President Scholz gives his first remarks to the UO Board of Trustees

President Scholz's delivered his president's report to the UO Board of Trustees at its quarterly meeting Sept. 11-12, 2023 at the Portland campus:

Thank you, Chair Holwerda, and trustees.

I also want to express my appreciation for Chloe Webster, ASUO president, and Gerard Sandoval, University Senate president, who just delivered their reports. I look forward to working with the two of you, and with ASUO, the University Senate, and others to advance the university for our students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders.

It is a great honor to deliver my first President’s Report to the Board of Trustees.

I’m going to address four issues this morning:

  • My first ten weeks.
  • University strategic priority setting.
  • Conference realignment.
  • And an update on leadership hiring.

I have enjoyed an awesome first ten weeks as president. A sampling of some of my many activities includes the opportunity to host several campus meet-and-greet events, attend the Oregon Bach Festival and USA Track and Field Championships, host state and federal legislators, host our Fairmount neighbors, meet with the leaders of Oregon’s nine recognized tribes, attend Fiesta Mexicana in Woodburn, visit with AAU (Association of American Universities) presidents in DC, and visit stakeholders in Colorado and Northern California.

Equally important, my leadership colleagues have been particularly gracious in adapting to a new president while we have been building culture and processes to advance the university. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the contributions of Mike Schill and Patrick Phillips—the university is in good shape.

We discussed some of my aspirations in the goals the board discussed yesterday. Thank you, trustees, for the feedback. I am excited to work with you on propelling the UO forward.

As I have shared in many of my remarks since I arrived on campus, I like the metaphor of the North Star to describe institutional goals. Great organizations do not just happen. They are built from clarity of purpose and a shared understanding of the priorities that permeate through all levels of the organization. They have a North Star. 

As I continue to listen and learn, we will be embarking on a process together to engage in discussion and define the university’s North Star for the years ahead.

The process will involve two engagement phases over this academic year. Phase one will include discussions using existing structures like staff meetings and with representative bodies like our University Senate, ASUO, including you all as trustees, and others, as well as multiple stakeholder sessions and a web-based survey for members of our community. To catalyze our discussions during Phase One, I’ll present what I see as a set of focused opportunities for the UO, and from those, I hope the entire UO community will engage and share their thoughts, ideas, and hopes for the future. We will do our best to focus these discussions on concrete actions and measurable outcomes, not just talk.

Phase Two will gather feedback on a set of priorities and goals that we’ll draft following Phase One.

I speak a lot about the importance of alignment. For the university to best meet our mission, we need clear, sensible goals. Ideally all levels of the university will be aligned with those goals. And these goals will be sufficiently concrete so we can act upon them. I look forward to continuing these discussions this fall and to celebrating what we learn together later in the spring.

We will begin by soliciting conversations around five initial focus areas:

  1. Improve four- and six-year graduation rates. How can we raise them and enhance the quality of the student experience? Graduation rates are an important static for measuring the overall undergraduate experience.
  2. Lead career preparation: How can we be a leader among great public research universities in launching our graduates who have earned a great University of Oregon education? We seek to prepare our students to make a good living and lead a good life.
  3. Enhance the effectiveness of our diversity, equity, and inclusion work as we seek to build a culture where all feel a deep sense of belonging and—with that foundation—create an environment where every member of the community can flourish.
  4. Further foster a culture of research and teaching excellence, building on areas of strength and distinction. These presumably include the Oregon Bach Festival, the Oregon Hazards lab (detecting earthquakes, fires and volcanoes), neuroscience as well as leveraging the groundbreaking work at the Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact and Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health.
  5. Leverage the reputation of entrepreneurialism, innovation, and success of Oregon athletics to elevate the whole university.

We will make an important step toward realizing this last area of focus when we join the Big Ten next August.

Before we discuss this move—let me note that as human beings we are capable of simultaneously holding more than one feeling. I’m enormously excited about the future for the University of Oregon and our ability to drive prosperity in the state. Joining the Big Ten Conference will provide us with an even greater platform for leveraging the excellence and brand of Oregon athletics. At the same time, I have great sympathy for the challenges our peers at Oregon State are navigating. I support and want to see the Beavers be successful. My team and I continue to be ready and willing to talk to our colleagues at OSU and WSU about solutions for a stable future for us all.

Some are deploring Oregon’s move to the Big Ten saying we’ve chosen money over mission. That’s not true. The UO is a nonprofit, and as a non profit we are focused on our mission to create life-changing experiences, expand the boundaries of knowledge, and to serve the state and beyond.

To understand our conference move I will explain this in with five key words.

“Stability”—This period of realignment started in 2021, with Oklahoma and Texas announcing their jump to the SEC. It continued in June 2022 when USC and UCLA announced their plans to leave the Pac-12. In July this year, before a TV deal was on the table, Colorado announced their intention to leave the conference as well. There is an upheaval occurring. We could wish for things to stay the same, but they aren’t. We will move to join the premier athletic-academic conference in the country to maintain stability.

“Visibility”—For us to be able to deliver on our mission for years to come it is critical that we are a university that has strong national reputation. Absent this move to the Big Ten, Oregon sports would only be available by buying an extra package on AppleTV. We will be available on linear or conventional TV to many, many more alumni, prospective students, and other Duck fans. This will be important for recruiting students and faculty—and for the university’s overall reputation.

And now words three and four: “Academic excellence”—the Big Ten has many industry-leading cooperative agreements that expand the access for our students and faculty to scholarly resources, research connections, and classroom opportunities. For example: the Big Collection pools resources across Big Ten libraries. Course-share splits the teaching of less-commonly taught languages, deepening language instruction across member institutions. The Big Ten Academic Leadership Program provides valuable training for department chairs, deans, and emerging campus leaders. And the vice presidents meet several times a year under the auspices of the Big Ten Academic Alliance to share best practice.

Lastly, “resources” because they do matter. UO is one of only roughly 25 universities in the country—and the only one in our state—where neither tuition dollars nor general funds from the state are spent on athletics. Our move to the Big Ten will make it considerably more likely that we will be able to maintain this boundary. Oregon athletics pays its own way and supports a broad array of women’s and men’s sports at the highest levels of competition. And we are proud of that.

I also want to thank you as a board for supporting the decision to move to the Big Ten. I know you did not make that decision lightly, knowing it would not be popular with everyone.

You understood that this decision was about doing what is right for all students at the UO—to ensure you can keep the athletic program self-funded so that student tuition and fees can support academics. You hired me to take action to position the university for strength in order to serve our students and the great state of Oregon.

Also foundational to our success is a strong leadership team. I am pleased to be welcoming our new Vice President for Advancement, Joe Buck, who will begin his position later this month.

The search for a new Vice President for Communications is ongoing. We continue to review candidates as applications come in. I’m optimistic that we will land a dynamic and experienced leader for this role.

I also intend to launch a search for a permanent provost this fall. As you know, Janet Woodruff-Borden has been serving in this role with commitment and dedication for a full year. I am grateful for her leadership, counsel, and wisdom. She has been a terrific colleague. This search does not mean that we will slow any of the important work going on in the provost’s office under Janet’s leadership.

Again, I want to thank the many, many people who have helped to make my transition into this position extremely positive. I am grateful to them, and to you, the board, for your guidance and grace.

I am very excited for the start of fall term, and the return of more students and faculty that the start of the new academic year brings.