UO Board Summit lunch remarks

President Michael H. Schill delivered the following remarks at the UO Board Summit lunch, a gathering of several hundred UO school, college, and unit volunteers and donors.

October 25, 2019

Good afternoon. I look forward every year to this opportunity to talk to all of you, our most devoted friends and supporters, about how the University of Oregon—your university—continues to push the envelope in pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, and service.

I am honored to be in my fifth year as president of the University of Oregon. We have so much to celebrate and to look forward to over the next year.

Just a few weeks ago, the university welcomed our largest, most academically prepared incoming class in history this year.

  • More than 4,500 incoming students from across Oregon, the US, and the world joined our student body.
  • This class boasts a record-high average GPA of 3.65 and an average SAT of 1200.
  • The class of 2023 is also one of our most diverse in history, comprised of 34 percent domestic minority students.

We also welcomed a new provost. Patrick Phillips, a professor of biology and the first director of the Knight Campus, began leading our academic enterprise in July.

Patrick has made a very quick start and already breathed vision and excitement into our academic programs. Together, Patrick and I are looking forward to making major progress on the many initiatives we will embark. These include:

  • Improving student success by ensuring our students become well educated and socially responsible through great experiences and coursework, that they graduate on time and are career ready. 
  • Creating an interdisciplinary environmental initiative that embraces all parts of the university. Climate change presents an existential threat to our civilization one which all of our students will need to understand and one which our research should strive to solve. I have long thought that the sum of our strengths in sustainability efforts across campus is greater than its parts. I am excited to see the impact our students and faculty can make together as we build our strength and reputation in environmental teaching and research.
  • We will also seek to forge a stronger relationship with the state based upon a greater understanding of mutual benefit. As the state’s flagship public research university we are an engine for the region’s economy, prosperity, and welfare. As Oregon’s rises up, so too will the University of Oregon.
  • Also, we will continue to emphasize hiring exceptional faculty members and finding the resources for them to excel in both teaching and research.

These academic initiatives designed to continually improve our teaching and research at the university are essential to the economic health and societal advancement of our state and world.

The University of Oregon—as a top-tier research universities, an R-1 university, and one of only 62 members of the Association of American Universities—is uniquely positioned to create knowledge, make discoveries, and innovate solutions that benefit us, our neighbors, and future generations.

Many of America’s greatest economies are anchored in thriving research universities. And the University of Oregon is exponentially expanding our ability to drive innovation as we build our programs and collaborate with other universities, businesses, and industries across the region.

The physical manifestations of our progress are clearly evident across campus. I have joked on several occasions on my walks through our campus, and in a recent video I created with Patrick Phillips, that one might have thought we had traded our mascot, the Duck, for a Crane, due to all of the many construction projects happening on campus. I am going to focus the rest of my comments today on several capital projects that each symbolize an important part of our mission and aspiration.

I’ll start with the Knight Campus. It isn’t an accident that Patrick Phillips played a pivotal role in one of the most important initiatives of my time as president—the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. In June 2020, we will celebrate an historic moment in our university’s history—the opening of the first building of the Knight Campus.

Every time I pass it I am amazed by the construction and scope of the project. On time and on budget! This summer I took a tour through it and felt the same way, even stronger.

Executive Director Bob Guldberg has hired our first four faculty members, appointed leadership, created and integrated programing, and forged relationships that will lead to the university’s first degree in bioengineering.

One Knight Campus initiative that I am particularly excited about is the new partnership with OHSU for a joint center in biomedical data science. By combining the efforts of the Knight Campus with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute—we call it Knight to Knight—we are teaming up to use data science to develop new approaches to help fight cancer and other deadly diseases.

Data science will help researchers rapidly and efficiently analyze data or “listen in” on cell development for early detection of diseases. It is mind boggling to think of how this could improve our lives.

Not a week goes by when the Knight Campus and the vision behind it opens up a new and exciting avenue for university growth. This might include collaborations with other universities, industries in Oregon, departments throughout the university, or new degree opportunities to bring new and different types of students to the UO. And all of this a good eight months before it opens its doors.

Next, I will talk about Willie and Donald Tykeson Hall. Today we celebrate the grand opening of Tykeson Hall, which opened this summer and quickly filled with new academic and career advisors.

Tykeson Hall is a beautiful building, but also much more than that. It is also a mindset and a tangible recommitment to our primary mission—the successful education and launching of the next generation of young men and women who will lead our state and our nation.

Here, students are encouraged to explore UO majors, minors, and areas of study within six different educational flight paths, helping them chart their course toward graduation. They are guided to connect their passions and talents to fulfilling careers and a successful future.

