Success On and Off the Field
As I reflect on my first year as president, I have learned much about what makes the University of Oregon an incredible place to learn, discover, teach, and serve. I remain impressed, as I expected to be, with the quality of our faculty, the dedication of our staff, the caliber of our students, and the loyalty of our alumni and supporters. What I did not expect was that I would come to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the one part of my job I knew the least about—athletics.
As a law school dean and professor, I have had very little experience with sports during my career. Those who know me, or who have taken a good look at me, would be the first to tell you I’m not particularly athletically inclined. Indeed, when it was first announced that the Board of Trustees had appointed me president of the UO, my friends at the University of Chicago (a school not known for athletic achievement) quickly intervened with lessons on the strategies of defensive and offensive lines and the difference between a pick-and-roll and a jump shot. I also learned quickly that the UO dominated the PAC 12 in many sports, that people recognized the “O” everywhere, and that spending on athletics was a source of tension on campus.
Almost one year later, I can say with enormous pride that I am a Ducks fan, and I can follow most of the action on the field, court, or track. I also truly understand and believe in the value of athletics at the University of Oregon. As you walk campus, look at our history, talk to our alumni and students, or read the story in this edition of Oregon Quarterly about the UO’s connections to the development of athletics footwear, it is clear that sports are an important part of our history, heritage, and identity. I am proud of the vital role athletics plays in bringing prospective students to our doorstep, promoting campus pride, and keeping alumni connected and engaged.
I am also proud that our athletics department is one of the few in the nation that is self-supporting—taking no university general funds, generating enough revenue for all 21 sports teams, and providing more than $11 million a year for academics by covering tuition for all student athletes, including nonresidents.
The UO’s student athletes and coaches have fostered a culture of excellence that is envied across the nation. But the UO’s academic reputation has not achieved the same level of acclaim. That is not because we do not have an incredible faculty or amazing programs—we do. This year, chemistry professor Geri Richmond received the National Medal of Science, the highest honor our country can bestow on a scientist. We have world-class faculty members in a wide variety of disciplines—from the arts and humanities to the natural sciences, from the social sciences to business. However, our academic and research reputation has not matched that of athletics because we have not, as an institution, nourished and cultivated it in the same focused and strategic way. We are changing that.
With 40 academic searches underway, we are bolstering research productivity and increasing tenure-track faculty ranks. In my first year, we have boosted funding for PhD students, increased scholarships, added advising support, and improved student learning spaces and opportunities. By realigning resources, advocating for public investments, and increasing philanthropy, we will advance the UO’s academic and research enterprise to new heights. The strategic effort to secure Oregon’s place among the premiere public research universities in the nation has my complete focus and commitment.
This is not an either-or proposition. We can have both world-renowned academics and athletics teams that compete at the highest levels of Division I. Just as our student athletes focus on doing their best in their respective sports, I and my leadership team will focus on advancing the UO’s excellent academic programs and helping promising programs gain strength. I hope you will join me in this effort. We have the right strategy, we have the right players, and with focus, determination, and resources from our alumni and friends, I have no question that the nation and the world will know about all of the things that make the University of Oregon a world-class institution.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law