Redefining the Top-Tier Research University

Email sent to faculty and staff on May 20, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

Membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places the University of Oregon among the top research institutions in the nation. This distinction is due to our exceptional faculty and staff who support our education and research mission. UO faculty research, scholarship and creative endeavors define this excellent university. Your work results in new knowledge, true benefits to society and real jobs for Oregonians. We have much to be proud of, especially considering the funding challenges that have confronted us for over two decades.

An editorial in last Sunday’s Register-Guard cautioned that the University of Oregon’s standing as a top-flight research university, as evidenced by our membership in the AAU, might be at risk when historically low state support threatens all parts of the institution.

The Register-Guard editors are right to highlight this state’s very poor track record of supporting our students’ education. There is little ambiguity in our bottom-of-the-barrel rankings in state funding per student and comparatively low faculty salaries. As you all know well, this problem is not new. Our New Partnership proposal, which we expect to be taken up by the Oregon Legislature next session, is our solution to addressing these challenges. I will do everything I can to push for governance and funding reform that addresses the need to stabilize our financial footing and give the institution the tools necessary to ensure a more prosperous future.

In the meantime, despite (or perhaps because of) our years of decreasing state support, the UO is redefining what it means to be a research university. Although the UO is similar to our fellow AAU members in the quality of our research and teaching, the UO’s character is distinctly different – much smaller, more intimate in educational experience, with a research profile that has always been highly multidisciplinary.

Even though we have neither a medical school, a school of agriculture nor an engineering school, the University continues to set records in sponsored program awards, predominantly for research programs, surpassing $136 million in the past fiscal year. Among our AAU peers, the UO ranked third in funded research growth per faculty member over a recent five-year period, accomplished without the programs that represent the typical drivers of research innovation and productivity at most of our peer institutions.

Despite being one of the smallest public university members of the AAU, the UO is one of its most productive per funded researcher. The University’s sponsored research program awards hit a new high in 2010-11, propelling the UO into the top-tier Carnegie classification for research universities. Nearly 90 percent of research dollars comes from federal sources, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Education. Within Oregon, the UO ranks first in NSF funding and second in NIH funding.

The University generates more than $7 million annually in intellectual property licenses and agreements, placing the UO among the top 25 nationally for return on research investment through licensing income and first in the state in generation of licensing revenue.

So, yes, the University of Oregon does look different than some of the nation’s top research universities because we are different – smaller, multi-disciplinary and over-achieving relative to the support we receive.

While I am proud of our status as a top-flight research university, I am particularly proud of the outstanding faculty and staff who make it so. We have a number of faculty members who are recognized as leaders in their field. Our most recent examples include Geri Richmond, who was just elected to the National Academy of Sciences last week, Eric Selker, who was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Michael Posner, recently awarded the National Medal of Science by President Obama, and Carrie Leonetti, who received a 2011-12 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award – to name a few.

We have ample reason to pause and reflect on all that we have accomplished while, at the same time, laying plans for creating an even greater university. It is an honor to be your colleague at this fine institution and I am grateful for and continually impressed by your unwavering commitment to excellence in teaching, research, innovation and discovery.

Richard W. Lariviere, President