What can we change about UO?

A reader asks:

… perhaps it is time for this website to focus less on issues we cannot change and more on those we can. Here’s a few to start:

1) Lack of long term academic vision by the administration;
2) Administrative refusal to include faculty as partners in decisions;
3) Too many mediocre, selfish, power-hungry (and sometimes vindictive) administrators at all academic levels;
4) Students treated as commodities and/or clients;
5) Non-existent campus planning;
6) Knight campus sucking energy and funds from rest of campus;
7) Intercollegiate sports still more important than academics;
8) Disdain shown for academic units without significant extramural funding opportunities;
9) Continued disrespect by administration and some faculty towards OAs and Classified staff;
10) Senate has become completely useless;
11) Too much focus on rich students, often out of state or foreigners; and,
12) UO academic standing in national and international rankings continues to be depressingly low.

I will admit to not have worked as hard as I could to make things better here. I have tried however to improve a few of the above issues. What is apparent up and down campus and particularly on this website, is the overwhelming depression and hopelessness over the current academic situation. Although frustration often leads to complaining and snark, the reality is that this campus won’t improve without discussion of and solutions to the above. This website, for all its numerous faults, should be leading the way forward. Right now, it is part of the problem.

Comments welcome.

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33 Responses to What can we change about UO?

  1. Dog says:

    Ah, something to do on a sunday morning, before another round of grant writing begins.

    If you look back through the UO matters archive circa
    2012 or so, you will see similar lists that have been discussed,
    but there was no momentum associated with that discussion.

    Same fate here, I predict, and the usual names will probably chime in via their own idiosyncratic way.

    So here’s is my such response to the above list.

    1) Lack of long term academic vision by the administration;

    – this is a hold over from 1990 passage of Measure 5 which caused all admins to circle the wagons and shoot inwards. The admin has been consumed by budget woes ever since – whether real or imagined.

    2) Administrative refusal to include faculty as partners in decisions;

    I don’t believe this has been historically true at all, maybe its a recent development but I have not really encountered it, outside the Knight Campus Club of the Elite

    3) Too many mediocre, selfish, power-hungry (and sometimes vindictive) administrators at all academic levels;

    This is endemic to all institutions, BFD.

    4) Students treated as commodities and/or clients;

    This is a national trend and its not necessarily a bad model
    for BIG universities

    5) Non-existent campus planning;

    Campus planning is an oxymoron

    6) Knight campus sucking energy and funds from rest of campus;

    No one knows the outcome of anything yet; perception is clearly replacing a vague reality; the Knight campus could be good for everyone, or it could be bad for most people. Don’t know yet

    7) Intercollegiate sports still more important than academics;

    This can be easily traced to our 1994 Cotton Bowl appearance. Prior to that, for about 30 years, I think the UO had the worst combined football + basketball record in the Pac 8,10,12. So, clearly an overreaction that continues today, especially in terms of facilities.

    8) Disdain shown for academic units without significant extramural funding opportunities;

    Again, I think this is more perception than reality, and all admins play favorites, perhaps a little higher here

    9) Continued disrespect by administration and some faculty towards OAs and Classified staff;

    Higher Ed is one of the most intellectually snobbish institutions in the world and such disrespect goes among faculty as well as we all our too insecure to be sensible.

    10) Senate has become completely useless;

    This implies there was a time when it was useful; unclear to me

    11) Too much focus on rich students, often out of state or foreigners; and,

    Three cheers for Jim Bean and the approach to generate more student tuition dollars. Its really too much focus on too many undergraduates given the size of our faculty. The marginal international students admitted under this, or a good example of a problem that no one will acknowledge, let alone discuss.

    12) UO academic standing in national and international rankings continues to be depressingly low.

    Well as a Research University, this is definitely true.

    • A concerned faculty member says:

      To: Dog
      From: A long term admirer

      You are one of the (very) few commenters on this site that has a sense of humor. For that and for your general wisdom both historical and current about the University, I thank you and will throw you a milk bone next time we meet. For now however I feel obliged to provide a point-by-point, alternative viewpoint:

      1) Lack of long term academic vision by the admin. You claim the source of this is Measure 5 and I fully agree. However that was twenty-eight years ago. How often can the admin pull the same excuse? Even my 15 yr old, testosterone-addled adolescent knows when an excuse is overused.

      2) Admin refusal to include faculty as partners in decisions. You say not true, I say absolutely true. And I can muster about 200 faculty who agree with my point of view. Agree to respectfully disagree.

