In October, I had the pleasure of announcing that two extraordinary members of our university family, Penny and Phil Knight, gave an unprecedented $500 million to the University of Oregon. This act of incredible generosity will transform scientific research and innovation on our campus and around the state as we launch the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. The Knights’ gift is the largest ever to a flagship public university.
The focus is simple—accelerate the cycle of inquiry, discovery, innovation, and impact. The goal is clear—improve the human condition and our world. How will we do this? By building new facilities and populating them with world-class scientists, equipment, students, and programs. These investments will transform our university and fuel economic growth in our region.
You can read much more about the impact of this amazing gift and the generosity of the Knights in this edition of Oregon Quarterly, but I would like to tell you a bit more about the impetus for the Knight Campus.
This vision for transforming scientific research came directly from our faculty and will be built on the UO’s well-established history of interdisciplinary collaboration.
Upon my arrival in Eugene almost a year and a half ago, my many discussions with students, alumni, and members of the faculty and staff highlighted the clear need for the UO to focus on enhancing our research efforts. We had fallen behind our peers in research excellence and we were not reaching our full potential for providing benefits to students, the state, and society.
Although the university has always had faculty members who did pathbreaking fundamental scientific research, the absence of both engineering and medical schools severely limited their ability to take the discoveries they made in the laboratory and turn them into new products or cures. Many of our scientists eagerly wanted to see their work make an impact on the world.
So, I asked a group from the science faculty to put together ideas for an applied science research initiative. They came up with a big idea. I shared that idea with Penny and Phil Knight, and they enthusiastically agreed to a gift that will fund the first phase of the Knight Campus.
When fully implemented over the next decade, the Knight Campus will comprise three laboratory buildings where some 750 faculty members, graduate students, postdoctorate researchers, and undergraduate research assistants will work together with the latest tools and techniques. This unique environment will remove traditional barriers to bringing discoveries out into the real world.
The economic benefits from the Knight Campus will begin immediately as we hire faculty members and construct the buildings, and will remain ongoing as it attracts new professors, students, and industries to our community. Not only will this initiative pump $80 million a year into our region, it will help our state move into a knowledge-based economy with higher-paying jobs.
I am thankful to so many people who made this gift possible: our alumni and supporters who helped pave the way for this monumental gift through their advocacy and support, our board of trustees who pushed us to reach for the sky, and our faculty who dreamed up this big idea. And of course, I am deeply thankful to Penny and Phil Knight who have supported our programs in academics and athletics with enormous generosity that is stunningly apparent across campus.
This gift is awe-inspiring. We cannot yet imagine the problems the Knight Campus will help solve and the lives it will help improve, because science, by its very nature, is unpredictable. But what we do know is that Penny and Phil have allowed us to dream big—and not just dream, but make our dreams come true.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law