Reflections: President's Report to the UO Board of Trustees

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

President Karl Scholz delivered the following remarks to the UO Board of Trustees as his President's Report during the March 2024 board meeting:

It was one year ago, almost to the day, that this board entrusted me with the responsibility of leading this incredible university. 

With more than eight months as president of the University of Oregon now under me, I would like to take this opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned. I preface this by stating that I remain even more excited, enthusiastic, and bullish on the UO than I was when I accepted this position a year ago in the Minneapolis Airport on year ago. The last few months have underscored what tremendous opportunities lie in front of us. I am humbled and delighted to be here and with the benefit of the last eight months, I am a bit more informed, experienced, perhaps even a bit more tested than I was eight months ago. 

Let me start by reminding everybody here and listening that universities in general, and the University of Oregon in particular, play a precious role in society. There are very few institutions that have as their basic mission the task of bringing together people of widely different backgrounds, and none that that are also organized around the dissemination and creation of knowledge. 

Today, when we are so easily able to give and receive information that aligns with our views, when social media and other forums increasingly limit interaction or exposure to multiple viewpoints, the model that universities hold up is that much more important. Debate, discussion, exchange, and rigorous exploration of conflicting ideas is foundational to our teaching, our scholarship, and our efforts to serve the state, the nation, and the world.


With that preamble, let me offer some observations about the UO. For those who are not part of us, it is difficult to appreciate the degree of unwavering love and enthusiasm for the University of Oregon. This is a river that runs wide, deep —and with class five rapids. This is one of the best parts of the job.

I am also continually inspired by the setting of the University of Oregon campus: its architectural cohesiveness, design, and the beauty of the natural environment. This is a special place.

I have also come to better appreciate the university’s exceptional strengths across the academic departments. I have enjoyed countless moments of joy learning about our expertise in wildfires and earthquake subduction zones, special education and behavioral health, sports product design and marketing, the Oregon Bach Festival, the creative writing program, regenerative rehabilitation, human performance, and zebrafish as a model organism—to name just a few.

I am not at all surprised that I am enjoying the people I am working with at the UO—that is one of the many things that drew me to this university, and yet I’m struck at the speed and relatively ease at which so many important positive relationships formed. This is especially important as we bring new teams together with a rich mix of people who have been here—people with deep history at the UO—and new members of the community, like myself.

On a more sober note, and as I have shared with the board, campus community, and our legislative leaders before, I am quite surprised by the low percentage of funding we receive from the state. Our state funding allocation is currently right around 6 percent of our overall budget. Coming from Wisconsin where I thought 13 percent was low —I was certain that Oregon would value all that comes with having a great public research university and that the UO would be better resourced than Wisconsin in this regard. Our work on this is continuing.

There is a long-term opportunity to partner with business leaders, students, and parents from Oregon and beyond, and with community organizations, political leaders, and all interested in the prosperity and competitiveness of the state to understand the value proposition of higher education and the positive return on investment we can provide the state in innovation, workforce, and economic benefit.

Finally—and let me be personally candid here—it is sometimes challenging to adapt to my role as both external university president and internal chief executive. This can require me to pivot quickly in role, focus, and tone: I call it “phase shifting,” and I have profound respect and awareness now of what it takes to maintain focus and energy for these two distinct but important roles as the UO president. 

Wins and Challenges

Let me mention a few additional challenges and wins of the last eight months.

The University of Oregon requires resources to achieve excellence and there are significant, seemingly unending, demands for resources. I suspect there has never been a university president who said, “Okay, we have enough money.” All universities are facing real financial pressures, and those pressures are likely to remain high for some period as our industry navigates shifting demographics, public perceptions of the value and cost of education, and the changing economics of higher ed. UO is no exception.

Here, 80 percent of our Education and General fund is invested in people, and we must balance the imperative of retaining and attracting outstanding employees at competitive rates with the many additional demands for resources to improve and maintain our systems, infrastructure, and operations. Tuition is by far our most important revenue stream. But if we are to fulfill our mission, we must continually work to keep tuition both affordability competitive, attracting students from across Oregon and beyond to pursue a world-class education at the UO. Navigating these resource constraints in a way that supports people and excellence is the single biggest challenge we face.

While we of course have challenges, I will never lose sight of the positive things happening across the university. Here are just a few from recent months:

Collective Bargaining

I am gratified and relieved the bargaining teams came together to resolve the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation contract and avoided a strike. The seven Oregon public universities also reached tentative agreement with the SEIU classified employees’ union last month. My hope is that we can build on this momentum with our upcoming labor negotiations. 

Conference Realignment 

Joining the Big Ten is a win for us. This is an important, strategic, and long-term play that will bring the university greater academic and athletic opportunities, exposure, and resources. It also puts us in the company of outstanding peers, on a national stage, and is a win for our student athletes, our fans, and our whole UO community. 

Leadership Hires 

We have made great progress in building our leadership team. This has included hiring Joe Buck as VP for Advancement, Carol Keese as our Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President for Communications, expanding Tim Inman’s leadership role to serve as VP for Government Affairs, and Karen Ford as interim provost. Their impact is already being felt at the leadership table, in our strategic planning, and in the way we tell our story. 

Relationship building

The relationships built across the university—with many stakeholders including the ASUO and Senate leadership, and with alumni, friends, and volunteers—have been deeply rewarding. I have been encouraged and humbled by the speed and ease with which people have welcomed me and Melissa to the university, and the candor and confidence they have expressed in me. We are also actively working to build a leadership culture with both the shared values and accountability. All of this will be important as we set out, together, to define the next chapter for UO. 

Strategic Priorities

Which brings me to my final and, to me, our most exciting win—the progress we are making to set strategic priorities that will define our focus and differentiate the university. We will clearly define our aspirations as one of the nation’s great public universities. To that end, in early fall we conducted a listening tour, which we have been calling “UO Onward.” This included twenty-five public meetings, and many more intimate conversations with alumni and friends, gathering input from over 1,200 people in live sessions and via a web survey to help inform our imperatives for success.

More recently, we have convened multiple working groups from across the university to define strategies, key metrics, and early actions toward four emerging priorities, which include : 

  1. Removing barriers to timely graduation,
  2. Increasing our success in career readiness,
  3. Creating a campus of belonging and flourishing, and 
  4. Defining a framework of core ideas and concepts for which the UO will be known in this next chapter. These include: innovation and accelerating impact, elevating the human experience, and scholarship for a changing world. 

We are working with the deans, working groups, my leadership team, and many others to present our framework in late May and a more refined plan in early fall. 

This is important groundwork. If we do this right, I will be here in five years talking about the same strategic priorities and reporting how far we have come in making measurable progress on each. This can and should be an opportunity for big thinking, for laying a strong foundation, and for aligning efforts toward a set of common goals.

As you already know, my early impressions have been more than borne out in this first year: the potential opportunities for an already-outstanding university are breathtaking. 

And the most important available resource is our strong and vibrant Duck Nation—our enthusiastic and passionate alumni, students, faculty, staff, trustees, advocates, donors, and volunteers. 

We will need to work together to fortify and increase the University of Oregon’s impact on the community, the state, and the world. We will not achieve our potential without all of us—everyone who cares about the university—pulling together to do great things. Together we can continue to help our students thrive, create paths to great careers, and elevate the university’s distinction, recognition, and impact as a world-class research university. 

I truly cannot wait to see what lies ahead. 

Thank you and Go Ducks!