Board of Trustees December Meeting, President’s Report

December 8, 2017

Given the time of year, I thought I might talk to you in my president’s report about some of the amazing progress our school has made this year, and share a few incredible achievements by our students and faculty members that everyone may not be aware of.

Academic institutions today perhaps more than at any time since the 1960s have become focal points for controversy and disagreement reflecting some of the divisions in our society. But in all of the noise, I want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the significant progress we’ve made toward meeting our overarching goals of advancing academic excellence, supporting student success, and creating an outstanding and inclusive campus experience, so that our students can make a meaningful impact in our community, state, and world.

I’d first like to start with our work to improve our academic and research profile. In my first speeches as president I said that we would strive to hire between 80 and 100 new tenure-related faculty members over the next several years. As Jayanth reported, this fall we had already increased our tenure-related faculty membership by 47 individuals—that is net new faculty members. We’ll be adding more though the institutional hiring plan and though the Knight Campus. These faculty members are terrific. They include senior professors such as

  • David McCormick, a senior professor in neuroscience, who joined us from Yale this year
  • Leslie Alexander and Curtis Austin, two historians who joined us from Ohio State
  • Deborah Thompson, a political scientist from Stanford

They also include young, upcoming stars such as

  • Chris Herndon, an assistant professor in chemistry, who will become one of the anchors of our sustainable materials cluster
  • Leilani Sabzalian, an associate professor in the College of Education, who specializes in the scholarship of Native American people, whose research focuses on supporting indigenous self-determination in public schools
  • Andrew Kern, an associate professor in biology and a member of the obesity cluster, comes to the UO from Rutgers University

Soon, these scholars will be joined by Nobel Prize–winner David Wineland from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who will seed a new area of excellence in quantum computing, and Robert Guldberg of Georgia Tech, who will join us in the fall to lead the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.

You will hear more about Bob later today, so I will only say that I am incredibly impressed with the combination of skills, experience, and vision he brings to our campus, and I am so thrilled he is joining us. Also, I am very pleased that Patrick Phillips will remain as interim executive director, having created an outstanding foundation for Bob and our faculty to build upon. Patrick is a tireless, visionary, and enthusiastic leader who has accomplished more than anyone could have hoped for in a short time. He deserves our thanks and high praise for his work.

Speaking of the Knight Campus, just over a year ago, the Knight Campus was still just an audacious idea on paper—a challenge and a dream. Today, under Patrick’s leadership, we have acquired the land, created stunning architectural drawings, hired a talented new executive director, developed programming, and launched educational opportunities. We will break ground on the campus very shortly.

And, over the past year, we have continued to complete our extraordinary leadership team with the hiring of Provost Banavar to lead our academic mission and two new deans—Sarah Nutter of the Charles H. Lundquist College of Business and Marcilynn Burke of the School of Law.

There are far too many accolades to mention them all, but I do want to highlight a few of the honors bestowed on members of the UO faculty this last year:

  • National Medal of Science–winner Geri Richmond scooped up another national award from the American Chemical Society: the Priestly Medal is their top honor
  • Biologist Chris Doe was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences for his work in developmental biology and stem-cell research
  • Six faculty members were named as fellows by the American Association for the Advancement of Science—Alice Barkan, biology; Bruce Blonigen, economics; Judith Eisen, biology; Julie Haack, chemistry and biochemistry; Patrick Phillips, biology; and Monte Westerfield, biology

I have a long list of academic honors and awards here that I do not have time to read, but I will share this list with the board, and all are featured on Around the O. I am beaming with pride at these achievements.

I’ll also remind you of some of the major academic investments we made this year, including

  • launching the interdisciplinary data science initiative
  • purchasing a building downtown to give our arts faculty prime space to create
  • launching the College of Education Oregon Research Schools Network and the School of Journalism and Communication’s Media Center for Science and Technology
  • the challenge match for endowed faculty chairs in every school, college, and College of Arts and Sciences unit, one of which has already been claimed
  • a new $4.5 million commitment for doctoral education through the Raymond Fellows Program

These are just a few of our academic initiatives.

Turning to our student success and access goals . . .

In the second year of the Oregon Commitment, our effort to focus on student success,

  • we doubled the number of Stamps Scholarships available, our most generous scholarship on campus
  • we secured additional funding from Oregon Community Credit Union for the PathwayOregon program, which provides free tuition to all academically qualified Federal Pell Grant–eligible Oregonian freshman students
  • the Student Success Team launched an effort to more rapidly identify students who are academically at risk, reaching out to faculty members in key courses that students historically struggle in. Our campus continues its efforts to create a new culture in which students take at least 15 credits a term—the way to on-time graduation
  • we have (I have only just learned) increased our four-year graduation rate to 56 percent, which is 3.2 points higher than last year! However, there are special conditions that likely contributed to the increase, such as the unusually high level of credentials of the incoming class that might make this an aberration

A couple more reminders of student achievement: 18 UO students earned prestigious scholarships through the Gilman, Boren, and Fulbright programs to study abroad, and just last week we learned that recent UO marine biology and Robert D. Clark Honors College graduate Sandra Dorning won a prestigious Marshall Scholarship to study in the UK. We are preparing our students to compete and lead on a global stage.

Related to student experience and enhancing inclusion and equity—you are all very familiar with the progress we made regarding the demands of the Black Student Task Force, from renaming a residence hall in honor of a celebrated Black alumnus to the more than $1.6 million dollars raised towards a new Black cultural center.

You’ll also remember the thousands of people who came to listen to Ta-Nehasi Coates, one of the extraordinary African American speakers we hosted on campus.

And it was only a few months ago that we opened our beautiful new residence hall, Kalapuya Ilihi, home to four academic residential communities including one dedicated to Native American studies.

And we recently broke ground on Willie and Donald Tykeson Hall, the new college and careers building, which will be focused on advising and connecting students with career opportunities.

Speaking of Kalapuya Ilihi, I was invited by our new faculty member-in-residence, Deborah Thompson, to the residence hall last weekend. Every Sunday, Deb and her partner make pancakes for the students who live there. I ended up spending a couple of hours talking to students, and I have to say the experience was awesome.

First, I was inspired by how smart and engaged the students were.

But second, and more in keeping with what I said at the outset, I was struck by just how happy they were. I asked about 30 students about their experience here at the university. The word that came out of their mouths most consistently was love. They told me that they loved the University of Oregon and the education they were receiving and the experience they were having. It wasn’t that they didn’t have suggestions or even some criticisms. But even with our flaws, they couldn’t imagine being elsewhere.

I am immensely grateful to our students, faculty and staff members, and administrators for all they do every day to earn the love and loyalty of our students. And I am also grateful to you, our trustees, for all you do, for your faith in me to lead the university in a time of unparalleled challenge, and for the hundreds of ways your efforts will translate into our continued reemergence as one of the great public universities in the nation.