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What are UO’s new “Centers of Excellence”, and how were they picked?

UO now has a list of “Centers Clusters of Excellence”. These are the areas that UO will emphasize during decisions about funding and fundraising. What departments are included? What factors were weighed in deciding the list? Who had input? There’s no substantive information from JH of course. The rumors I’ve heard include Geography, Education, Biology, Chemistry, and Psychology. The comments are open, please post if you know or have heard anything about the list and the process.

Also, the ODE story on Scott Coltrane’s job talk is here, RG here.


  1. Ferris Bueler 01/14/2014

    Not on the list. Will UO being throwing US a pity party?

    Also I hate to say, but Geography is an excellent department, but exactly how many geography departments are there in the U.S.? The answer is 298, but half of them are combined geography and geology departments.

    Interesting unemployment and wage data from here,, if student outcomes might be considered as well.

  2. Nat Sci Prof 01/14/2014

    As one who stands to benefit potentially, I am not complaining with that list. Besides, all these programs were mentioned at today’s benchmarking session in Gerlinger.

    • Vlad 02/25/2014

      if AAU metrics are a major issue, it is useful to note that USDOE funding is NOT included in AAU research funding comparisons.

  3. dog 01/14/2014

    I believe, rather too strongly, that we need to evolve our thinking towards emerging areas of new research and inquiry rather than investing in legacy.

    The selection was largely based on the 2010 NRC rankings of various graduate programs.

    • ScienceDuck 01/14/2014

      Both Biology and Chemistry have new nationally funded “centers of excellence” (both are bigger than just those depts, but housed there) so they have recent external validation for success. But, speaking as a science prof, and without any clue what the UO centers mean, I hope that this is not a final giving up of a broke university that can now only support a few areas of research.

      • Vlad 01/14/2014

        No arts, no humanities, almost no social science. Science Duck nailed it. are we down to this? most of us understand the advantages of simplicity and focus in fundraising, but this seems to have been taken to an extreme. as an aside, a science friend told me years ago that the only real strength for a program in such matters is to be either really good or really cheap. or for those mathematically inclined, some convex combination of the two.

        • OA Anon 01/15/2014

          Yes, at what point does the UO become a glorified trade-school for the most hire-able professions (business, traditional hard science), versus it liberal arts tradition of the well-rounded professional/academic graduate? Oh I suppose, Southern Oregon can handle those liberal arts majors, right?

          • anonymous 01/15/2014

            Telling that you put “traditional hard science” in with “glorified trade school” whilst contrasting “traditional liberal arts well rounded.”

            I invite you to look at which departments have the majors with the highest SAT scores. If that is too crass for you, take a quantum mechanics or thermodynamics or molecular biology course and contrast the intellectual level with the race/class/gender drivel that now pervades the humanities.

          • Anonymous 01/15/2014

            This is actually a reply to the anonymous comment below, not “OA Anon”, but the blog didn’t give me a reply button for it:

            “I invite you to look at which departments have the majors with the highest SAT scores. If that is too crass for you, take a quantum mechanics or thermodynamics or molecular biology course and contrast the intellectual level with the race/class/gender drivel that now pervades the humanities.”

            High SAT scores don’t equal well-roundedness. And what world do you live in that you have the luxury of considering issues of race, class, and gender “drivel”? Because it sure isn’t the one I live in.

          • dog 01/15/2014


            independent of whether or not you like the funding agency
            is a good example of emerging research fields that are not well represented by traditional departments but in which there is growing funding availability.

            We can either choose to maintain our discipline biases concern content, academic rigor, and mine’s bigger – or we can choose to figure out how to acquire,
            through strategic hires, more competence and experience in these emerging fields.

    • anonymous 01/15/2014

      dog — am familiar with most of the research areas in that DOD link you provide — I believe that they are quite well represented in the “traditional” UO departments (and institutes). nanoscience? quantum information? cognitive neurosci? Are you kidding?

      • dog 01/16/2014

        agreed there is some representation but I don’t believe its at the critical mass limit. Just my view – could be worthless.

  4. Excellence 01/14/2014

    Why isn’t the Duck defensive line on Gottfredson’s list?

  5. Anonymous 01/14/2014

    Is this the same as the “Clusters of Excellence” referred to in Coltrane’s statement? That phrase appears just once on the entire UO website, in a letter from the AAA dean (seemingly unrelated to this).

