STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY - 2001
Wednesday, October 3, 2001
Dave Frohnmayer, President
University of Oregon
What is the “State of the University?”
That question cannot be answered with a single dimension response.
As a physical environment, our University is one of most serene places for discovery and reflection that is imaginable – tree shaded emerald quadrangles—elegant, sometimes shabbily-aged and sometimes gloriously modern facilities—and…a river runs through it. It is a place remembered with enchantment and love by those who have studied here from alumni living in communities near us to the extraordinarily caring graduates I visited in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Osaka in the early summer. It is a physical environment to which we hope to add new construction and new utility even through this year.
As an economic entity, this University is our region’s largest and most important engine of stability, responsible for nearly $400 million dollars of activity annually. Almost nineteen thousand students with outstanding credentials voted with their feet in record numbers to join us. They are contributors, through their tuition dollars, to our fiscal stability and by their larger presence, to the otherwise threatened local economy.
We plan to increase these enrollments, especially at the high end of achievement, to add human capital in even greater dimension.
As an academic institution, our University continues to rise in standings, however suspect some ranking methodologies may be, and in the more tangible indices of peer-reviewed achievements such as research dollars, Guggenheim fellowships and Fulbright awards.
Today we celebrate an important ritual of renewal as we welcome truly outstanding faculty who join us, educated at the world’s leading institutions of higher learning, and imbued with the ethic of teaching excellence and scholarly inquiry which both justifies our existence and inspires our efforts. If we do not aspire to even greater excellence, we debase the tradition of this institution and the expectations of those we have invited to join us.
As a social and political entity, the University struggles to adapt to internal and external challenges, some of which I will address this afternoon, others of which await messages in days and weeks to come. Can we make progress together on issues of salary and benefit equity? How can we continue on a proper growth trajectory amidst signs of a near-recessionary economic slowdown?
How do we maintain campus momentum in our sometimes awkward but critically important examination of diversity and inclusiveness in a multicultural world? What balance do we strike in a heated national inquiry - with intense local interest - on the role of intercollegiate athletics in the academic environment? How do we absorb, not merely the jarring psychic shocks of diabolical terrorism, but the delicate, even precarious place of a public university in helping to understand questions of global clashes, messianic visions, human conflict and global war and peace?
And what do we do, as a nation and a people, when no one cares who wants to be a millionaire, when the true meaning of “survivor” has put to shame anything television could offer as drama, and the most ordinary of citizens have proven to be the strongest links to human greatness?
But beyond these dimensions, this University is a state of mind, a complex creation of ideals, struggles and distinguished history. We begin to observe that history in a special way today.
It is an honor to be here today before you as the University of Oregon celebrates its 125th anniversary.
In looking back those 125 years, there are numerous examples of faculty, administrators, students and alumni - examples of why we are here, what we are doing - just what our decision to be a part of the University of Oregon is all about.
John Wesley Johnson . . . The first president of the University of Oregon was a living example of what we are as a university.
He was a pioneer . . . walking across most of the continent beside an oxcart at age 10.
He was a worker, forced to make his own living as a common laborer.
He was a learner . . . teaching himself to read and write while in his teens, he eventually qualified to attend Harvard, graduated sixth out of a class of 100.
He was a teacher, returning to Oregon to teach, head several schools and become first president of the UO in 1876.
He got things done . . . and as president saw to the success of the UO in its early, often financially shaky years . . . all the while still teaching a full course load of Greek and Latin, then required for graduation.
Let me assure you - you can expect much from me - but not instruction in Greek and Latin.
• Paul Brainard . . . What Johannes Gutenburg did for publishing in the 15th century is analogous to what Paul Brainerd, class of 1970, did for publishing in the late 20th century. The only difference is that Gutenberg's press needed a complete press shop, whereas Brainerd's only needs a computer and some software. With his founding of Aldus Corporation and development of the PageMaker software, desktop publishing was born and continues to revolutionize publishing in the 21st century.
