President's Report to UO Board of Trustees, December 2018

December 4, 2018

President Michael H. Schill delivered the following remarks at the UO Board of Trustees full board meeting in Eugene:


You have heard or will soon hear about many of the key initiatives and priorities of the university during this board meeting including: enrollment, student success, faculty hiring, budgeting, and—coming up this afternoon—tuition setting, legislative session, and the Knight Campus.

With so much of this already covered elsewhere, I will try to keep my remarks brief. Today I will talk about three things:

  • The assessment of the College of Arts and Sciences structure,
  • the data science program, and
  • the potential changes to Title IX and our efforts to address sexual assault.

I will start with CAS. As you know, earlier this year Andrew Marcus announced he would step down as dean, effective at the end of this month. I am immensely grateful to him for his service, leadership, and fervent passion for the arts and sciences that he brought to his work.

This leadership change created an important opportunity to not only consider who should lead the college, but also to analyze the structure of CAS to determine if the combination of disciplines is best suited to deliver on our mission of excellence in teaching, research, scholarship, and creative work.

As you all know, CAS is the heart of the university, it is far and away the largest academic entity on campus, last year accounting for two-thirds of all credit hours and receiving more than half the general fund allocated to schools and colleges. This is where most students take their core education courses and the academic area that anchors all students still exploring majors.

The question we seek to answer during this period of transition is whether the college in its current size and scope is optimal. Should it stay one college, be split into two or three colleges? And what would any such changes mean for other colleges, students, inter-disciplinary collaboration, and our overall aspiration of excellence?

To consider these very important questions Provost Banavar and I sought nominations and empaneled 22 people to serve on an advisory task force to analyze the structure of CAS.

The group is made up of faculty members and staff from natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities in CAS, as well as one student, Executive Vice Provost Brad Shelton, and two deans—SOJC’s Juan-Carlos Molleda and Clark Honors College’s Gabe Paquette. Senior Divisional Dean Karen Ford will chair the task force.

Needless to say, the creation of this task force and talking about potential changes has created some uncertainty and insecurity among some members of CAS and our university community. Indeed, some faculty members are convinced that Jayanth and I already know what we want to do and are using the task force to implement that plan. That is not accurate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Now is the right time to think about what we’re doing.

The task force will begin meeting soon and will continue its assessment through winter term with a charge to deliver its analysis to me and the provost on April 15. I expect that Jayanth and I will come back to the board for a discussion of this matter in June. 

I am extremely grateful to Karen, and all the members of the task force for their service to the university conducting this important assessment and helping to advance humanities and the sciences on our campus. And once again, I want to offer my thanks and very best to Andrew Marcus as he returns to the faculty. He has served with grace and vision and thoughtfulness.

Next, I am very excited to announce that the data science initiative has moved into the next phase of implementation. Biology Professor Bill Cresko has been appointed founding director of the Data Science Program.

He will work with faculty, staff, and students across campus, along with a steering committee of campus leadership to create and grow the research and educational components. This is important on the research side and teaching side. Data is growing in importance in how we do research here and when students go out to get jobs. In areas such as environmental big data, business analytics, biomedical data science, and data science of social interactions and social impacts, if affects every part of our university.  

The focus of the data science initiative will be informed by the work of the Data Science Visioning Committee. This group developed a comprehensive proposal for how best to develop the program. Jayanth and I approved their recommendations earlier for this process and we are very excited that Data Science is moving into its next phase of development.

As you all know, providing seed funding for this initiative on data science was one of the first investments I made from the fund for excellence created after we received an anonymous $50 million dollar gift in 2017.

It is a major step forward. It’s not going to be the easiest. It is incredibly hard to hire top notch talent because Google, Amazon and similar companies are hiring the same people we want to hire. We need to be creative and strategic about what we are doing.

This is very exciting and I am so grateful to Bill for his work to advance this exciting and important realm.

Finally, I want to talk about our efforts to address sexual harassment and violence on campus in relation to the federal government’s proposed changes to Title IX.

As you know, Title IX is the federal law that requires public schools and universities to provide equal access to education regardless of a person’s gender, which includes ensuring survivors of gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence, are able to continue to attend school and flourish.

Last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed an overhaul of rules for how schools handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault under Title IX. Those proposed changes are now officially out for public comment. The 60-day public comment period ends January 28.

These proposed changes have raised concerns across college campuses, including at the University of Oregon. While we engage with many other institutions around the state and nationally in reviewing the proposed rules and providing commentary to the Department of Education, the University of Oregon remains committed to our students, faculty, and staff and to ensuring that they feel safe and engaged in all of our facilities, programs, and activities.

We will continue in our efforts to reduce sexual assault and misconduct, discrimination and harassment, as well as assessing and innovating our prevention and investigation processes.

The proposed rules do not change our mission to ensure that all individuals can enjoy full access to their educational opportunities. Our Title IX Coordinator, Darci Heroy, and members of our general counsel office will be participating in the review and comment period, as we expect many other institutions will as well, and we expect to have robust and open conversations as we learn more. Members of the public should also feel free to submit their own comments to the Department of Education by following instructions in the notice of proposed rulemaking.  

The initial assessment by our general counsel and Title IX coordinator is that many of the proposed rules are consistent with our existing framework. With that said, if the rules are finalized as currently proposed, we would have to consider some changes to our adjudication processes.

The standard of proof—preponderance of the evidence—would not likely change. But rather some changes to the nuts and bolts of how the processes work might have to change.

For example, we may have to hold live hearings with cross examination conducted by advisors, based on the proposal as currently written. We might also have to allow for different methods of questioning and information review by the parties involved. There may be other changes as well, but, again, the rules are not final, and we are still reviewing the proposed rules and assessing their impact. 

Some of the proposed changes could be positive in giving survivors greater autonomy in choosing whether to move forward with a formal conduct process or whether to explore different alternative resolutions. The proposed rules also give greater clarity on the expectations for support and interim measures to be provided to both complainants and respondents.

The proposed changes to the adjudication processes are mixed and involve some positives and negatives for both parties, but lean more heavily towards protections for respondents.

The bottom line is that our Title IX experts are still analyzing a lot of this information and will work to provide input on the proposed changes. And again, it does not change our intent to continuing to seek ways to improve our prevention, response, and adjudication process to keep students safe and able to pursue their education at the University of Oregon.

One other note regarding this issue—the University of Oregon is among the 33 institutions that will take part in the Association of American Universities’ sexual assault campus climate survey in late winter, early spring. We participated in 2015 and found the data very useful for advancing our efforts on campus. Students will receive more information about the survey next term.

This survey and many other ongoing effort on campus continue to help us seek to make this the safest campus possible for every student.

Thank you and I am happy to take your questions if you have any.