Unveiling the new Hayward Field

April 17, 2018

President Schill delivered the following remarks during an unveiling of the new Hayward Field.

Welcome to all the members of our University of Oregon community who are with us today. Welcome faculty, staff, students, alumni, neighbors, and friends. Today, I have the privilege of announcing a major new milestone in the advancement of the University of Oregon, a progression that has been primarily fueled by the generosity of our alumni.

The University of Oregon is on a rapid ascent toward achieving our highest aspiration—of taking our place among the great public research universities in the nation—so that we may amplify our ability to discover, to prepare the next generation of students for purposeful lives, and to create impact that makes our world a better place.

When I stated that goal nearly three years ago upon my arrival in Eugene—following many years of leadership churn and state budget cuts—I know a lot of folks must have thought I was delusional. But I also experienced a sense of hope, hunger, and recognition—in other words, a belief—that Oregon, with the right support, could make a surging come-from-behind move, just as our track and field, softball, football, and basketball programs had, under the right care and leadership.

We asked our faculty to dream big. How could we achieve prominence? They answered with an idea to create a brand new campus linked to the main campus but separate in its inclination. Eighteen months ago we received the largest gift ever made to a public flagship university—half a billion dollars—to launch the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. We have recruited an eminent director and the first two buildings will soon mark the entrance to our campus in grand style.

The Knight Campus and the excitement around its announcement has created a virtuous cycle. We now regularly recruit terrific faculty who come because they understand that the Knight Campus, the energy it creates, will provide the momentum for growth in their own fields. People like Nobel Laureate David Wineland and neuroscientist David McCormick. Civil rights historians Leslie Alexander and Curtis Austin. Award-winning author and graphic novelist Mat Johnson. Even more important, the promise of our trajectory has stemmed the outflow of our leading faculty to other schools. People understand that we mean business when we say that that our ascent will be steep.

Additional philanthropic support has followed Phil and Penny’s gift to feed our academic programs—a $50 million anonymous gift for our highest priorities, a $10 million gift from Tim and Mary Boyle to restore our edge in zebrafish research, a $10 million investment in new faculty chairs from Lorry Lokey, and a recent Mellon Foundation grant to fund the environmental humanities, to name a few.

This series of events in recent years—an independent board, strengthened administrative and academic leadership, outstanding faculty achievements, extraordinary philanthropy from amazing donors and friends, the successful launch of the Knight Campus—have set the University of Oregon on a rocket-fueled course toward new levels of excellence and national prominence, a course that is unprecedented in our history. I would in fact posit that it is unprecedented among public institutions of higher education in this country in this modern era.

Our current trajectory toward eminence would not have been possible were it not for the generosity of two people—Phil and Penny Knight. From the beginning Phil and Penny believed in a vision that a great public university needed to have a strong academic foundation. Three multi-million dollar gifts made in the 1990s—the biggest in our history up to that time—expanded and modernized our library, the hub of intellectual activity on campus; established the Knight endowed chairs and professorships for our best and brightest faculty; and funded the construction of our law school building.

A great public university is defined by incredible academics but punctuated by tremendous athletic programs. And Phil and Penny made sure that the UO had best-in-class facilities by playing leading roles in the building of Autzen Stadium, Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes, Matthew Knight Arena and Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center.

And today we celebrate another milestone in our trajectory, another magnificent act of philanthropy led by Phil and Penny, one that is particularly meaningful to me and our entire community—the next chapter in the University of Oregon’s legendary track and field program.

When I made my first visit to campus in 2015, people took me around to show me what took place where: path-breaking science took place in the Lokey Science Complex; accounting and business research and teaching at Lillis; social sciences faculty in PLC. Football was across the river. But the heart and soul of our campus was at Hayward Field.

We could spend the whole day talking about the historic moments that have taken place at Hayward Field:

  • Where Steve Prefontaine broke records, push boundaries, and became a legend.
  • Where Mary Decker and Annette Peters dominated and thrilled the nation.
  • Where great distance runners became known by just one name: Renfro, Davis, Pre, Salazar, Chapa, Rupp.
  • Where Nick Symmonds led three locals to a mind-blowing sweep of the 800.
  • Where Ashton Eaton redefined what it meant to be the world’s greatest athlete.
  • Where English Gardner planted seeds of greatness that flowered into Olympic gold and Raevyn Rogers anchored an Oregon triple crown—magic moments that are part of track and field lore.

But perhaps the most consequential moment occurred just over 60 years ago when a skinny, tow-headed kid from Portland stepped on the Hayward Field track and met a man named Bill Bowerman.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Today as we celebrate the next chapter of Hayward Field, we also celebrate something at once more personal and yet universal—the relationship between a runner and a coach; a teacher and a student; an inventor and an entrepreneur; and between an alumnus and his school.