• Anne Bancroft . . . The trail to the North and South Poles passed through the UO for Anne Bancroft, class of 1981, where she earned her bachelors in physical education before becoming the first woman to ever walk to the North Pole in 1986. This year (2001) she and fellow explorer Liv Arnesen crossed the Antarctic on foot, becoming the first women to ski and windsail across that continent.
• Ann Curry . . . It didn't start out as bright lights and big city for Ann Curry, class of 1978, the news anchor for NBC's early morning "Today Show." It started in Ashland, Oregon, with hard work at the UO School of Journalism, and early jobs at stations in Medford, Portland and then Los Angeles. When NBC tapped her for "NBC News At Sunrise," she was surprised. When it chose her for the coveted news anchor position on "Today," it made her one of the first exceptions to the 48-year tradition of male anchors. Now she may be the most trusted voice in the morning national news.
• David Jeremiah . . . Admiral David Jeremiah was not only an admiral, the 1955 UO graduate became the number two military man in the nation in 1990 when he was named vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rising through the ranks, Jeremiah commanded destroyers, squadrons, and by 1987, the U.S. Pacific Fleet, where he earned his fourth star. In 1986, it was his command that oversaw the capture of the hijacked Achille Lauro. Jeremiah stands as an example of the 44 University of Oregon graduates who have reached the flag officer rank of admiral or general - making the UO one of the top producers in the country, per capita, of senior military officers.
I would be remiss were I not to note here that in terms of absolute numbers, the UO consistently ranks among the nation’s top producers of Peace Corps volunteers - another valuable contribution to our nation and the world.
My examples, you will note, are not elegant buildings, not hi-tech labs or even huge and noisy stadiums, but the lives of people who have done what we celebrate - making a difference.
A DULL YEAR
"Making a Difference" is what it comes down to.
You may have seen those words already on letterheads or posters, pamphlets or flyers - and it is pretty easy – cynically easy - to see these words as just a slogan, a piece of marketing strategy or a nice saying that you'll be sick of by the end of the year.
And it may be - or become - all of those things.
But I'd like to use this time I have here today to talk about this coming year, the state of the university, and just how "Making a Difference" - slogan that it is - also gets precisely to the heart of why we have been here for 125 years - and why we - each of us – happens to be here today.
Just last weekend a conversation with a friend of mine ended with a strange benediction from his mouth.
"May you have a dull year," he said.
We laughed. I thanked him and we departed.
But I have been thinking about those words - "May you have a dull year."
In one sense they are a benediction. Yes, I do want to live in dull times.
I want all facets of this university to run smoothly.
I want resources to meet our needs, and those met needs to make us a better university.
I want the environment of politics, the economy and world events to be calm and to strengthen our ability to make a difference.
But if history - of the last millennium, the last century - or even the last few weeks - teaches us anything, it is that the gods do not work that way.
I thought about this and realized three things:
1) The "gift” of dull times is a rarity.
2) Those dull times can and do disappear with alarming randomness and rapidity.
3) When our life shakes out to what really matters, I think there are very few of us who really want to have lived in that "blessing" of dullness, at least not for long.
Which is good . . . because most of what we confront today concerns the opposite of dullness . . .
THE OPPOSITE OF DULLNESS
Much is the opposite of dullness. . a war against terrorism is such an opposite . . . and it is a war unlike almost any we've known - the enemy has no nation state, wears neither uniform nor insignia, obeys no international conventions, and disclaims a need to spare the innocents.
Such a war can increase or deepen chasms among us, can defy the capability of our vocabularies to explain and justify, and can even warp, however unintentionally the openness and purposes of a public university.
As an institution we are ethically bound to observe political neutrality even as by tradition we are expected to invite the full range of debate and discourse. Amidst claims and counterclaims we must maintain an open campus and open minds so that individuals among us, without committing the institution, may nonetheless express their views - even their passions - although we pray for reasoned passions within our community.
I welcome the University Senate president's recent reminder that we have adopted a statement about civility, not an obligatory code of conduct, but a pledge of respect, with which to guide our discourse. The educational event conducted by volunteer faculty last evening to more than 1000 people is one excellent example of how information and open discussion can be welcomed in an atmosphere of engagement.
On a matter of less intensity - or at least a smaller field of discourse - there is no dullness.
