The Board of Trustees at the University of Oregon is in an untenable situation. The people ‘below you’ on the organizational chart—represented by the people in this room—are supremely unhappy with the financial management and strategic vision of the university. Simultaneously the people above you, legislators and political appointees, are supremely unhappy with the financial management and strategic vision of the university.
It seems the only people happy with university leadership on budget issues are donors (and trustees themselves).
The mission of the university, approved by this body, is:
The University of Oregon is a comprehensive public research university committed to exceptional teaching, discovery, and service. We work at a human scale to generate big ideas. As a community of scholars, we help individuals question critically, think logically, reason effectively, communicate clearly, act creatively, and live ethically.
This is a good mission.
The mission is the touch stone for decision making. It should be the North Star of the board—the words to revisit when making your decisions.
You are about to be asked to approve an extremely high tuition increase. You are being asked to finance the university on the backs of Oregon students. By doing this you are implicitly agreeing that it is more important to preserve athletics and other donor driven initiatives in exchange for millions in additional debt for Oregon students and families.
The University of Oregon has already telegraphed the message that, instead of plugging the looming 10 million dollar budget shortfall, it is more important to install a 10 million dollar state-of-the-art sound systems at Autzen Stadium. The new speakers will undoubtedly come from donor money, but this is irrelevant. Legislators have already heard the message that speakers are more important than students. Faculty have heard the message that world-class athletics facilities are more important than students. Students themselves have heard that we’re broke, and that they should take on debt (and years of financial risk) to accommodate the fickle whims of an octogenarian billionaire.
This is but one example, and it is emblematic of a larger problem.
How do these decisions, and the resulting negative change in public perception, benefit students? How do they benefit the relationship between the university and the state? How do they support the mission—the North Star—of the university?
Cultivating donors is like trophy hunting for University Presidents. However, as a skill, it is only valued by other university presidents and those who measure their success in dollar signs. Our president is particularly good at this aspect of his job, and it will undoubtedly lead to a promotion to a better university one day.
On that day, will we be looking at a university with a handful of expensive white elephants littering campus, and serving a handful of elite researchers/coaches, while the core academic facilities rot from neglect, classrooms overflow, and Oregon students are saddled with debt?
Or will we see a “community of scholars, who help individuals question critically, think logically, reason effectively, communicate clearly, act creatively, and live ethically.”?
The choice is yours, and it’s time for you as trustee to shift the financial decision making back to the mission of the university. You must be brave. You must do this. The University of Oregon is counting on you.