Investiture remarks by President Scholz

May 30, 2024

President Karl Scholz delivered the following remarks during his investiture as the 19th president of the University of Oregon:


This place is breathtaking. 

Those who have listened to me speak over the last eleven months may have heard that phrase before. 

I will say it again: this place is breathtaking. 

What we have here can be found nowhere else. The majesty and beauty of the great state of Oregon, the dynamic vibrancy of our campus, the intellectual capital of our faculty and staff; our mix of liberal arts, sciences, and professional schools; and our willingness to push past boundaries in athletic and academic pursuits, these are the building blocks of a great, enduring university. I feel incredibly fortunate to have come here—to this University, in this great state, at this moment in time. 

Personal narrative 

True confessions: there are no circumstances I could have envisioned that would have brought me here, to lead an institution of Oregon’s promise and potential. 

Last year, after 35 years at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Melissa and I were finalizing plans for the next phase of our lives: a future of light teaching, personal time, and extensive travel—New Zealand, Italy, Argentina. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

I tried to be excited, but in truth I was heartbroken. 

I was heartbroken because someone else got what I thought was my dream job. What I really wanted—what I was passionate about—was to have the opportunity to lead a great university. I had come close, but it seemed fated not to be. 

And then came a series of unforeseen and seemingly coincidental events—and then a call, a conversation, a trip to Portland and to Eugene—and many amazing months later, I find myself standing here before you.

The luckiest person in the world. 

Setting up the vision

Like winning the lottery, when you realize you are the luckiest person in the world, you don’t spend much time asking how you got there. As it turns out, the question you ask is, 

What does the luckiest person in the world now have the opportunity to do?

I’d like to spend our time today answering that question by telling you the future I see for the University of Oregon, and some of the many reasons I feel so fortunate to be here today.

The role of a great university

I want to begin by acknowledging the precious, vital role of great universities.

Those gathered here today have chosen careers in the rarest of all vocations: an ancient and collective cause driven not by gain but by the creation and dissemination of knowledge. 

Throughout time, schools of learning, and ultimately universities, have created the knowledge upon which our technologies, our medicine, our understanding of history, art, the human psyche, and the world around us are founded. A community designed to continually create, share, test and validate new knowledge—not for our own benefit but for the benefit of all of society. This is a process both universal, and incredibly rare.

And frankly, the world needs higher education now, more than ever. 

The challenges we face across our globe are large and complex: they ignore equally the human constructs of borders and politics; ideology and geography; race and creed.

The issues facing us demand that we employ the very thing the world resists: big ideas, cross-disciplinary work, critical thought, engagement, and dialogue. They demand both blue-sky research focused on a future not yet imagined and scholarship that delivers insight gleaned from our past. 

Our students, our industries, our governments, and the larger society need the deep thinking, bold vision, and continual contributions of great universities like the University of Oregon. 

The opportunity 

So how will we meet this moment? 

Working together, the U of O is at a point of remarkable opportunity with great staff, faculty, deans and other leaders, and the collective opportunity to envision, and chart, our future course. 

When I arrived in July, I committed to a process where together, the UO community could substantially inform our next strategic plan. This included listening sessions with students and with alumni; with faculty and staff; and with business, civic and state leaders here in Eugene, across the state and around the country.

These conversations were invaluable, greatly informing my thinking as I got to know the University. Starting in the Fall with a general set of principles, these sessions helped refine and sharpen our thinking and added depth and authenticity to our vision. 

Out of that process came our strategic aspirations for this next chapter. 

And it is now my privilege to share these with you today. 

The vision

Over the next ten years, the University of Oregon is committing itself to accomplish meaningful progress in four key goals, focusing our resources, talents, and attention on the foundations of the university—our students, our state, our people, and our scholarship.

Student success, careers, and flourishing

Number One: We are the custodians of dreams. Families trust us to help their loved one’s transition to adulthood, poised to earn a good living and to lead a good life. It is an awesome responsibility and the University of Oregon does it very well. I have talked to hundreds of parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents about the experiences of their family members. I am heartened by what I hear.  

But when we look at data, too many of our students encounter barriers in completing degrees in their chosen course of study. 

We must remove barriers to student success. We will increase efforts to re-engineer better educational pathways to support our students over the course of their study at the UO. “Finish in four” will become a familiar refrain around campus. And we will place our energy and resources to make it happen for all who wish to do so. 

Number Two: We will be a leader Among the Nation’s Public Research Universities in Career Preparation. 

I defy those who are here or listening to not fall in love with the great state of Oregon. I certainly have. The green, the physical beauty, along with the kindness, compassion, and grit of the people are inspiring. How can you not leave your heart in Oregon? But this places a special responsibility on our great university to serve the citizens of our state.

We will meet this responsibility by increasing the connections, experiences and opportunities for students in ways that more directly prepare them for successful pursuits after graduation. We will be the go-to source for businesses, civic organizations, governments and others who are seeking talent. We will create communities to provide industry-informed career guidance for students as well as formal programs that foster networking both while at the University and beyond, through our alumni. In doing this, we will be a leader among the nation’s public research universities in career preparation.