On the continuing question of intercollegiate athletics, its role and place in higher education, it is important to maintain the progress of dialogue already achieved. The agreement reached between administration, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and faculty leadership last year is a model of civility and good policy. In order to continue this dialogue, I shortly will announce a presidential committee to continue our discussions, to move toward answers, and to help provide national leadership in this area of truly national dialogue.
At the same time, I must insist, perhaps beyond the parameters of the civility and evenhandedness that I earlier espoused - that I hope the Ducks knock the stuffing out of Arizona this Saturday.
As is true of any occasion where numbers of us are assembled, there is too much to say with too little time to say it. So what follow are some important pieces of string, too short to save and too significant to omit.
(1) We are embarking on a strategic planning exercise to help chart the course of the university for the next five years. Whatever certainty it gives us, it has been well initiated and it should develop decisive principles for the directions of our institutional growth.
My hope is for engaged participation by the University Senate, Faculty Advisory Council, Council of Deans, university administration, and our external allies - the University Foundation, and our alumni and friends.
The thinking behind this effort is to draw on what currently exists such as our mission statement, the process for change, and the enrollment management council report to articulate a clear statement of our directions. This will necessarily require us to look carefully at where we’re going, what it will require to get there and what benchmarks we can use to assess our progress.
If we are to be true to ourselves, these directions and statement will not all please everyone all the time, either internally or externally. But they will give us a clearer way to communicate who we are, where we are going and to serve as an important guide in our goal setting and decision making.
(2) A second piece of string: We plan to work with the Senate Budget Committee and continue our inquiry on the issue of salary equity, pursuant to our white paper process. I am dismayed by lack of range of options on our latest health care benefits package, but I do hope we can make continuing progress, even in times of budget shortfall, on salary improvements.
(3) A third concern: It is no secret that even before the events of September 11 the economy was fragile and it remains so. While the most recent legislative sessions have been better than some in the past we are still funded at levels well below our peers and lowest among the PAC-10. The continued weakening of the economy could result in a reconvening of the legislature to consider budget reductions. Higher education will not likely be spared in that process. We will do as we have done in the past and seek to manage this problem even as it argues for a longer term approach. But we must think about ourselves differently and more importantly we must act differently. Gone are the days when the public perception of the university can be discounted. The image we project about ourselves is directly and materially related to our ability to acquire the resources it will take to reach that vision.
We must be ever more attentive to articulating a vision and image of ourselves that is true to our nature and mission while also placing us at the center of the State’s strategic agenda. To do otherwise is to risk being seen as irrelevant. After all we are in what many have called the knowledge economy and our mission is about the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge. And we are good at it. Others need to know and value what we do in this regard as much as we do. It’s our job to tell this story in a way it can be heard… and we shall do so.
(4) A fourth thought: If my visits abroad reinforce anything, apart from the horrors of September 11, it is the global interconnection of the University, and the need to continue to engage the vitality of our international programs as the globe shrinks and our interconnectedness becomes even more evident.
(5) A final piece of string – one that connects all of us: I’m grateful for the settlement that prevented a disruptive strike in September. But you and I should be specially grateful for the labors of our classified staff: those who maintain the beauty of our campus, cook the food for our students, protect our security, type our manuscripts, keep our schedules intact and greet our visitors with warm hospitality. Thank them, not once, but each and every day.
Let me add some separate words about academic values, commercial values and tensions that need not be inevitable.
Concerns occasionally arise in recent years over the threats of commercialization of the university.
Are we selling our souls for a few million dollars?
Are we creating conflict of interests between academic freedom and donor interests?
Will the university of 125 years from now have lost the sense of mission and public service that brought it into being 125 years ago? (Or have today’s critics forgotten that Deady Hall was able to open in 1876 only because private dollars and business donations completed the building when the state appropriation fell short?)
These, and many others, are important questions. Questions we have to grapple with in these times – or even in the dull times, should they ever come again.
I already mentioned "Making a Difference," and how those words can too easily be seen as just another marketing slogan designed to raise dollars, with no attention paid to the quality of our product.