      3) Too many mediocre, selfish, power-hungry (and sometimes vindictive) administrators at all academic levels. You say it’s endemic throughout academia so who cares. By this reasoning, we should not worry about the assholes in Washington because their brethren are found at all government levels. I disagree. Selfish jerks do damage (e.g., Jim Bean) and need to be purged otherwise we deserve what we get.

      4) Students treated as commodities and/or clients. Your response is more or less the same as #3. Yes, it is a national trend but as a model, it reeks for all of higher ed, big, medium or small. Western universities were not designed to follow the business model of profit centers with 5 yr plans, wimpy say-nothing mission statements, ridiculous PR machines, massive sports empires and support only for those units that improve the bottom line. Universities follow a very different academic model, or at least they should attempt to try. And we should insure we are more like the historical, horizontally organized University model rather the current business model with its empire-building, vertical hierarchy.

      5) Non-existent campus planning. We agree: it is an oxymoron. However 20 yrs ago, it wasn’t here at UO.

      6) Knight campus sucking energy and funds from the rest of campus. You say the future is unknown and perhaps you are correct. I say any project that requires UO to borrow $500M is a recipe for near-indefinite indebtedness and will have long term negative effect on future borrowing for other campus projects. Don’t believe me? Historical example: the plan to replace all old UO dorms with new ones, a plan endorsed in theory by then President Frohnmayer who publicly stated it was the University’s #1 goal at the time, was shelved when the University went to the state to borrow $200+M for Matt Court. Why? The University, like all entities, has a borrowing ceiling above which it cannot go past, and the Matt Court request used up all our borrowing capacity for several years. Couldn’t happen again? Think again, it already has (this addresses the fallacy stated by Trumplackey that the Knight Campus funds will flow towards the main campus-it doesn’t and it won’t, not today and not ever).

      7) Intercollegiate sports. Your understated reply was overly generous. The athletic dept budget for FY 18 is a disgustingly large $115M. That’s more than the combined budgets for the law school, journalism and communication, music and dance, honors college, AAA and the library. It is 70% of the CAS budget and about double the University’s research budget. See #6. And like the cancer that it is, it continues to grow as a percentage of the overall university budget.

      8) Disdain for academic units without significant extramural funding opportunities. Dog says more perception than reality. Perhaps true for the sciences and the business and ed schools, but I believe you would find a different viewpoint if you asked faculty in English, Romance Languages, Music, Dance, Classics, Art History, Political Science, Journalism, History to name but a few depts.

      9) Continued disrespect by the admin and some faculty towards OAs and Classified Staff. You say it is endemic to higher ed. Probably true but doesn’t make it right. Or fair. Or just. It should stop. Today.

      10) Senate has become completely useless. You imply it might never have been useful. I suggest you peruse archival Senate records from the 1990s. You might be surprised. Then again maybe not.

      11) Too much focus on rich students, often out of state or foreigners. Aside from your toast to the long departed Bean, we agree we have too many students and many are not cutting it academically. But at least they drive around in new BMWs, Mercs and Porsches which supports the local economy (N.B., the former owner of the local BMW franchise told me he would have never made it through the recent recession if it wasn’t for the rich foreign UO students).

      12) UO academic standing in national and international rankings continues to be depressingly low. Saddest part is that UO continues to decline.

      • Dog says:

        Brief reply

        0. Most of these alternative views are fine and consistent with most data

        1. Yes it was 28 years ago, but I have not detected any sign of real recovery from this. We still carry the attitude that we are chronically underfunded so this excuses every thing

        2. There has been evolution on this issue, in a negative way.
        Up until around 2006 I and many others I know were fairly involved in such partnerships. I think it has mostly turned to shit since then.

        3. If you can find a way to stop selfish jerks from implementation, that would be cool.

        4. My basic point here is that once a university becomes tuition driven, then that University has degraded, more or less, into a franchise that needs to satisfy client needs. I think this is the reality – I don’t endorse this, I just acknowledge it.

        5. I don’t know if things were better 20 years ago, they were just smaller.

        6. I can’t predict the future of the Knight Campus relation with the rest of campus – it could be anything.

        7. Yes the UO is way out of balance – as said previously, this was an overreaction to produce winning teams and that overreaction continues to day. Best and most practical thing would be to academically tax athletic donations but that ain’t gonna happen.

