Remarks to the University Senate, February 12, 2014

The following is the text of the president's prepared remarks to the University Senate at its regular monthly meeting.

Thank you, President Paris.

I will not take too much of your time today as I know there are a number of significant items for discussion on your agenda, but I do have a couple of important updates to share.

The first meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees was very productive, and I will talk a bit about that. I also want to speak briefly about the academic planning sessions the Provost is leading, and some of the ways we’ll be using the information generated through that process as we establish the priorities for our upcoming strategic capital campaign.

But first, I want to return for a moment to the matter of the Senate resolution, passed last May, regarding Payments by the Athletics Department for Academic Purposes.

Securing additional resources to support our core mission of education and research is, of course, one of my top priorities. There is no doubt in my mind that we need more academic resources for students, staff, and faculty recruitment and retention. Our benchmarking exercise makes our case clearly, and it is one of the reasons we worked so hard to establish our independent board. Our goal of securing additional academic resources animates our planning and will drive our forthcoming capital campaign. We are all focused on that goal.

The May resolution makes a very specific claim: That $4.5 million of those resources should be taken now, from athletics.

As I wrote in some detail to President Paris, I reviewed the May resolution carefully, and engaged in a thorough consultation process, which I described in detail in that letter, and based my conclusions on analysis of the data. In doing so, I have concluded that the May resolution is not in the best interest of the university.

Now, I came away from this process with an immense respect for our colleagues on the budget team and in athletics.  To a person, they responded to my requests with good faith, clarity, diligence, and a strong commitment to the academic success and wellbeing of this institution. I am impressed by their devotion to our academic mission, and their commitment to being transparent and flexible.

I am pleased by recent improvements in the university’s financial practices, such as the establishment of a university-wide Budget Advisory Group made up of administrators, staff, students, deans, and faculty that helps establish funding priorities and provides advice on administrative and auxiliary budgets. That group now consists of six faculty members, the largest representation of the group.

I was interested to learn that the Senate Budget Advisory group has met each year to review the university’s budget, including the athletics budget, and pleased to see that at the University of Oregon, tutoring and academic advising of student-athletes falls under Academic Affairs, where it belongs. I am proud of our position in relation to our peers when it comes to financial support of our athletics programs. And my sense that we are one university engaged in the continual pursuit of excellence, whether in athletics or academics, was confirmed.

The complex budgeting for athletics—which now must take into account decisions made in the past and agreements upon which those responsible for athletics should be able to rely—is appropriate.

The key issue at hand now is our focus on the future—focusing our existing resources, focusing our efforts and energies as we develop new resources to secure our place among the best research universities in the world.

As you know, the Provost is leading an academic planning process that will shape our efforts moving into our strategic campaign. Many of you attended the Provost’s sessions on metrics and benchmarks, and are now participating in the discussions of priorities. The next one is Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. in Gerlinger.

As we move closer to launching an ambitious fundraising campaign, the process of establishing our academic and fundraising priorities will be based on research, analysis, and our commitment to excellence. As our academic plan suggested, our strategy involves focus, where a cluster of strategic faculty hires will have an immediate effect on the ability of a department or program to secure a stronger position of national recognition and excellence.

We now have additional support in these efforts from a Board of Trustees dedicated to the interests of this university. Our new trustees met for the first time on our campus last month, and their focus and efficiency was remarkable. In a day and a half, they elected leadership, enacted by-laws, and established three committees (the Executive and Audit Committee, the Academic and Student Affairs Committee, and the Finance and Facilities Committee) creating a solid foundation for the board’s overall structure.

Members of the Board elected Chuck Lillis as chair, and I am enthusiastic about his leadership in this role. He has served on numerous public and private boards, including the foundation boards at the University of Washington and the University of Colorado at Boulder. And he exemplifies the idea of an institutional board that is intimately connected to the mission of this university—Like many members of our board, he is an alumnus, having received his doctorate in 1972 from the Lundquist College of Business. He also has a rich history with the UO as a supporter and philanthropist.

Ginevra Ralph, also an alumna as well as a former UO instructor, was elected Vice Chair. She is a cofounder and the director of education for Eugene's John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts and also cofounded the Eugene Opera and the Oregon Festival of American Music.

They also met with the Higher Education Coordinating Commission—HECC—leadership. The first thing they wanted to know was what the HECC is doing that is pertinent to a research university. They asked how the commission would weigh the importance of research and innovation, and about the role nonresident enrollment plays in benefiting the state and stimulating the economy.  The HECC is now aware this is a priority of our board. This demonstrates our trustees’ clear commitment to propel the university forward and a deep understanding of our unique needs as a public research university.

You have several important topics of discussion on your agenda today, and I will leave you time to give them the careful consideration they deserve. But one final thing I want to say is just how fortunate we are to work with the remarkable people in emergency management, operations, housing, communications and many more departments who worked tirelessly through the weekend ice storm to keep our students safe and our campus functioning. They went above and beyond to keep us informed, keep the library, dining halls, and recreation centers open for students, and paths and roads safe for all of the campus community. We thank you for it.