So let's talk quality - and what it means, because it is here, I believe, that we move beyond slogans and marketing and into our true mission.
In fact, let's look at this "New" Oregon economy of which we need to be a part.
This vocabulary of this economy has many terms. One of them is "value added." In economic terms the concept often is coupled with the word "tax" to mean a surcharge that is added to the cost of a product at each stage of its manufacture or distribution.
But it can mean more than that. Many companies and products use the term "value added" to mean goods or services they add to a product in addition to the product itself.
It means doing more than is expected - adding content or substance to already existing content and substance - or in an older and less commercialized idiom - going the extra mile.
We are not disconnected from the world around us - that is why things here are not dull.
We are a part of our new economy as much as we are a part of the political world in which we operate, the technological world in which we work and play, and the social world in which we raise our families and work for those things in which we believe.
In this world, the University of Oregon has, and in an ongoing way continues to identify its role on the assumption that Oregon’s future competitive success requires excellence in the creation, transmission and application of knowledge at the University of Oregon.
need not be seen in crassly commercial terms, but rather in terms of how we
individually create that value added.
What I ask each of you - and what I also ask myself - is: Are we offering value added?
Are you - am I - planning to make a difference today? What will we do tomorrow in the lives of students and the world - the same way those men and women I mentioned earlier did - to make a difference?
I want to make clear that I am not here implying that anyone at this university does not work long and hard, with dedication and commitment to students and to the overall mission of this university.
I do, however, want to encourage your consideration of that value added, not as a good idea or a nice philosophy, but as a daily practice as consistent as brushing your teeth, yet as vital as the shape of tomorrow's world.
I know for myself it might mean spending a few more minutes with a concerned faculty member . . . setting a completion date for that next essay… putting more thought into remarks I make at a retirement function or a new staff meeting . . . or even pushing myself a bit more to communicate clearly and compassionately in my everyday discourse.
Making a difference means reflective engagement - it means asking ourselves if we have worked as hard on all that we do - even this speech for myself.
Have I taken seriously another question that will help to resolve an endless puzzle for someone?
Have I spent a few more moments with another student whose facial impassiveness may mask hidden fears I can alleviate or potential sparks of discovery I can ignite?
Have I gathered all my knowledge, combined it with wisdom, well-chosen words and a willingness to move to the edge and see just what happens - all in order to make a difference?
Alumni who speak so fondly of University invariably bring me back to a name, a face, a classroom remark, a caring mentor, a lecture brilliant with insight, a gruffness infused with wisdom - or an insight given in a moment, but built on years, that has stayed with them a lifetime.
125 years ago the University of Oregon's first professor of geology Thomas Condon was in Deady Hall, not far from where we are right now, unwrapping a package of geologic specimens that he had just received.
One of his students watched as Condon unwrapped the packages. The student noted that the professor was whistling loudly, if not exactly on key.
Condon noticed the student watching, turned to him and said, "Oh . . . the tune inside me is too big for my whistle."
Condon was whistling for joy at the work and all its various strata of opportunity that lay before him on that table.
I'm not exactly whistling for joy today - nor are many of us - though the quantity and strata of the work that lies before us most certainly exceeds that on Professor Condon's table.
Too much has happened for unbounded joy.
Too much difficulty and pain seem to lie ahead.
Too much will have to be resolved with hard and sometimes unsatisfying solutions - both here and in the world we serve.
But the thought of that table of work we face, daunting though it may be, is still better than the dullness my friend wished for me.
. . . and if you listen to me carefully, you might even hear a low whistle . . .
. . . but more than anything, if you stop me, you will hear me ask:
Do we understand that the vow to “make a difference” does not call for random or occasional reflection, but becomes a moral duty each day we are here - a duty to make this a better, stronger, more humane and meaningful institution of higher learning . . . one that, in words I have earlier used and have chosen with care, always transforms lives through knowledge?
And for each of you it will mean something different, something particular to your own work and your own awareness of how you want that work to make its impact on others - how you want it to make a difference by transforming those lives with knowledge - knowledge that comes from the vital core of your lives.
You are the ones who do it. No one else. May your time here never be dull.