    I am in one of the above mentioned departments (and fairly well plugged in, or so I thought), and this is news to me.

    • anonymous 01/14/2014

      Pretty sure UOM is referring to Coltrane’s Clusters of Excellence. I am also in one of the named departments and haven’t heard a thing.

      • Anonymous 01/15/2014

        Coltrane’s language may be pointing to the same, but “the list” predates Coltrane’s reference by some time. The capital campaign’s silent phase is well underway, and admins AD and upward are in the know on this, or at least on the proposals being kicked around.

        Everyone ask their AD for info. Let’s see what we can turn up.

  6. Anas Clypeata 01/15/2014

    Any sort of cluster might actually be a step up.

    Also, does this mean the Big Ideas are officially dead, or will they continue in parallel with the Clusters?

    • dog 01/15/2014

      its just now a cluster of big ideas
      in the Marine Corps there is an expression for that

  7. jaded 01/15/2014

    U of Nike’s “sports product design” program in Portland is high on Mike Andreasen’s fundraising list. Sucks money out of legitimate research that might keep us in the AAU.

    • dog 01/15/2014

      The sports product design is actually a sound/legit direction and its currently seeking donor money to support it (and there is lots of interest). At the moment, this effort has not been internally funded so money sucking is not occurring – contrary to widespread belief on matters like these.

      For the record, there are about 800 “sports product design” companies in Oregon. That’s a lot – aligning an academic program with that is wise and represents important evolution. Potentially lots of student interns would be available.

  8. anonymous 01/15/2014

    I don’t see how they can include biology and chemistry and leave out physics. (Disclosure: Am not in physics dept.)

    Oh, maybe I do see it. They are thinking of where they can raise the most grant money. Obviously biology and chemistry are good candidates. (It is now the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, if you haven’t noticed.) The NIH has the biggest pot of money. In chemistry, rumor has they’re scheming to get Phil Knight to uncork a big wad for applied science. Physics less eager to go along.

    Actually, Chemistry didn’t do so great in the NRC study. Not as good as Physics. Rumor has it Chem got kind of roasted in their latest “decennial” review. But from what I hear, Chem has some heavy-hitting schemers of various persuasions. Plus, Johnson Hall is not very good at discerning scientific quality.

    • Chem DH 01/15/2014

      This is the kind hearsay and rumor mongering that makes this blog so entertaining while eating my lunch; however, since the previous post hits close to home, I think I should “de-cloak” for a moment and set straight a couple of items:

      1. True – Chemistry didn’t do as well as Physics in the NRC study, but I believe all of the sciences did worse than COE. Biology came close to COE.
      2. False – Chemistry was NOT roasted in our decennial review 18 months ago. In fact, the report was quite positive. I’d be happy to show you the entire report over coffee or tea.
      3. True – Chemistry has some heavy-hitting schemers, but at least they have new ideas (applied sciences) and do not rest on their laurels. As “ScienceDuck” noted, both Biology and Chemistry have new nationally funded “centers of excellence”. Both of those represent, as “dog” put it, emerging areas of new research and inquiry. Either sound to me like good place to focus a “Cluster of Excellence” donation.

      Resume stealth mode…

    • anonymous 01/15/2014

      so — department heads read UOM!

      Rumor — that word again — has it that they even take a peak over in Johnson Hall, undoubtedly recoiling in disgust and horror.

      Perhaps this “rumor” will be dispelled by someone in JH — but then that would prove the rumor true!

      UOM is fiendishly clever — constructing these double binds from which there is no escape!

  9. anonymous 01/15/2014

    ClusterFucks of Excellence?

  10. anonymous 01/15/2014

    Funding through donations seems to be our president’s hope for UO’s future. So we need to pay attention to how this is set up. The precedence created in the current process is that high-level admins pick things that they believe sound good to donors. This means funding driven by buzz words, the more applied the better. But without a strong, visible, and aggressively defended basic-science foundation there will be no place for us in the AAU.

  11. Well-rounded natural scientist 01/15/2014

    The bitterness and petty sniping elicited in this threat (about the humanities, about chemistry) is unfortunate.

    It is fueled by the clusters having been handpicked in secret, instead of through an open and transparent process that included the many smart people this institution employs as faculty. Which is the real problem.

