A letter to my colleagues

September 26th, 2011

It's great to have our students back. Our new freshman class arrived on campus last Thursday, and yesterday we formally welcomed them at Convocation. Their infectious excitement brings opportunity for renewal. Thank you to everyone who helped “Unpack the Quack,” a wonderful new move-in day program created by University Housing Director Michael Griffel and his team. Our colleagues have also helped Convocation evolve into a festive opportunity to engage our new students and introduce them to our excellent faculty. These two events are perfect examples of how magic happens when we all come together to turn bold, new ideas into reality.

As I begin my third year here, my appreciation for the faculty and staff is greater than ever. Thanks to your dedication, your talent and your hard work, our university continues to exceed expectations on every front. The class of 2015 is the most academically prepared and diverse entering class in the University of Oregon's history. They also had to compete more fiercely for the privilege of calling themselves Ducks than any previous class. Applications were up 25 percent over last year, and have more than doubled since 2007 (22,500 applications for 4,000 spots this year, compared to 11,000 applications in 2007). We also have a record number of new international students, up 22 percent from 2010.

The beginning of the fall term is also an opportunity to reflect on our past year, which was truly remarkable. In one year, we celebrated a Marshall Scholar, two Guggenheims, eight Fulbrights, chemistry professor Geri Richmond being inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, and many other prestigious academic awards. We opened the Matthew Knight Arena and the Cheryl Ramberg Ford and Allyn Ford Alumni Center, completed upgrades in the Lillis Business Complex, renovated Fenton Hall, and work began on the Robert and Beverly Lewis Integrative Science Building, new east campus residence hall which will be called Global Scholars Hall, and the expansion of Allen Hall.

These are all tangible reasons for optimism. And generosity gives our optimism wings. Our supporters increased their giving by nearly 10 percent last year despite this terrible economy. Some 46,500 individuals, companies, and private foundations made gifts totaling more than $116 million—$73 million of which is earmarked to advance academic success. It is the fourth year running that we have eclipsed our annual goal of $100 million.

Just a generation ago, state funding for students at the University of Oregon was twice the amount received in tuition. Today, state funding has fallen to 5.7 percent of the university's overall budget, while tuition and fees account for 40 percent. In the latest comparison, Oregon ranked 44 out of 50 states in funding per student. In spite of this phenomenal disinvestment on the part of the state in its flagship institution, you—the faculty and staff—continue to take us to ever higher levels of achievement. This is testimony to the quality of the people who work here.

It is also evidence of the community of supporters, donors and advocates who continue to inspire us. Just one example: we recently announced a $5 million gift by UO alumnae Mary Corrigan Solari that will provide scholarships to students from middle class families—a demographic that is too often stuck in the middle, with increasing tuition and aid primarily earmarked for low income families. This is the kind of creative and sensitive support that will help us continue on our trajectory of excellence.

Two years ago in my first letter to you as president, I expressed confidence that we will find remedies to overcome our challenges. I am proud that the University of Oregon is fulfilling its promise to serve the entire state, thanks to our collective creativity and commitment.

We were helped in this regard by the Oregon Legislature this past session. Legislation was approved that will integrate the operations of the state's public universities and community colleges and give us more flexibility in meeting the specific needs of this university. And with Gov. John Kitzhaber’s leadership, the legislature also created the Oregon Education Investment Board, which will fundamentally change how the state invests in education from birth to graduate school. The governor understands education. I am heartened by his creative and sophisticated thinking, and I have high confidence that we will see the real reform that the University of Oregon desperately needs.

Please note that we have scheduled a university-wide town hall meeting next week so that I can talk with you directly about happenings that will affect the institution for generations to come, and respond to any questions you may have. The town hall will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4 in the Giustina Ballroom of our new Ford Alumni Center, and will be aired live and online for our colleagues in Portland and other locations. In addition, the UO Senate has scheduled two sessions that also give you an opportunity to hear from leadership and ask questions: Oct. 19 with Acting Provost Lorraine Davis, and Nov. 2 with me. Both will be at 4:00 p.m. in Beall Hall, at the School of Music and Dance.

I want to close by thanking each of you for your dedication, and for the hard work you invest in this place. I see clear evidence that you understand our mission—that you know the transformative power that this university has on those who come within its orbit. Your determination to make sure our students have a successful and magical experience is an inspiration. I cannot say it enough: it is an honor to be your colleague.

Have a great term and a great year, and remember that my door is always open.


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