Senate remarks: preparing for the future

January 13, 2016

Over six months ago, when I first met you, I made a promise that I would not spend my first year sitting on my hands. Instead, I would move forward with a plan to focus on academic excellence. I have met hundreds and hundreds of faculty, students, staff, and alumni over the past 180 days. Every time I talk about our need to reinvest in our academic and research program I see nods of recognition. I get smiles and comments that this is what we need to do.

Indeed, this mandate comes through loud and clear in the work of scores of our colleagues over the past year, reflected in the strategic plan and the work chaired by Rob Kyr and Frances Bronet. That plan many of you read today, and Provost Coltrane will talk about this framework following my comments. One of the things I was really pleased with in the document was the commitment to academic excellence and to growing the research enterprise.

I am, today, more optimistic than I have ever been that we will achieve our vision of achieving eminence.

We currently have 40 different faculty searches ongoing as we seek to grow our tenure-related faculty by 80 to 100 scholars over the next four years.
We are developing plans to invest in our academic and research facilities.
We are making funds available as of this week to grow the future of our profession: our doctoral students. We will grow our PhDs this year with more growth to come.
We have invested $17 million in our effort to promote student access, success, and graduation.

This is what a great university is. This is the bedrock. This is why you work here and why you wanted to become academics.

To some extent the articulation of these objectives is the easy part of the job. I sometimes call it the “kissing the babies” part. No one is going to say we should not be serving our students better or increasing our research capacity here. I would imagine everyone in this room would give their eye teeth to make our school academically more eminent. That is why we went into higher education rather than a more lucrative field. We are passionate about producing knowledge, about moving our civilization forward, about passing this knowledge on to the next generation.

Now is the time for us, as a faculty and community, to join together, cast aside historical suspicions and animosities, roll up our sleeves, and make this important mission a reality. But, our dreams, these dream of academic excellence, are not cheap.

As I mentioned in my e-mail to the community last week, we will need every dollar we can lay our hands on—to build our academic program—including state resources, philanthropy, and tuition.

But as we ask our students to pay more; as we ask the state to invest more; and as we ask our alumni to give more, we have an obligation to make sure that we are spending every dollar we have wisely.

First we must start with a plan. Please review our strategic plan that we posted this week and offer us your wisdom and your reactions. As I mentioned at the outset, the plan is largely the work of an effort that involved many faculty and that was co-chaired by Rob and Frances.

In the short-run (FY17), we will work with our deans to make sure that their budgets are balanced and that their expenditures are aligned with academic excellence. For example, some units such as CAS, are in deficit as student credit hours have dropped and expenses have increased. Substantial permanent funds—more than $7 million—have been provided by the provost to CAS to help them manage this deficit. The remainder—approximately $4 million— will be achieved by revenue generation and by strategic cost-cutting.

For the long-run, we will need a new financial model—one that provides our schools and departments with a stable source of revenue and that incentivizes excellence. I have asked Scott to chair a working group that will include Senate representation to come up with this model.

Importantly, we in central administration must lead rather than follow. Today I sent each of our vice presidents a memo instructing them to permanently cut two percent out of their general funds budget. We expect this to net approximately $3 million in recurring funds for us to reinvest in our academic program and infrastructure. Over the next three years, we will cut an additional three percent as we get smarter in how we conduct business.

We will change our business practices and plans. We will reduce decentralization which leads to duplication, waste of resources, and a lack of accountability. The first place we will look for this is in central communications, where we’ve already started an effort to integrate community, and also in IT. In IT we have 26 or 27 centers, and you can imagine there is a level of redundancy, waste and security problems with the many different areas, and we’re going to address that next. These are just two of the areas we will look at as we try to conserve and spend our money more effectively.

As we move forward, I promise that I will act transparently. If I don’t know the answer to one of your questions— which is likely since this is currently a work-in-progress, I will tell you. We made a strategic decision to tell people what we are doing, rather than try to figure out all the details and then tell you about it, because we are committed to an open process.

We are going to work on these things over the next six months to a year. We will engage our faculty, students, and staff because this school is your school. Our future is your future. Our eminence as a university belongs to all of you.

Let me be clear – for those reading through the lines and hearing “budget cuts and contract non-renewals” as the only message imbedded in what I’m saying: that’s wrong. We are operating from a position of strength. We are growing. We are going to get better. The University of Oregon is still hiring. We have 40 active academic searches underway, and four dean searches, and a vice president for research search. Those show a school that is optimistically wanting to grow and wanting to get better. We are investing in graduate students. We are investing in our undergraduate programs and undergraduate success.

In other words we are growing, we’re getting better, and not retrenching. We are reallocating our resources to ensure our future eminence. Our university was created 140 years ago. What we do over the next few years will determine its future for the next 140 years. I am looking forward to working with each of you to make sure that future is a great one, one that you will be proud of, one that our state will be proud of, and one that our nation will look to as a public university that has gotten better and better despite our challenges of the past. Thank you.