        8. I don’t know if there is actual disdain – I do know that more internal money needs to be available to departments to better support various research momentum

        9. Not quite sure when the world stopped being a fair place, but I suspect its around -6000 AD

        10. This all depends on the definition of “useful”.

        11. Yes, part of our new UO business model is to subside local BMW dealers.

        12. And this is where the Knight campus could reverse that decline – but given our last 15 year or so research profile, I think recruitment of faculty will be difficult.

      • trumplackey says:

        Hmm. Have to admit that I hadn’t really considered how the other $500M might play out. So, let me walk that back to “I don’t know”.

        That said, I can certainly imagine flows of money from the KC to the University at large. When the Administration decides they need another drum of desk polish, they might be more likely to take it from a fat KC pot than to zap some hapless faculty member in the French Department. (cf William Sutton)

  2. trumplackey says:

    Can’t speak to most of these, but it’s hard to see the new Knight Campus (and its massive endowment) as anything but a major plus for students and faculty both. And the flow of funds surely runs in the other direction, _towards_ “academic units without significant extramural funding opportunities”.

    UO has to deal with economic reality, and that falls squarely into the category of things that can’t be changed. We can complain about rich students, but in truth, every rich student we draw probably means we can take in a poor student as well. Is it sausage? Sure, but I can live with it.

    Two things I’d like to see change: the pervasive lack of humor and the cultural bias against men.

    I’ve been here more than a year, and I can’t recall anyone cracking even the mildest joke in any context, except for this blog. It feels like a result of fear, and a university shouldn’t be a place where people are afraid to speak.

    The bias against men seems both unethical and ultimately damaging to the mission of the University. I was walking through a department the other day with a large poster welcoming almost every imaginable intersectional group, but carefully excluding men (or white men in this case). Why do this? Is it important not to just say “all are welcome”? And though people might be afraid to openly criticize it, what do the authors think viewers’ reactions are likely to be?

  3. old timer says:

    dog, well done, on the whole.

  4. Oryx says:

    About “6) Knight campus sucking energy and funds from rest of campus” Really? I honestly don’t see this, and I have never gotten an explanation from the people who seem to believe it.

    • thedude says:

      What do you think the campus “realignment” is? A lot NTTF both instructors and researchers lost their positions at the college of ed and journalism.

      • Oryx says:

        I don’t see what the connection to the Knight Campus is.

        • dog says:

          I don;t think there is a connection, but its being made up. There is a lot of lag time between real operational dollars for the knight campus and its connection to the UO general fund. We are years away from that.

          The “re-alignment” has nothing to do with the Knight Campus, tho people think it does because somehow its an instantaneous effect. It is not. In fact, the amount of dollars designated to hire new faculty for the Knight campus is appalling low, in my opinion.

        • Canard says:

          I known that my department just chipped in $400,000. I hope we get a line on the donor plaque.

          • Patrick Phillips says:

            I can’t tell exactly what this is referring to from the context, but no department has contributed any money to the Knight Campus, nor do I expect that any will. I appreciate concerns about the unknown, but one approach to this would be to directly ask me questions (over the phone or in person, not on this website). A surprisingly rare occurrence over the last two years, I must say.

            • Canard says:

              Of course no one has “directly” contributed money to the Knight Campus. (Money is fungible.) But in the midst of rising tuition, administrative bloat and widespread budget cuts, a new multibillion venture arises, the total costs of which will in no way be covered by the Donor’s magnanimous gift. The new “budget model” is a black box, with remarkably little transparency about how money goes and in and comes out. Pardon my skepticism for thinking that money is being taken from many units that are doing a good job and generating income, to support “institutional priorities”. The Jim Bean budget model might have had a few faults, but it at least it removed the collective wool from our eyes about how money was generated and allocated on this campus. The wool is now firmly back in place.

              • uomatters says:

                Thanks Canard. I’ve also been told directly by one dean, and heard similar reports from other colleges, that the central administration is trying (and sometimes succeeding) to poach “their” donors so that they can get them to contribute to the Knight Campus instead.

            • Patrick Phillips says:

              These statements are completely false. Again, I am happy to talk to anyone who has questions or concerns about the Knight Campus.

            • uomatters says:

              Hi Patrick, I’m not sure which of the comments above you are responding to, but if it’s my comment that:

              ” I’ve also been told directly by one dean, and heard similar reports from other colleges, that the central administration is trying (and sometimes succeeding) to poach “their” donors so that they can get them to contribute to the Knight Campus instead.”

              I want to make sure you understand that this is based on conversations I’ve had with deans, one in a meeting with many others present. If I’ve heard that kind of talk, I expect you have too.

