Open Mike: student success and other 2018 priorities

January 12, 2018

Dear colleagues and friends,

As I write this Open Mike, I feel the earth move under my feet. Before you get concerned that I am singing Carole King songs (she is one of my favorites) or having a nightmare about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, you should understand that just outside my office massive trucks and bulldozers are busy breaking ground for the new Willie and Donald Tykeson Hall, the college and careers building. Since the start of the term, construction crews have been diligently digging, hammering, and preparing the site for a stunning new building that will open in fall 2019. It is noisy; it is loud; and sometimes it feels like the earth really is moving, but it is all for a great and important cause.

The Tykeson building will not only be placed at a central location on our beautiful campus; in many ways it will serve as a new center of gravity for our efforts connected to the single most important objective we all share—helping our students succeed. It will provide us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to refocus and rethink how we deliver academic and career advising to our students, all under one roof. In addition to adding much-needed office and classroom space to campus, the new building will house College of Arts and Sciences advising services and the UO Career Center. It will provide an integrated approach to advising that will help students consider their career options and then work to devise an academic plan for getting there.

The construction of Tykeson Hall is the latest chapter of the conversation we started three months after I took office about the importance of doing everything we can to enable our students to succeed. So much has happened since I stood in front of campus at the EMU and made the case that on-time graduation promotes a student’s likelihood of earning a diploma and substantially reduces the cost of college. We have already seen modest increases in carrying loads, retention, and graduation rates. While I am pleased that we have made progress, there is much, much more to accomplish.

Over the next year we will work with academic advisors in the Division of Undergraduate Studies, the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence, PathwayOregon, and all the schools and colleges to improve and enhance coordination through creation of a unified academic advising action plan. The important work of improving our student success efforts is being led by Provost Jayanth Banavar and Dennis Galvan, the interim vice provost and dean for undergraduate studies. You can expect to see changes throughout the university to support these efforts in the coming year. We cannot let our decentralized administrative structure stand in the way of our students’ success—and we won’t.

Today’s students need more than just a degree: they need assistance and guidance in landing jobs that meet their needs and aspirations. We owe it to future generations of students and to those who gave to this endeavor to get this right. We must break down silos between administrative divisions and schools to devise the sort of comprehensive resources and advising that will prepare our students for fulfilling careers in a fast-moving and increasingly global economy. In addition, we must create more high-impact opportunities for students to work with the faculty and more avenues for them to gain experiential education, such as internships and study abroad.

While the construction crews are building a strong foundation for the Tykeson building, we must start now to lay the programmatic foundation for long-term success. This is one of my top priorities for 2018.

Speaking of construction projects and laying a foundation for the future, moving the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact closer to its launch will occupy a good deal of my time in 2018. Luckily, I will be working with a terrific team, including interim director Patrick Phillips; our newly hired executive director, Bob Guldberg, who will be joining us this summer; Mike Harwood from our planning and development office; and scores of others. You may have noticed crews clearing the land on the corner of Agate and Franklin, and we anticipate breaking ground for the first two buildings in March.

Prior to the time those Knight Campus buildings are ready for occupancy in 2020, we need to do a lot of planning. Among the most important tasks will be for us to work with our faculty here at the UO and potential partners such as Oregon Health and Science University to determine the areas of applied science on which to focus. Our challenge is to pick areas that are not just hot today but that will be at the forefront of scientific advancement in 10 years. We will then need to identify, recruit, and hire world-class researchers and postdocs to come to Eugene.

Part of the promise of the Knight Campus is the advancement of science with a tangible, beneficial impact on society. We hope that the discoveries and innovations will make the world better and, at the same time, drive economic activity in the region. One way this will occur is through the creation of companies that will bring new products and therapeutic treatments to market. We will need to work with faculty members, alumni, and community members to create an ecosystem in Eugene to promote this kind of activity. That work begins now.

While the creation of the Knight Campus is the most dramatic academic undertaking at the UO, it is certainly not the only one. Provost Banavar and I are working with faculty members and deans to support existing areas of excellence and seed new and exciting ones that will strengthen our university’s academic profile and meet our students’ needs. We have already provided seed funding for the School of Journalism and Communication’s Media Center for Science and Technology, the College of Education’s Oregon Research Schools Network, and faculty lines for the College of Arts and Science’s emerging Black studies program. We are also working with faculty members to conceptualize and fund new and exciting programs in data science, neuroscience, and the microbiome.

We have asked deans to work with their faculties to think about new and innovative interdisciplinary programs. It is my hope that great ideas in the social sciences, humanities, arts, and professional schools will outstrip available resources. That is the sign of a healthy, striving institution. The provost and I will work with deans to find new resources through philanthropy, an increase in revenue, and the reallocation of existing resources. The new institutional hiring plan will be one way we can achieve this.

I am also eager to move forward with online education. The UO has been slow to move into this realm and, frankly, it is hurting us. Students today demand online options. If we do not provide them, they will go (and are going) elsewhere. More robust online offerings could generate revenue to moderate future tuition increases and help fund our march toward excellence. What is more important, the creation of online course options would help our students graduate on time—saving them time and money and accelerating their move into the workforce. I have asked the provost to move quickly and to work with our faculty and administrators to explore and implement models of online education that simultaneously maintain high levels of quality and achieve these objectives.

A new year is about resolutions. Before winter break I attended a Quack Chat talk by Elliot Berkman, associate professor of psychology, who presented research that shows much of the motivation to hold to our resolutions is driven by social connections and our own self-image. I couldn’t help thinking as I listened to Elliot that if we all work together toward excellence, expect and encourage each other to be great, and see ourselves as a world-class public research university, we will continue to enhance and increase excellence at the UO. We have much work to do. I hope you’ll join me in the effort to stay focused on the things that matter most—moving heaven and earth to help our students succeed and building an academic program of distinction.


Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law