President Michael Schill delivered the following remarks at the University of Oregon Board of Trustees Fall 2017 Meeting
September 8, 2017
Welcome. I am thrilled to be entering my third year. With your support and encouragement, the hard work of our administrators and faculty, and the financial support from many of our alumni friends, we have made excellent progress toward our objective of making Oregon the best research university we possibly can be.
Yet, I begin every day with a clear understanding of how much more we need to accomplish. There is no time to take victory laps or feel complacent. Our potential is endless but, of course, so must be the work to achieve that potential.
In that spirit I want to express my great happiness that Jayanth Banavar joined us as the provost on July 1. He is the product of an amazing search. I’ve never been on a search committee that was so unanimous in their decision. I am thrilled that he is here to be my partner and to head up our academic program. He has spoken about my work ethic, but when I am sending emails at 7:30 a.m. or 11:30 p.m. I can always expect a quick response from Jayanth. I think all who have gotten to know him respect him. He has great academic values, interpersonal values, and great integrity.
Jayanth is the perfect antidote for complacency. As you heard him say twice, a typical Jayanthism is the question he asks faculty almost daily: How can we hire people who are better than you? How can we improve our teaching? How can we prepare our students in the very best way? That is the spirit every faculty member should aspire to—continuous improvement. He shared his view of excellence and how we know it, and I will share mine.
I think the question of what is excellence is not complicated. It is a university whose faculty are judged by their peers in their disciplines, who are determined to have the scholarship of the very highest quality and impact. There will be different standards in different fields. Jayanth will be working on this on our campus.
To be honest, we don’t know how good we are here at the UO. It is through peer review that we will determine this. And the question is not just about who effectively creates knowledge but also the communication of knowledge. Who inspires students to think critically, to really push them, to get them to bring out the best in themselves? That is what an excellent university does. It helps students get degrees in a reasonable amount of time. It is a university that is committed to equity and inclusion, and what it means to be human in our place and time in our world.
This is why I joined the academy, this is my 30th year. It’s why I’m proud to be part of academia and thankful that this vision of excellence is shared by our board. We are going to really focus on that in everything we do.
I want to take a few moments to provide a few updates and tell you about a new and exciting initiative we are launching. Chris Sinclair gave you a set of priorities. I’m excited to work with the senate. Those are important goals that are focused on academic matters as they are commonly understood in higher education.
Knight Campus Search
As you know, we are making rapid progress on the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. Since the last board meeting, we secured the first $50 million in state bonds for construction of the first two buildings on the campus. We also took ownership of all the land that we will need for Phase 1 and Patrick has been steadily working with our architects to create an extraordinary design for the buildings. We expect to have architectural renderings completed in the next couple months.
We have worked to create a financial plan for the campus, have created initial linkages to OHSU, and are continuing academic planning to prepare for faculty hiring.
I am also very pleased to say that we are getting closer to hiring our permanent Knight Campus director. Our search committee worked steadily through summer, which led to an impressive pool of applicants. I hope and expect to make a selection in late October or early November.
I cannot thank Patrick Phillips and his stellar team enough for their work to date on this massive and historic undertaking.
The Knight’s extraordinary half billion dollar gift was not only the largest gift ever to a public flagship university, it also lead to a record-breaking fundraising year for the University of Oregon.
We will be officially releasing the 2016-17 totals next week, but I can tell you that it will be close to $700 million. I am awed and inspired by the generosity of our alumni and supporters. I am also incredibly grateful to Mike Andreasen and his terrific team for the groundbreaking year they delivered.
As you know, the Trump administration announced this week the intent to end DACA—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows immigrants who were brought to the United States as children without documentation to stay in America to attend school, work, or serve in the military.
The president’s action means that the federal program will take no more applications and gives Congress six months to come up with a permanent solution to the problem. Thousands of young people in Oregon on the DACA program and their families now fear for their future.
Earlier in the week, I sent a message to campus about DACA. In it, I expressed my strong opposition to ending DACA protections or creating the uncertainty this action has created. In addition, I provided information for affected students about the services we offer.
We have already joined with other universities in support of DACA and will take further actions as warranted to protect the rights of students who are here in the US through no fault of their own, so they may to flourish at our university. This is their country. They are getting educated and working.