              As you know I’ve been a supporter of the Knight Campus, I believe Phil Knight’s $500M is a very generous gift, and I believe that the project is generally well thought out and will benefit UO as a whole. A lot.

              But of course it will siphon off some gifts that would have otherwise benefitted the rest of campus, and of course UO’s fundraisers – which is a good part of the job of deans these days – are under pressure to help come up with the money to meet the $1B target.

              Similarly, UO’s lobbyists have already hit up the legislature for additional funds for the Knight Campus. I believe they got $100M. The state’s willingness to support higher ed, and UO, is limited. When our lobbyists make the Knight Campus one of their highest priorities, other UO causes will suffer.

              Bill Harbaugh, UO Senate President.

            • Dog says:

              Dog to Phillips

              You have been at the UO enough to understand that there is no objective reality here. Even if you prove that there is, that will not replace the perceptual bias that dominates how we view the world here.

              In general, we make statements from positions of belief, not knowledge.

            • Patrick Phillips says:

              I was replying to Canard. We are so deep in the replies, they no longer nest.

      • trumplackey says:

        No one could regret it more than I do, but journalism as a discipline is dying. Reduction in headcount there is probably an irresistible necessity.

        • Fishwrapper says:

          With respect, journalism as a discipline is not “dying.”

          Journalism as an enterprise is certainly seeing a poor return on investment, but the industrial, commercial enterprise of journalism is not the same as the discipline of journalism. Indeed, the very forces that are making corporate investments in local journalism, i.e. the trend of going towards the web for information instead of the local dog trainer, fish wrapper, or cage liner, making the business enterprise for a daily paper more and more problematic each quarter have coincidentally forced a number of topics into a journalistic sunshine that might not have been available due to a penny-pinching corporate editor.

          The discipline of journalism is more valuable than ever before, even if the return on capital investment is no longer the same as it was. The need for journalism in this day and age has never been more critical, and the rise of alternative forms, via the very technologies that have been cited as the cause of journalism’s demise, has proven over and over that journalism is, arguably, thriving.

          The press may not be printing its own money as it did back in the day, but the fourth estate is alive, it’s well, and won’t be stamped out.

          • trumplackey says:

            I really _am_ talking about the discipline (not ROI), and I do agree that it matters. But in the last few years, barely a week passes when some serious malfeasance by a major reporter or news organization is not exposed or retracted. As just one sordid example, consider this Glenn Greenwald piece from December: https://theintercept.com/2017/12/09/the-u-s-media-yesterday-suffered-its-most-humiliating-debacle-in-ages-now-refuses-all-transparency-over-what-happened/ .

            Just as disheartening is the current day failure of the basic craft: that stuff we learned in high school J class, like the five Ws and how to write a lead paragraph and headline. And crucially, the difference between factual reporting and opinion. In these terms, the Daily Emerald far exceeds The New York Times (supposedly the nation’s paper of record). Horrible. (see also https://www.theknifemedia.com/)

            Quite off-topic, so I’ll stop here.

            • Fishwrapper says:

              It’s hardly off-topic. To be honest, after I posted my comment, it occurred to me that you could just as well have been narrowly contextualizing your statement vis-à-vis the SJC. I don’t know firsthand if journalism is dying on the UO’s academic vine or not; my own comment was, clearly, about the discipline writ large. I gratefully acknowledge your agreement that the big J matters.

              As one who practiced journalism in the now-antiquated world of but a few decades ago, when cable penetration was still below that of broadcast; when broadcast license ownership was much more limited and regulated; when everyone in the newsroom >em>and the ink-stained wretches in the print shop all got bonuses at Christmas and a gold watch and a pension; when the news consumer had few options so people paid better attention and those in the business saw their position as one of a greater trust, the changes in the landscape on which journalism occurs over just the past quarter century have been alarming. To me, at least.

              We could, each of us no doubt, trade barbs back and forth about failures in journalism, and focus entirely on the so-called mainstream media, and even more narrowly focus only on the cable outlets., but what’s the point? Errors have been a part of the landscape for centuries. See Dewey Defeats Truman. For that matter, read about my namesake’s (Will Overhead) triumph at Indy.

