December 1, 2016
President Michael H. Schill delivered the following president's report to the University of Oregon Board of Trustees during the December meeting. These are remarks as drafted and may not be verbatim.
We will be discussing in great depth tomorrow two matters that occupy a great deal of my time and energy—the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact and the governor’s recommended budget that was released today and its impact on our own operating budget. Thus, I will keep my remarks on those very short.
I would like to mention briefly that I am very pleased with the progress we have made on laying the groundwork for the Knight Campus since we announced it on October 17. This is a historic time for the UO, and I do not want to miss any opportunity to point to this great achievement, thank the Knights, and celebrate the potential of how we will transform scientific research at the university and the economy of our state.
Before I talk about a couple of other issues, I would like to introduce you to Kevin Marbury, whom you have met, but in a different capacity. As you know, Kevin—our director of physical education and recreation—has agreed to serve as the interim vice president for student life until a permanent vice president is on board. Thank you, Kevin, for your leadership and service. We have moved certain services under Vice President Roger Thompson’s portfolio, which is now called “Student Services and Enrollment Management,” including the University Health Center, Counseling and Testing Center, the Office of University Housing, and Academic Extension.
I would also like to thank Bruce Blonigen, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, for stepping up not only to chair the search for a new dean for the Lundquist College of Business, but also to serve as interim dean of that college during the search.
As all of you are aware, campus climate issues have grown in importance at universities throughout the nation both as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement that began last year and this year’s national election. Our university has been working with our students and faculty for many months, particularly on the matters presented by the Black Students Task Force. About a month ago, we experienced a particular challenge related to a Halloween party held at the home of a faculty member at which the host dressed up in blackface, leading to complaints from a number of faculty members and students.
A number of racist incidents have occurred on campus fanned by the election. In addition, a number of students—including our undocumented and international students—have experienced distress as a result of President-elect Trump’s statements about deporting undocumented immigrants and limited immigration of Muslim individuals.
I have been very clear in my words and my actions about the expectation I have for the university. We value equity and inclusion, our mission of teaching and research benefits from diversity, and we condemn acts of racism. These values are unshakeable, but it is clear we still have hard work ahead to live up to these expectations.
Our office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity with the assistance of outside counsel are reviewing whether the law faculty member who wore blackface violated our policies or Title VI, and we are waiting for that process to wrap up, hopefully before the end of the quarter. This incident has already revealed a tension between behavior that is offensive to our university and free speech and academic freedom.
We continue our work to implement a series of programs and initiatives to recruit more Black students and faculty members, review our curriculum, and create opportunities in and out of the classroom for underrepresented students. The College of Arts and Sciences is launching an African American faculty cluster. We are also continuing to assess the feasibility and potential fundraising possibilities for a Black Cultural Center on Moss Street.
As part of our efforts to enhance campus diversity, Provost Coltrane and I have asked each dean and vice president to accelerate the process of creating their action plans to implement the IDEAL Framework. We have given each dean and vice president 90 days to lay out the steps they are taking to promote diversity, combat racism, and enhance inclusion. We intend on holding our units accountable for progress in this area.
To address some of the campus climate issues for underrepresented students, and in response to uncertainty many students and faculty members are feeling following the rhetoric from the highly charged presidential election, the university has created a website at respect.uoregon.edu. This site provides information and resources about the UO’s value of inclusion, our policies against discrimination, how to report prohibited discrimination, and how to receive support.
We announced two weeks ago that we would not cooperate with federal immigration investigations of our students either by sharing information or allowing our police force to work with INS agents in the absence of court orders or exigent circumstances. The University Senate joined us in supporting this effort.
We have asked the deans and senior administrators to make themselves available to our students, faculty, and staff at special office hours. Personally, I will be holding three sessions this month, and I have begun daily walks through the EMU and other campus gathering places to talk with students and “take their temperature.” I am also going out to join faculty meetings to talk about their experiences.
On the subject of the national election, there is much we do not know about how President-elect Trump will approach higher-education issues.
Let us first be clear about what we do know. The federal partnership with higher education is long-standing and there is historically a lot of common ground between Democrats and Republicans on higher education. Both student aid and federal research are historically bipartisan priorities. Both sides have been interested in more accountability for higher-education institutions in terms of how we are investing in the success of our students. And regardless of who became president and which party controlled the Senate, we knew we would face a tough federal spending environment.
While much is still to be determined, the statements during the campaign have raised some issues of immediate concern for our faculty, staff, and students.
First, the Trump Administration has indicated it will take action to reverse President Obama’s immigration policy. Our students, faculty, and staff are concerned about how this will affect them. This is an especially large concern for our undocumented students, particularly those who are here under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, and for those participating in the state tuition equity program that allows undocumented students to attend Oregon universities at the in-state rate. About 20 students participate in this program at the UO. As I said earlier, I made clear in a statement to campus that we support all UO students and that the UO will take no action to facilitate adverse action by immigration officials barring a court order.
Second, changes to the US Department of Education: the Trump Administration has nominated Betsy DeVos to the position of US Secretary of Education. Like others before her, her focus has been on K–12, not higher education. We do know that she is an advocate for K–12 vouchers, which may bode well for Federal Pell Grants. There has been much speculation about whether the administration will act on campaign rhetoric to dismantle the US Department of Education or greatly scale back the Office of Civil Rights.
Proposals to eliminate the Department of Education are particularly problematic for the UO. Our College of Education is among our most successful units in receiving federal research funding. If the Department of Education were eliminated, this funding might well be at risk. COE dean Randy Kamphaus, along with other AAU deans, is actively engaged in advocacy and outreach for these programs.
We have already seen strong indications that the Trump Administration will seek to overturn the Department of Labor’s new Fair Labor Standards Act regulations on overtime. We are working now to determine how to move forward on FLSA in light of the recent court order that has put a hold on the requirement to have these in place by December 1.
Finally, research funding: there was little discussion during the campaign about science and innovation. The campaign was clear about President-elect Trump’s views on climate change and we can expect that efforts to defund climate change research became easier with the change in administration. We do know that Congress will take action this week to boost funding for NIH.
Once the administration appoints its top-ranking science officials, we will have a better idea of what to expect. In the meantime, we are sharpening our advocacy case in coalition with other research universities, the AAU, and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.
Finally, I want to give a brief update on our search for a new provost. As you know, Scott Coltrane will retire at the end of this academic year.
We had a strong pool of candidates that we are narrowing down. We will conduct airport interviews later this month. This is a critically important position for the university, and I am pleased with the progress so far. I am hopeful we will have much more to report at our next board meeting.
I am happy to answer any questions about these issues or any other matters you might be concerned about.