-generation college students are realizing their dreams of a college degree. Researchers are making new discoveries that will directly help our state and country, benefit society, and transform the academic disciplines. Graduates are departing campus prepared to succeed — in rewarding careers and as citizens of the world committed to making positive change.

On behalf of everyone here at the University of Oregon and our students, thank you!

Perhaps a fourth lesson of the pandemic is that philanthropy remains more important than ever. We were able to continue to innovate and move forward during the incredible financial challenge posed by this pandemic, in part, because we had the donor-funded buildings, programs, and endowed faculty positions in place. This enabled us to respond and be resilient at critical moments.

Giving will continue to pave the way for excellence, impact, and innovation. It will continue to provide opportunity for students from every walk of life. It will continue to help solve problems we can only imagine. It will pave the way for greater accomplishments and eminence at the University of Oregon.

Our Path Forward

To meet the demands of tomorrow we will take all of our lessons learned and all of our accomplishments to build a reimagined public research university. A University of Oregon for tomorrow.

A future focused on preparing our students for a rapidly changing job market — through the benefits of a rich residential academic life that leaves them well educated, socially responsible, and career ready.

A future focused on innovation and discovery — as we continue to build on our knowledge and strengths to solve problems and improve our quality of life — through the work of our researchers.

A future focused on prosperity and benefit to our state and nation — as we address pressing needs, drive our local economies, and serve our communities and world.

And, a future which makes our nation and the world more just and equitable for all.

We are resilient, we are better together, and our work is more important than ever.

Thanks to you, the University of Oregon is resilient, ready, and rising to meet the challenge of today and tomorrow.

Thank you, and Go Ducks!