    We could have had a serious discussion about the important issues at stake. Should we be concentrating on applied sciences, even if it means disinvestment in basic science? Should we be cutting out the arts and humanities entirely from our fundraising efforts? Those decisions should be made in the open, with vigorous debate. Maybe we would have arrived at the same conclusions. Maybe not.

    The problem is the process. Even if you like the outcome of this decision, if you sit idly while JH makes decisions this way, sooner or later there’ll be one you won’t. Let’s keep an eye on the ball, folks.

    • anon 01/15/2014

      Seems to me the Senate should take up the topic of what Clusters of Excellence we ought to have given that the faculty have the primary responsibility for “all academic matters as understood in higher education” (Constitution). I can’t think of a more serious academic matter than the course of study and research of the University. Agree with Well-rounded that the administration will continue to make these decisions unless the faculty exercise their authority in these matters.

      • Anonymous 01/15/2014

        After reading UOM’s live-blog of this afternoon’s Senate meeting, that body should be the LAST place anything research-oriented should be discussed!

        • uomatters Post author | 01/15/2014

          So, we should leave it up to Espy’s self-appointed “advisory committee”?

          • Non-scientific Cat 01/15/2014

            The Senate is the wrong place, but there are other ways to get an active discussion going. (And I don’t think that on this blog I need to respond at all to the Espy idea…)

            What’s most striking to me is that these “clusters” or “centers” are neither; they’re departments. All they’ve done is define the most “excellent” departments. Not much original thinking went into that, obviously. And not much will result surely–which I think is what Dog was suggesting, at some meta level.

  12. Anonymous 01/15/2014

    Disagree – the groups that Scienceduck mentioned are minority but strong subsections of their home Departments. Neither the Senate nor Espy’s “yes”-men/women SAB are the place to go for research advice in the current UO anti-administrative environment. Sad thing is that I am not certain where we should go for such advice, or who is qualified to give such advice…. …

  13. anonymous 01/15/2014

    I disagree that these cluster might not have serious impact. Capital campaigns are rare events. Assuming that MG’s ideas about a new influx in private donations is more than wishful thinking what gets promoted through such a campaign can shape the scientific and financial landscape for years to come. The administration has known for a long time that the campaign was coming, but says there was no time for more discussion because of bargaining–oh so convenient.

  14. a non-admin observer 01/15/2014

    A couple comments:

    1. Bashing the Senate, regardless of how well attended or how effective someone perceives it to be, is truly destructive. If the aim of a comment such as “… that body should be the LAST place anything research-oriented should be discussed!”, is to defame a well regarded and functioning body, then the reader needs to re-evaluate. If faculty find the Senate objectionable and want to be heard, they need to participate within provided avenues and/or participate in creating new tools to go along with the Senate without randomly, and anonymously, discarding what is currently achieving some results.

    That said, it beings up this point:

    2. If the goal of this blog is to disseminate credible and actionable information about ‘UO matters”, not to dismiss the entertaining lampoons and one-offs, then this blog needs to re-think it’s posting criteria. If it wants to be more than a host-sanitized gripe site, it needs to allow posts that disagree with the blog host. This requires a clear posting policy that excludes the chance a post is deleted because the admin feels offended for whatever undefined reason of the day. Otherwise, let this be a non-serious lunch venue, and those of us who used to look up to UOM for serious comment will search for another online entree.

    • uomatters Post author | 01/15/2014

      I approve almost all comments I receive, particularly those that give substantive criticisms about the UO Matters blog. I do delete a few that are obvious nasty troll comments – maybe 1 or 2 a week.

      I have an automatic spam filter in place. (Akismet) Your comment made me look in the spambox, which filters out about 250 comments a day. From a not very thorough look, all seem to indeed be spam. I apologize if it has inadvertently caught some of your comments, or if you’ve posted something that you meant as substantive and I interpreted as a troll.

      • a non-admin observer 01/15/2014

        Apology and explanation accepted.

    • Anonymous 01/15/2014

      I am sorry, but I respectfully disagree with the above poster on point #1: The UO Faculty Senate is neither a “well regarded and functioning body”. UOM himself has blogged evidence this very day that supports this hypothesis: the fact that there is no vice-president/president elect for the Senate this or next academic year speaks volumes to the faculty Senate’s ineffectiveness and lack of broad faculty support. Also, while I SO hope(d) the Senate could nail athletic’s a$$ to the wall regarding subsidies, the vague and general lack of responses to UOM’s requests on subsidies by UO admin are laughable/disgusting. Highly disappointed in both the faculty Senate and Johnson Hall, yet no of this should come as a surprise to anyone…. it is, after all, the “Oregon way”…

      • a non-admin observer 01/15/2014

        So, you view the Senate as neither well regarded nor functioning. What is your suggestion to remedy this situation? And, sorry to be naive, but what exactly is the “Oregon way”?

