Open Mike: New leadership and the pursuit of excellence

May 12, 2016

Dear colleagues,

Over the past few weeks we have announced the appointments of a new vice president for research and three deans—an unprecedented series of leadership hires that are critical for the University of Oregon’s future and ability to achieve excellence. I want to extend my deepest thanks to Brook Muller, Julianne Newton, and Brad Shelton, all of whom stepped up to serve their units and schools with enormous distinction. Our whole university owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

I greatly look forward to welcoming our new leaders to campus in the coming months—David Conover, vice president for research and innovation, Juan-Carlos Molleda, Edwin L. Artzt Dean of the School of Journalism and Communication, and Christoph Lindner, dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Of course, I also offer W. Andrew Marcus hearty congratulations on being named the permanent Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences for CAS after serving admirably in the interim role. In each of these appointments, we landed our first choices out of incredibly talented and strong candidate pools.

While we have made tremendous progress, our work is not complete. Efforts are ongoing to secure a world-class dean for the Charles H. Lundquist College of Business, and the search is just beginning for a new law school dean. We also have open searches for chief information officer and the newly created position of associate vice provost for student success. While Scott and I are thrilled with the new leaders we have appointed, we both recognize that we need to work much more effectively in the future to hire women and underrepresented minorities for these important leadership posts.

As we, together, focus on developing and enhancing the academic and research capabilities and reputation of the UO, it is hard to overstate how important and indeed striking it is for our institution to have these new leaders. Few universities experience the sort of change we have experienced in such a concentrated period. In just over a year, we hired a new president, three new vice presidents, and three new deans.

Over the past six years, we have experienced enormous churn in leadership, with five different individuals occupying my office and with interim deans in four of our most important schools. While each of these individuals did their best under difficult circumstances, their temporary nature made it impossible for us to do long-range planning and reach our full potential. In the world of higher education, if one doesn’t move forward, one falls back. And we did.

Like any vacuum, our leadership void was ultimately filled. In some instances, the Senate took over a role that went beyond its constitutionally designated jurisdiction of “academic matters as commonly understood.” The faculty voted to create a union to help regularize employment relationships that had been frayed and to bolster compensation that lagged our peers. Individuals in departments, institutes, and administrative units picked up the slack and did the best they could in the face of significant cuts in state funding for higher education. We should all be grateful to everyone who stepped in, grabbed an oar, and kept our boat afloat.

With our new leadership team almost in place, we will usher in a period of long-term stability and reestablish more stable governance of the university. Our relatively new Board of Trustees will work with me and the provost to provide general oversight of the UO’s strategic direction. The president, provost, and administrative leadership team—in consultation with various stakeholders—will implement that strategy, manage day-to-day university operations, work with external constituencies, and make the decisions necessary to achieve our objectives of establishing the UO as one of the preeminent research institutions in the nation.

The Senate will serve its pivotal role as the guardian of our academic mission. The approval of new degrees, selection and tenure of faculty, creation and revision of curriculum, and establishment of requirements for graduation—these are all things that fit squarely within its purview.

Most important, though, it is the deans who will run the UO’s academic units. While Scott and I will remain active in jump-starting new academic and programmatic initiatives, the deans and department heads and center or program directors have much better knowledge (local and substantive) than those of us who sit in Johnson Hall. My job and Scott’s is to set the budget for the academic units, maintain a level of oversight over their operations to ensure that they comply with the law, stay within their means, and follow the strategic direction of the university, but also to let each unit follow its own path to excellence. It is the dean, in consultation with faculty members, who will decide which departments and programs will grow and which will shrink; which priorities will move forward and which will not; which faculty and staff members will be hired and which will not be renewed. That is the sign of a healthy academic institution. It is a vision to which I am committed.

I cannot wait to have the new deans on board. It will be a new beginning for the University of Oregon. Our future is limitless.


Michael Schill
President and Professor of law


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