Number Three: We will Create a campus of Flourishing 

Organizations are only as good as their people. We are the Mighty Oregon because every day, talented people roll up their sleeves, give 110 percent, and accomplish great things, sometimes in spite of conditions that might discourage others. To support our people, we will work to create a campus of Flourishing. 

What do we mean by this? Flourishing goes beyond the academic success of our students or the workplace success of employees. It requires attention to mindfulness or well-being, finding opportunities for growth, developing robust connections, nurturing resilience, and fostering a sense of purpose. We will build on outstanding diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts on campus, and develop programs, processes and structures that make us known as a university that authentically supports the flourishing of our students, staff and faculty.

Our scholarship

Our fourth goal is grounded in our scholarship. Our potential to contribute to the public good has never more needed, and in this moment, we have both the opportunity and the obligation to lead. 

To that end, and over the next ten years, we will continue to try to be outstanding in everything we do. But we will have a special focus on scholarship and creative work that accelerates societal impact, elevates the human experience, and develops innovative models for a changing world. That will happen through focused investments in four areas:

First, we will support preeminence in environmental resilience: including and especially programs that provide novel and scalable approaches to help mitigate the effects of a changing climate; or that provide blueprints for human society to ethically adjust and adapt to a rapidly evolving world.

Next, we will continue to build on strengths in mental health and wellbeing: including and especially programs focused on early detection, intervention, and support for mental and emotional health; and programs that add insight and scholarship to our understanding of the factors that strengthen individual and collective wellbeing.

We will seek to be leaders in the study of human performance and sport: leveraging our unique strengths in the study of human performance and the business and science of sport. Who better to lead this than the University of Oregon, in TrackTown USA?

Finally, we will accelerate the impact of our science on society: including and especially scholarship that builds on our strengths in biological, materials and applied sciences to accelerate the rate and scope of societal impact to Oregon and the nation.

These areas leverage our current capabilities while anticipating the future needs of society, our planet, industry, governments, and communities in the coming decade and beyond. Together, they create a focus for areas of investment and innovation that allow the University to provide the greatest impact, to the greatest number of people, for the greatest collective benefit – starting right here, in Oregon.

A campaign

The dreams and aspirations I’ve described are big, and we know philanthropy will play a critical role in realizing them. This is why we are not standing still. 

The University will be celebrating its 150th anniversary (also known as its Sesquicentennial), in 2026. Working within our new strategic framework, we will bring together deans and other academic leaders to organize and launch the University’s next comprehensive campaign around this important milestone.

As we prepare for that comprehensive campaign, we are building capacity with a critical initiative that we are calling OREGON150, with a goal to have raised over half a billion dollars before the end of 2026. 

I am delighted and grateful to announce that this initiative was inspired by a lead gift of $100 million for scholarships from Connie and Steve Ballmer. 

This generous gift will promote access and research, build student support services, and career preparation, and make investments in the UO Portland Campus.  

I also look forward to celebrating with the UO community a naming gift for our School of Global Studies and Languages later this year.

In sharing these important gifts with you, I am again reminded of all that philanthropy has made, and will continue to make, possible. As I stand here in the Mathew Knight Arena, I am overwhelmed when I think of our Knight Library, the Knight Law School, our Knight Professors, the Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, and I could go on and on. I want to thank Phil and Penny Knight and the UO donor community past, present and future. I am deeply grateful and excited by what we can build, together. 

Thank yous

Before I finish, there are a few others to whom I’d also like to express my gratitude. This is the part of the speech where I say, “I’d like to thank Valvoline motor oil for keeping my car running smoothly, and my elementary school teacher….”

But I’ll do this differently. My parents have passed away. But they would both be in utter disbelief, and unimaginably proud of this moment. Melissa, who “followed her boyfriend” to Wisconsin 36 years ago, I love you. And to Libby, Kate, and Karly—known as the Scholz girls—thank you for being here and for being such a source of joy in our lives. Friends from around the country, my thesis advisor John Shoven and his wife Katie, college presidents from around Oregon and many new Oregon friends are here. I can’t tell you how honored I am and I’m looking forward spending time together! 

To the higher education leaders, trustees, community members, and UO faculty, staff, and students, thank you. I walked into a wonderful environment. To former President Michael Schill and former Board Chair Chuck Lillis and current Board Chair Steve Holwerda, thank you, and thanks to other past leaders and advocates of the university. I stand on all your shoulders and take seriously the charge to strengthen this great institution and to accelerate the impact we have on the community, the state, and the nation. 


I have been asked what I hope my legacy at the UO will be. And while today is about beginnings – not endings – I find that beginning with the end in mind is often helpful. 

So here it is: 

At the beginning of my remarks, I called myself the luckiest person in the world. But I am not the only lucky person in this room. We all sit at a propitious moment, with remarkable opportunities to benefit our students, our state, our world, and to create our shared future. That opportunity does not belong solely to me—it belongs to every one of us in this room, every member of our UO community, and every person in the wider Duck family across the country and around the world.

My hope, whenever my service here is finished, is that we will have unleashed, together, our university’s unlimited potential and our collective ability to accelerate impact, to flourish, and to lead. 

Because, when we do, it will be breathtaking.  

Thank you.