        • uomatters Post author | 01/15/2014

          The Oregon Way, as defined by the $2M Huron consultants Lariviere had to hire to fix Rich Linton’s fuck-ups:

          “The University of Oregon has a culture with a high reliance on “the Oregon Way” as a justification for inaction, acceptance of the status quo, and slow response on a variety of efforts, which fosters an environment with a lack of accountability and willingness to change.

          There is a general sense of entitlement across the University of Oregon. Individuals do not recognize the limitations of their own relative skill sets or thoroughly understand their place within the organization. The broader community believes they have a right to weigh in and be updated on management decisions but do not want to dedicate the time and effort to participate in meetings or discussions on the issues.”

          • a non-admin observer 01/15/2014

            Interesting, and thanks for the link. With a cursory view, it does appear to mirror most other organizations, and the so-called “Oregon Way” could easily be called “the path of least resistance”.

            Again, what remedies are suggested?

  15. Voice From the Humanities 01/16/2014

    I am sooo happy that this campaign is finally underway. We were on the brink of it when Lariviere got fired. He hired Andreason who is great. Mike works and will continue to work without a break. The man barely sleeps as far as I can see. And, very quietly, he has a raised a ton of money while waiting for the campaign to get underway.

    The clusters of excellence also sound terrific to me. They will focus the outreach on our strengths…another great idea…sell to our strengths rather than fight entirely uphill. But development people won’t ONLY focus on those clusters; they always try and meet the donors’ interests. When donors are interested in social science and humanities, they give in those areas. From my viewpoint, this was a big problem in the last capital campaign, where a major donor gave in the sciences and then turned around and gave a huge amount of money to the humanities at Portland State. He wasn’t even asked about his interest in the humanities. Mike’s background and attitude are entirely different. He will leave no area unturned. The campaign doesn’t leave out departments, but it needs some kind of focus.

    The scholars of the sciences at the UO must, however, stop sniping at the those of us in humanities. Writing and analyzing are critical for anyone who wants a job or wants to study something and communicate it. Knowing about the world is a critical piece to solving the world’s problems — whether you are in science, business, government, farming, news media….the list goes on and on. A liberal education means the student gets a well rounded education in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Literature, philosophy, the academic study of religion, classics, and the list goes on, are academic fields that train students in how to think rationally; how to analyze reams of data and information, to pick out those pieces that are important, and to make a case or narrative for what that information actually says; and finally…how to communicate on paper, in person, on-line, etc.! Every field is useless without the other in my opinion. Science has no meaning unless there is a human component attached to it — whether it’s keeping us alive on this planet, understanding the universe, or figuring out how brain chemistry works.

    And, if we only value the sciences and train students for the sciences…we won’t have lawyers, teachers, or CEOs who can write a plan, a memo, or a letter. If we only value the sciences, what will we do when we are not at work? What books will we read, what films will we see, what music will we listen to? How will we know anything about anyone else or what’s happening anywhere else?

    Of course I think my area is essential to education and you should think the same of your own area. But, as far as I can see, all areas of the university are important….even if I’m too cloistered and insulated to see their value. We are all experts in different fields, but to value one’s own field over and against another’s seems incredibly uninformed and, frankly, uneducated.

    My last rant is to those who think the Senate should have some input into what the “clusters” are. In my opinion, the fundraising campaign is not about “academics,” it’s about raising money. Mike and his staff are experts at this. They do an amazing job. Why don’t we step back and let them do their job? Our jobs are research in our fields and teaching. I know, just because I’m an expert at one thing, I think I’m an expert in everything. Well, no, I’m not!

    • anon 01/16/2014

      To the extent that the money raised determines the academic direction of the University, it is absolutely an academic matter.

      I hope you are right about the process and those running it but I will not let that hope blind me to the very real possibility that the money will drive the academic agenda around here instead of the academic agenda driving the search for the money.

  16. Anon 01/16/2014

    Add Human Physiology to the list

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