I have sometimes been asked about what guides me in making comments or taking stands on sensitive political issues. My own view is that a university president needs to try to keep his or her own political views separate from his or her role as president. While I may feel strongly about some set of issues, my views are entitled to no more weight than anyone else’s views.
A university is the combination of many people, each with a right to have his or her own view on important issues of the day. For the university to take an official view can sometimes feel like a violation of the rights of its individual components to free expression.
There are, however, some issues which affect higher education and our university and which demand comment or action. DACA is one of those. And there will be more of those, in which I will keep my own views separate from those, and focus on the needs of the institution.
The shortsighted action of the Trump administration in creating uncertainty among our students is just plain cruel and counter to the interests of our nation.
Each year around this time, I get antsy and want to know how our enrollment numbers are going, and each year Roger Thompson, our vice president for student services and enrollment management, tells me to be patient and wait for our students to arrive so he can give me an accurate count.
And of course, each year, I manage to get him to take an educated guess. According to Roger, we expect to have on campus somewhere between 3,900 and 4,000 new freshman this fall. In addition, we should have around 1,200 new transfer students. This is very similar to last year when we welcomed 3,948 freshman and 1,181 transfers.
A big unknown is our foreign student population. With changes to China’s economy and the current political situation this number is more fluid this year than in the past several years.
All fifty states will be represented and over 100 countries. We expect this to be our most diverse freshman class ever. With our new live-on requirement, we will have the highest percentage of new freshman living on campus in recent history.
Finally, I am extremely pleased to announce an exciting new presidential initiative. The University of Oregon is launching a new interdisciplinary initiative focused on data science. This is an initiative of the entire university.
Provost Banavar and I have appointed Biology Professor Bill Cresko to lead the Presidential Initiative in Data Science that will bring together existing faculty and recruit new faculty across schools and colleges to create new educational, training, and research programs at the UO.
This effort will touch most of the schools and colleges at the university and will also be integral to success of the Knight Campus. Like all good academic ideas, the initiative bubbled up from our faculty, deans, and department heads. We have approved eight tenure-track searches for this year in data science in natural sciences, social sciences, the college of business, and the school of journalism and communication. We expect to make many more hires in data science in the years to come.
This initiative responds to the increasing demand among employers and our researchers in fields as diverse as marketing and the sciences for students and colleagues who can manipulate data to extract information about trends and populations.
This is the direct result of our new Institutional Hiring Plan that Jayanth just spoke about, allowing us to centrally look for trends and needs among our departments, and direct attention and resources their way. You cannot do work at the highest level without data science.
Why data science? Data science has been heralded for advancing nearly every kind of intellectual endeavor. It has the potential to change nearly everything related to future discovery, innovation, and problem solving—from climate change and disease prevention to consumer behavior and financial investing.
For example, as David McCormick and Chris Doe told you at the last meeting, we are now able to map millions of neurons in the mind, but how do we make sense of all that information?
Or every time you click on a webpage or follow a link, you create consumer information that can be crunched and assimilated to create a unique and specific web experiences. Like those Amazon ads that follow you. That is data science.
There are tremendous opportunities for productive collaborations between data science specialists and our faculties and students in business, economics, communications, ethics and philosophy, language, and the list goes on and on.
We feel that we are in a unique position to maximize the impact of an interdisciplinary initiative in data science:
- We already have significant strength among many of our existing faculty.
- We historically benefit from a lack of traditional barriers among fields. This permeability is generated by our small size and by the absence of separate schools of engineering and medicine. That leads to a really good interdisciplinary culture.
- The Knight Campus will inevitably be home to data science scholars as well as consumers of data.
- UO’s strengthening relationship with OHSU, whose faculty are hungry to develop relationships with our faculty, particularly in areas such as data analysis.
Bill will be engaging with campus over the coming weeks and months as we launch these hires, and we will continue to share more information.
This new presidential initiative is an example of the kind of research and curriculum development the University of Oregon should invest in and seek out. It will raise the entire university. This is what will inform our academic and our fundraising.
I am very excited to see where our outstanding faculty, department heads, and deans take us. Thank you.