With a deep appreciation of where we have come from and a profound optimism for what is yet to come, I am thrilled and honored to unveil designs for the University of Oregon’s new Hayward Field.

The new Hayward Field will be the finest track and field facility in the world when it is complete in 2020. Fully funded by gifts from Phil and Penny and more than 50 additional donors, the revitalized and reimagined Hayward Field will give athletes—including the U of O’s outstanding student athletes—a magnificent, unparalleled stage on which to boldly showcase the power, beauty, and capabilities of the human body—to run, to jump, to soar, and to push the limits of what is possible.

In 2021—more than 100 years after the first track was installed at Hayward Field—this hallowed ground will be the centerpiece for the IAAF World Championships Oregon21. The eyes of the world will be on Eugene, Oregon, as athletes from every corner of the globe come to our beautiful and vibrant city and state to take part in a global athletic event that is only eclipsed in stature and size by the Olympics and World Cup.

It will be an extraordinary opportunity for our university, our community, and our state to command the world’s attention and tell our story—the story of Bowerman and Knight and Prefontaine, but also the story of George Streisinger and Ken Kesey and Geraldine Richmond.

Our new Hayward Field is about so much more than one historic event—it will be home to the University of Oregon’s championship track and field program led by Coach Robert Johnson. It will be a venue for Pacific-12 Championships, NCAA Championships, the Prefontaine Classic, the Olympic Trials, state high school championships, all-comers meets, and much, much more. The new Hayward Field will continue to be the heart and soul of the track and field world, the birthplace of the running movement, as well as a cherished asset that everyone in Eugene and throughout Oregon can claim and be proud of.

The new Hayward Field will honor the legendary student athletes and coaches who have competed and led here, and it will be an unrivaled canvas for the legends that are to come. This new facility will be a place fitting for the University of Oregon to honor our past and celebrate our future.

I know for many people, Oregon’s track legacy is tied to its physical space, and some will have mixed feelings about seeing the east grandstands replaced with a new silhouette. However, our storied and historic track and field legacy is not made of wood and metal, it’s made of the people who competed here, the sweat and tears of the athletes, the leadership of coaches, the cheers of the fans, the crushing defeats, and majestic come-from-behind wins that made our pulses race and our hearts flutter. Hayward Field is a culture as much as a place, and that culture, built by Hayward, Bowerman, Knight, Prefontaine, and so many others, will live on—and flourish—here.

This amazing complex will also be more than a world-class and highly sought-after sports venue.  From the new iconic Bowerman tower, generations of admitted students, faculty recruits, and visitors to the University of Oregon will get their first panoramic glimpse of our beautiful campus and a sense of how they will fit into our community.

And once they arrive, those who are interested in human physiology will study there. Dedicated laboratory and classroom space will help advance our understanding of the human body and the limits of human performance. We will work with our faculty partners to ensure that the academic facilities incorporated into Hayward Field match the quality of the competition field. This is just one piece of an important campus-wide transformation to ensure that we have the facilities necessary to serve the evolving demands of our faculty and students.

Before I close, I ask that you indulge me a moment with a personal reflection about the two people who have made today possible—Phil and Penny Knight.

When I was first contacted about becoming your president more than three years ago, I saw the potential of the University of Oregon. The university had a proud history of being the home of iconoclastic and entrepreneurial graduates and professors. It had a strong reputation appreciated by people who never stepped foot anywhere near the state of Oregon. It had just gained independence to advance its mission and attract philanthropy from alumni whose love for the university was as wide as the Willamette is long. In short, it was a school ready to assume its rightful place among the very best universities in the nation.

But a lot of universities have good governance structures, storied histories, and great ambitions. Yet they do not have the trajectory we enjoy now, nor that I predict we will have in the future, because their university families do not include folks like Phil and Penny. Their love, their devotion, their resources to building our university provides not only the current wherewithal for us to move forward, but it provides an inspiration to alumni who will follow them.

As I told them on the day we had that wonderful announcement unveiling the miraculous $500 million gift to fund the Knight Campus 18 months ago, Phil and Penny Knight give us the ability to dream.

Those dreams can include national championships. They can include Nobel Prizes. They can inspire young people from the forgotten places, the savannahs of Kenya, the streets of Montreal, the suburbs of Portland, the coasts, forests, and high deserts of Oregon—who can come to the University of Oregon to succeed. The U of O is a place where they can dream big and prepare for—as Phil Knight’s coach and teacher, Bill Bowerman, spoke of often—the struggles and competitions that lay ahead, far beyond Oregon.

Today we celebrate—as we come out of the curve and into the straightaway of the University of Oregon’s ambitious race to greatness.

The message for every student, every faculty and staff member, and every alumnus is clear: Don’t come to the University of Oregon to be the best in town. Don’t come to be the best in the state or even in the country.

You come to the University of Oregon to be the best in the world.