President Gottfredson's Remarks to the University Senate, December 4, 2013

The following are President Gottfredson’s prepared remarks for presentation to the University Senate on Wednesday, December 4, 2013. The text is not a verbatim transcript of remarks presented.

I’m pleased to be here today, and thank you for being here as well—I know this is an especially busy time. It’s been just three weeks since I last met with the Senate so I’ll keep my remarks concise, but I do have a few updates I’d like to share with you.

Last month I noted that we had a very positive and productive meeting with the Senate workgroup on academic freedom and freedom of speech, and I’m pleased to report that our work on this important issue continues. We had another very good session just a couple of days ago, and professor Dreiling will provide a report from the committee this afternoon.

I also spoke last month about our ongoing strategic planning process, and how the broad participation of faculty and staff would play an important part in shaping the plan that will move our university forward.

Earlier this week, the provost sent out an invitation to our campus community to take part in a series of academic planning discussions that are scheduled over the next several months, beginning next Tuesday. Your participation in these conversations is important, as they will help determine the priorities and guide the direction of our university, particularly our strategic capital campaign. These discussions are crucial to our academic planning process, and part of a larger effort to articulate a clear path forward for this university—a plan.

We are, as you know, staging for a strategic capital campaign. The academic planning process we are inviting you to participate in will help define that process. At the same time, the deans are updating their plans for the next quarter.

I think we’re in pretty clear agreement about our needs are in general (money) to support our priorities in a planned way: more tenure-track faculty and improved facilities and more support for doctoral students and for Oregon resident undergraduates.

The academic plan and the planning process we are engaged in will provide the foundation that informs our strategic capital campaign. It will help determine our priorities as we establish near-term and long-term goals for the university.

I’d like to take the remainder of my time to address an important issue that will be brought up for discussion in this meeting today, and that is the university’s financial support of its athletics programs. I appreciate the Senate’s concern with this matter, and the Senate president’s determination that it is a matter worthy of discussion here. We have been in discussions of these issues with the vice president for finance and administration, the athletic director, the Senate president, and others.

We have an athletics program that contributes to the strength of the university in many ways. There are considerable resources involved in these programs, and how they are generated and expended are critically important questions.

We know that successful athletics programs such as ours bring enormous value to the institution, to our students, and to our community. We value our association with the Pac-12, an association that includes both athletic and academic components. These programs and associations align with our commitment to excellence in all we do.

Regarding budgets, my observation is that on a continuum with our AAU and Pac-12 peers, our athletics department anchors the very low end of the range of general campus support received. We provide less, by far, than most. And the University of Oregon is, of course, a single entity, interconnected at many levels, budgetary and otherwise. We have many budgets, and they are interrelated.

As I have said before, as we continue our discussion of athletics budgets and their relationship to other campus budgets, it is essential we do so within the context of our existing agreements and obligations. It is important that the athletics department be able to satisfy its many obligations—which pre-date this administration—because if it does not, they will fall to the general budget to satisfy.

Now, given the satisfaction of our existing obligations, it is appropriate to determine whether and how revenue generated by athletics can create additional benefit to the entire campus. This is our aim, and clearly the objective of the Pac-12 Network.

My study leads me to the preliminary conclusion that our focus should be on future revenue opportunities, particularly from the Pac-12 Network, and perhaps from licensing opportunities. This is subject to network costs being covered and additional revenue being generated, but it is an area of real potential. My discussions with the vice president for finance and administration and the athletic director are on how these unbudgeted revenues can best be used moving forward—remembering that as one twelfth of the membership, it is not entirely our call.

To speak directly to the point of academic tutoring for student athletes being supported through academic-unit budgets, there is no question in my mind that this must be structured this way. Academic units must have authority over academic tutoring, this is not an appropriate area to have under the direct purview of the athletics department.

Is this a “subsidy”? My impression is no. For example, there is the element of tuition differential. While many of our peer institutions provide tuition waivers for their student athletes, we do not. Here, the athletics department pays tuition for scholarship athletes. In addition, a greater proportion of our student athletes are nonresidents than is true for our campus as a whole. This creates a revenue stream that is about the same as the current extra cost for tutoring and advising student athletes—academic support that, by the way, we are required to provide, and should provide to support our students’ academic success. To characterize this as a “subsidy” seems to me to be incorrect.

But this is a single element of a complex matter. Such issues can be addressed only with a full view of the multiple budgets involved. This is best done by an advisory budget committee. I am told that athletics finances have been discussed repeatedly by the Senate Budget Committee, which is appointed by the Senate president; in fact, they do so every year. They are meeting again soon, and at my request I will join them in that discussion to address the very issues included in the Senate resolution, as well as the opportunities should additional revenue become available for the general budget.

Four of the six members of the Senate Budget Committee have agreed to serve on the Budget Advisory Group, along with two additional faculty members from the Faculty Advisory Council and the Research Advisory Board. This year, the Budget Advisory Group will address auxiliary as well as the general budgets. This is an appropriate structure for the continuation of this discussion as it relates to the university budget, and is in strong alignment with both the letter and the spirit of the concept of shared governance and my personal commitment to continue discussions of this important topic.

I believe our athletics program is appropriately committed to our academic mission, and reflects our commitment to excellence in everything we do. Our student athletes' contributions on and off the playing field are simply outstanding. Our coaches and athletic administrators are excellent, and dedicated to the success of our students.

We certainly are not ignoring the financial matter at hand. Like our peers, we are striving to get it right—to balance competitiveness and excellence and always keep our academic mission at the center, where it belongs and where it is now.