Vision for the Future
I am honored to lead the University of Oregon as it approaches its 140th anniversary. Back in 1876, when our founders’ dream of creating Oregon’s flagship university became a reality, the five faculty members who taught the first UO students out of a single building could not have imagined what the UO would become. Faculty research in fields such as sustainable chemistry, digital humanities, childhood obesity prevention, and zebrafish genomics would have sounded like fiction of a genre yet to be defined. But some realities remain the same: then and now, the university focused its mission on teaching and research; faced financial challenges; and continually pursued excellence.
As the 18th president of the University of Oregon, I take seriously the responsibility of carrying our school’s legacy forward, and improving upon it. My job would be much easier if I could peer into a crystal ball and know all of the challenges of tomorrow. But in our rapidly changing world, what the future holds is uncertain. As we prepare for the next 140 years and beyond, the one constant we can count on is change. It is preparing our students for the change that certainly awaits them that makes our mission of creating and transferring knowledge so exciting and important. We are hiring faculty, investing in research, and expanding scholarship and advising, all with an eye on ensuring our students, state, and nation are ready for the challenges of tomorrow.
This issue of Oregon Quarterly is focused on how the UO is preparing students, society, and itself for an uncertain future. Our mission—to produce knowledge for the betterment of society and to create citizens who can question critically, think logically, reason effectively, communicate clearly, act creatively, and live ethically—requires us to strive for the very best.
I call this excellence. And excellence matters.
A colleague recently told me “excellence” does not really mean anything anymore. But I disagree. It may mean different things in different disciplines, and metrics may vary, but excellence always means working to reach your fullest potential.
Striving for excellence drives curiosity, innovation, discovery, creativity, and the production of knowledge. The pursuit of excellence prompts a writer to edit and revise until his prose lifts the spirit and moves the heart. Excellence inspires a scientist to mobilize all of her resources in iterative processes of theory and experimentation. Excellence pushes a journalist or historian to ask more and dig deeper. This constant seeking and striving is how scholars help cure diseases, ease pain, end conflicts, feed the hungry, build cities, provoke debate, prepare leaders, reveal beauty, and create a better society.
The university, faced with persistent public defunding, escalating costs, and churning internal leadership, has not grown and nurtured its research and academic enterprise as it should. Today, with a new board of trustees, permanent leadership, a $2 billion fundraising campaign, an ambitious faculty, eager alumni and supporters at our side, and the strongest and most diverse student body in the university’s history, we have a plan and a path forward.
I am more optimistic than ever that we will realize our vision of achieving eminence. The university is actively investing in expanding our research and academic enterprise; improving access and success; and enhancing the student experience.
These are a few of the initiatives we have launched in the last year to help achieve these goals:
- Hiring 80 to 100 diverse and outstanding faculty over the next four years who are great researchers and teachers
- Increasing the number of doctoral students by 40 in the next year as a “down payment” toward growing our graduate program
- Creating plans to update or build new academic facilities and research labs
- Expanding scholarships, counseling, tutoring, and timely graduation programs to improve student access and success
These aspirations are expensive. We will need every dollar we can lay our hands on to build our academic program—including state resources, philanthropy, and tuition. We are extremely pleased to be approaching the halfway mark of our $2 billion fundraising campaign. As we proceed, we will ask our loyal supporters (and those who do not yet financially support us) to dig deeper, to provide us with our margin of excellence to invest in the future of our students and our state. And as we ask our alumni to give more and the state to invest more, we have an obligation to spend every dollar wisely. This is another prerequisite for excellence.
Oregon’s higher-education pioneers 140 years ago could only imagine what the future would hold, but they knew that teaching and research would be integral to that future. Today, the University of Oregon is investing in its future, striving for excellence, and helping our students and society prepare for an uncertain tomorrow. Because one thing is certain—whether the year is 2016 or 2156—excellence in teaching and research will continue to drive our future.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law