August 22, 2022
Dear University of Oregon community,
It is with tremendous excitement that I write to you today as interim president of the University of Oregon. I am very honored by the appointment and humbled by the responsibility to our entire community that this opportunity entails. I am grateful for all the well wishes and expressions of support I received after last week’s announcement.
I could not be more firmly committed to this role as interim president. I have served in a variety of roles during my 22 years at the UO, most recently as provost, during one of the more challenging periods of our history, and so have been fortunate to have had a front row seat to observe and support the amazing passion and creative energy that our faculty, staff, and students bring to their work. But I have also been here through disruptive changes in leadership and damaging cuts to our budget, which is why I am particularly committed to an ethos of stability and positive engagement as a central feature of my time as interim president. And I feel particularly fortunate that we have been able to institutionally maintain such a strong path forward in a manner that allows stability—in vision, in finances, and in operations—to be a foundation that we can rely upon at this particular moment in time. I know I speak for so many of us in extending thanks and gratitude to my friend and colleague Michael H. Schill for helping lead us to this position.
When I first came to the UO two decades ago, I was struck by the sense of shared purpose and community that I experienced: that we could seek to expand the bounds of human awareness through cutting edge research and creative practice while still being caring and transformative teachers and mentors to our students. A variety of largely external and societal forces have frayed at those edges a bit over the years, but there is still something uniquely Oregon about this university, and the steadfast commitment to growth and learning demonstrated by members of our university community. This is something that we need to continue to embrace and celebrate. Just last week I was able to hear a research presentation by an undergraduate summer research fellow working in my lab. He spoke about the excitement of sitting for hours looking at a glowing red worm that he had just created to help us track changes in gene expression over time as a tool for improving healthy aging. It was exactly the feeling that I had when I accomplished the same feat for the first time as a young scientist. It reminded me yet again why we do what we do. Each of us, regardless of field, know that sense of joy and awe when everything is just right. We believe in the transformative potential of being immersed in an environment that seeks the cutting edge of knowledge and insight about ourselves and the world around us. And we believe in using that work—that commitment—with a goal of maximizing the human potential of every member of our community.
In my administrative roles as provost, in the Office of Research and Innovation, and in helping to establish the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact and the Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health, I have had an opportunity to travel extensively around Oregon and across major economic and cultural centers of the United States. Meeting with people in government, business, research centers, and other universities during these trips has made it clear to me that the UO has a critical role to play in the world that transcends the classroom, research lab, library, or concert hall. I think that we all feel that we are in a moment of intensifying change. Higher education itself is at a crossroads, but more importantly, society as a whole is in flux. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the world needs what the UO has to give. I also have to tell you that the world does yet not seem to recognize this as clearly as I would hope. And so this is a path whose initial steps will largely need to be built upon our efforts, but we will take them, because it is what we are called to do as a public research university. This is why I am particularly grateful to the many alumni and friends of the university who also see this potential for broader impact and generously support the work that we do.
Over the last few years we have worked with hundreds of members of faculty and staff to build a strategic vision for what these impacts can be in a few initial key areas. I am committed to advancing this vision during my time as interim president. This will be a year of accelerating momentum, not of placeholding. That we are now in such a position of strength is a testament to heroic work of our faculty and staff over the last few years, as well as the continued commitment and flexibility of our students. It has been exhausting, and nearly everyone feels drained. I hope that this can be a year in which we can take a bit of a breath and return more and more to the core activities and values that brought us to the UO in the first place. My primary motto is: We are better together. And frankly, that is our only path toward greatness. And we seek that greatness so that we can do great things. It is why we are here.
I feel very fortunate that I have an outstanding leadership team and, together, I know we will continue to build the momentum behind our academic and research impact; our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and our relentless focus on student success. As Board of Trustees Chair Ginevra Ralph said in her message last week—it is an exciting time to be a part of the University of Oregon. I have no doubt this year will bring tremendous opportunities for our university community to further our knowledge and research, prepare our students for successful and engaging careers, and help our world grapple with some of the most pressing issues of our time.
You will hear more from me in the coming weeks and months. I look forward to working with you, and hearing more from you, as we continue our service to the University of Oregon.
Interim President and Professor of Biology