Nearly two dozen newly hired academic and career advisors are located in Tykeson Hall, and they join scores of other dedicated professionals across campus to help students on their educational journey.

I am deeply grateful that Willie Tykeson, who passed away a couple of weeks ago, was able to visit Tykeson Hall a week before she died. She was thrilled with the building and we are ever so grateful for her and her husband Don’s legacy.

The next stop on our virtual campus tour is at Bean Hall. I bet some of you lived in Bean Hall when you attended the university.

I also bet you never expected to hear the word excitement and Bean Hall in the same sentence.

This fall students moved into phase two of the Justice Robert Sharp Bean Hall renovation project. And believe it or not, Roger tells me that Bean is now our third most-popular dorm. 

I’ve walked through it and while the rooms have not gotten any larger, the thoughtful use of space and modern, collaborative areas throughout the hall make it a coveted place for students to live. It is also a more affordable option compared to the brand new buildings.

Our residential buildings serve many functions. They provide a place for students to live, but they are also integral to student success as they connect students to campus and provide the setting for first-year academic/residential experiences like Freshman Interest Groups, Academic Residential Communities, and the classes associated with them.

Another important addition to our campus is the Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center. Two weekends ago, we officially opened this new academic, social, and cultural hub for Black students and the community. I stood with members of the Black Student Task Force, several donors including Dave and Nancy Petrone, Janine and Joe Gonyea, and the buildings namesake, Ms. Parker, as we cut the ribbon.

Lyllye Reynolds-Parker is a larger than life figure in Eugene, a civil rights activist, a graduate of our school, a longtime employee, advisor, and mentor to our students.

As you may remember the BCC came out of the demands of the Black Student Task Force four years ago. It is a place where our students can form community, focus on student success, and engage with our broader Eugene community. With its opening we entered a new era of understanding and hope at the university.

Our next stop on is at the University Health Center. Later this fall, the first phase of the health center expansion will be complete—the entire renovated space will open next—and we will be better able to serve our students’ health needs.

Our students cannot be successful if they are not physically and mentally healthy. The demand for mental health services is rapidly growing for our students at the UO, as it is at universities across the nation.

We need to try to keep up with this demand and this expansion is part of our effort to keep our students safe, healthy, and to further the success of our students on all fronts.

Last, but certainly not least in terms of the changing physical face of the University of Oregon, is Hayward Field, which will open next year. If you have not stopped by the renovation site, you simply have to. It is mammoth, extraordinary, modernistic, and simply out of this world.

It is another unbelievable gift from Phil and Penny Knight, whose own lives were forever changed on that same piece of land. Next year we will formally open Hayward and expect to host a number of events including the Olympic Trials. Hayward is going to be the best track and field facility in the world.

It also symbolizes our commitment to the sport and to our community’s future as TrackTown USA. And, of course, this commitment will be on display the following year when we host the 2021 World Athletics Championships. 

We are hard at work discussing how the entire university—not just the athletic department—will benefit from being part of the world’s most-watched sporting event in 2021.

These five buildings represent hundreds of millions of dollars of financial investments in our university and specifically in our students and faculty. They represent our future and our commitment to continual improvement that will help create new leaders and forge new paths for the betterment of our world.

We could not make these strides without the tremendous generosity of our alumni, parents, friends, and community—without all of you.

Our fundraising campaign continues to achieve unprecedented success. The largest in the state’s history, our $3 billion campaign continues to inspire our friends and supporters.

We have reached $2.15 billion of our goal, donors have expressed their loyalty in the many places I already mentioned plus elsewhere such as the Chapman and Straub hall renovations. Students are attending our university through the generosity of donors to PathwayOregon, Presidential, Evans, and Stamps scholarship programs. And, faculty, too, are the proud beneficiaries of named chairs, professorships, and deanships throughout our schools and colleges.

Last year was our second-best year of the campaign with over $253 million in gifts and our fourth year of surpassing the $200 million threshold. Thank you to all of you in this room. You keep giving each and every year, and we are going to ask you to keep on going.

I do have another request, one that does not necessarily require reaching for your wallet. I ask for you and all of our alumni to pay your own success forward by helping our current students or recent graduates. I encourage you to support our students by mentoring them and helping them get their foot in the door for opportunities. Perhaps it is direct mentoring, connecting students with internships, or maybe hiring a recent graduate.

All of you can make a difference by supporting student success at the University of Oregon. Together, we are improving lives and empowering the next generation to create a better world.

Thank you for your attention, support, and, as always, thank you for everything you do for the University of Oregon.