              Today’s journalism landscape arguably features more errors, exposed and/or retracted or not, than in those halcyon days when I practiced the craft. That can be explained a few ways, most conveniently with statistics (given the owner of this forum’s background, this falls under the purview of the blog): There are far more journalistic “outlets” than there were twenty-five years ago, with an exponential curve beginning in the mid-eighties, and absolutely exploding upward in the later nineties. Even if the rate of errors, gaffes, goofs, and bloopers remains constant, the raw number is going to be far higher than in the past, making hay for those who wish to argue against accuracy in the media.

              The current landscape is troubling, as it require more effort for the consumers of news and information to perform more due diligence about their source(s) of information. The cacophony of communicators out there makes that difficult, indeed. Which also feeds into the reason that the discipline matters.

              I’ll confess, or disclose may be the better term, that I have long-term friends and colleagues who work at the Grey Lady and a few other major outlets, broadcast, cable, and print, and thus also all practicing digital journalism via their online editions. In most cases, their shift into the new landscape ver the years has been most hindered by the business side of the business. Even venerable mothership stations for NPR like WBUR and WNYC have been fighting internal wars over the value and direction of their journalistic efforts that the public is not privy to. So far, I’m glad to say, the good side keeps winning…but those of the discipline of journalism of my generation are, frankly, getting old and tired. I, too, appreciate sites like the Knife; it gives me a good feeling to see a new generation trying to hold old ideals or fairness and accuracy in a modern marketplace that was built, literally, on clickbait.

              Perhaps this, too, is off-topic. I just hope the SJC (bringing it back towards topic?) is cranking out folks who not merely keep the discipline alive, but to help the ideals thrive as we get through this national, even international, nightmare that needs reporting.

              With best regards,

              Will Overhead, ’33

          • trumplackey says:

            According to the Daily Emerald, a conservative activist will be speaking on campus tonight. This is a rare newsworthy event being served up on a platter. Opportunities for factual coverage with summary and transcript (video even), plus point/counterpoint opinion pieces. Let’s see what you’ve got, J School!

  5. nope says:

    Something must be done about the suckhole known as the UO Portland.

    • uomatters says:

      Please give details.

      • dog says:

        oh it just sucks dollars
        probably one million per
        annum (or a bit more)

        • Anonymous says:

          Probably? “Oh it just sucks dollars”. Facts please. Please also elaborate upon where from the dollars are being “sucked”? Very curious. I’m not challenging you..I’m interested in learning the facts.

          • Anonymous says:

            its well known that UO Portland is a loss leader
            and this has been discussed previously on this forum
            a few years ago.

            One can not get official acknowledgment easy on this and one
            can certainly not get all the facts.

            In fact, a good investigative journalist (Kenny Jacoby are
            you reading this?) could uncover this, and, now that I think about it, I am not sure the Senate has ever properly investigated UO portland.

  6. Skeptic says:

    Do we really care about the students? ITs hard to when you have classes of 90 people. But do we care?

    Example we had a graduation ceremony this year. It was mostly us talking about how great our department and research is, recognizing a few really smart grad students and undergrads, and then rushing undergrads off the stage with diplomas in hand as fast as possible.

    Many of these marginal C, B students that barely any recognition from US might end up the true leaders of tomorrow. Not just the “Oregon Six”. We’re so worried that people don’t care enough or understand the academics of the department that we don’t do anything to try to care about or recognize finishing a degree, even marginally, is an achievement for many. And the grit to finish something hard is just as important as academic intellect.

    Graduation was the epitome of being an ivory tower and not understanding the students that make any of our research possible.

    • Dog says:

      Operationally I think all Big Research Universities (BRU) only process undergrads but pretend to care. The student numbers are just too large relative to the individual research faculty. This is just a numerical fact of operation. I have been employed at several BRUs and Oregon is no different in that regard.

      However, there can be a better attempt for the BRU to produce more smaller classes, but that ends up increasing teaching load and so is usually deemed undesirable.

      • skeptic says:

        We’ll even if we can’t ever get that involved we should recognize that at graduation we are celebrating the students and parents who came here (and have in aggregate paid all of our salaries for the last 4 years).

        Structuring the ceremony around them rather than trying to convince everyone the department is a “leading department” should be the goal of the event. But when you don’t even put out water for a couple hundred people on a 90 degree day your not even pretending to care.

        • dog says:

          as soon as someone decided that Monday was a good day
          for graduation, then things just went to shit even faster

          • Fishwrapper says:

            Saturday is a great day for such an event. It takes a lot of work, sure, but it pays off in the end. Everyone (thousands of graduates) goes home with their (actual) diploma and has a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling about their alma mater when the first ask arrives from the alumni association in September…


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