President Schill: Aligning our resources to achieve academic excellence

Sent out this morning. It’s not your generic “welcome back from break” letter. President Schill and Provost Coltrane will be at the Senate meeting on Wed, Jan 13th, to discuss this in more detail and answer questions.

Dear Campus Community,

Since I assumed the presidency of the university last July, I have met with countless members of our community. Whether those meetings were with faculty, students, staff, or alumni, there was virtual unanimity with respect to one proposition: our top priority needs to be academic and research excellence. With this message, I invite you to join me in what I hope will be a transformational process of aligning our resources and our efforts to achieve our aspirations as a preeminent public research institution.

The University of Oregon, as the flagship research university in the state, is committed to furthering knowledge through teaching and research. We are the school with international reputations in molecular biology, neuroscience, green chemistry, special education and other programs. We are the school whose faculty achieves path-breaking research in such varied fields as prevention science, comparative literature, geography, environmentalism and ecology, and evolution.

Today, our university’s research profile is not as strong as it should be. While there are many programs and pockets of excellence throughout the university, the overall landscape is very uneven. As the last National Research Council ranking shows, we have relatively few departments that are listed among the best. The productivity of some of our faculties lag their peers and our program of graduate education is impoverished in its numbers of students. We must do better, and we will do better.

The root causes of our current situation are many. Certainly, part of the problem lies with resource constraints. From 2001 to 2015, the percentage of the UO’s budget funded by the state of Oregon dropped by more than 50 percent. As the institution became more tuition dependent, we increased our undergraduate enrollment and increasingly relied upon non-research faculty to do more of the teaching. Today, our faculty is out of balance; only 47 percent are on the tenure track, 11 percentage points less than our AAU and public research institution peers. Additionally a lack of tight budget controls and monitoring systems created a situation where course loads for tenure-track faculty in some departments fell significantly below the stated institutional standards. We need to rebalance our faculty.

We are experiencing a number of other significant cost drivers, many of which are critical to improving our university. Labor costs, which account for more than 80 percent of our expenditures, have increased significantly in recent years in our effort to bring salaries in line with our peers and through collective bargaining. The serious problem of campus sexual violence has required significant investments in our Title IX staff and programing. To improve student success and completion we are hiring additional advisors. Federal mandates have required us to hire more compliance administrators. And the state’s lack of appropriately mandated pension contributions in the past will require us to substantially increase the proportion of our budget that goes to PERS beginning in FY18.

In the face of these budget constraints and pressures, our current academic budget model—which depends primarily upon student credit hours—does not provide departments with stable sources of revenue to plan year to year, much less for the long run. Some schools and colleges have gone from surplus to deficit in a matter of a few years as students’ curricular preferences have shifted and workforce demands have changed. Furthermore, our culture of decentralization has further weakened our ability to achieve administrative coordination and economies of scale.

The financial stresses on the university have undermined our mission. It is now time to change the status quo. I have already announced my intention to invest in our academic future by increasing our number of research-active, tenure-track faculty by 80 to 100 over the next five years. We will also need to build the research infrastructure necessary to allow us to produce more knowledge, make more of an impact, and rise in national preeminence. This, in turn, will allow us to attract and retain world-class faculty throughout the university. This cycle of excellence is key to our success.

How will we pay for the investments necessary to reach these goals? While we will continue to work hard to persuade our legislators to increase our state support, I do not expect that the taxpayers of Oregon will ever be able or willing to provide us with enough resources to allow us to accomplish our mission. We will work hard with our alumni and supporters, as part of our $2 billion campaign, to raise funds for our faculty and our research infrastructure. Already many have heard the message and we expect to cross the halfway mark by mid-2016. But we owe it to our donors, our students, and the taxpayers to steward our resources responsibly. We must also change how we internally do business.

I have asked Provost Coltrane to lead an effort over the next 18 months to re-engineer our academic budget model with an eye to achieving stable and predictable sources of revenue for our academic units. He will work with our academic leadership (e.g. our deans, University Senate, vice presidents) in this endeavor. In addition to examining revenues, I have also asked him to look at the expense side of the equation. Resources are too scarce and our mission too important for us to waste money in redundant administration, poorly performing programs, and lax accountability.

This work will be in tandem with our strategic planning process. As you may know, before I arrived, the campus engaged in a year-long process of drafting a strategic framework for the university. The goal of this process was to identify how to operationalize our goals for competitive excellence. The provost has been working with deans, department heads, and faculty to refine the work of campus. I have also asked him to ensure the strategic framework is aligned with our academic goals and focused on how to achieve the greatest impact. Next week Provost Coltrane will share a draft of the strategic framework document with campus to receive input. The document, which will eventually go to the Board of Trustees for review and approval, will help guide us as we seek to achieve our goals and stay strategic in our focus and investments.

We will also be looking very carefully at expenditures in central administration. As part of this year’s budget review for FY17, I will ask each of our central units to suggest ways in which they can streamline services and achieve significant cost savings. For the longer run, I will appoint a task force of administrators and academic leaders to examine the efficiency of our central administration as well as to propose cost-saving steps. I expect that this group will provide me with some interim recommendations by the end of the current academic year. University Communications will be the first unit to begin integrations to better tell our story, look for operational efficiencies, and create more collaborations.

In the spirit of transparency, I will not sugar coat this message. This is not business as usual. Not all departments or schools will be net winners. Some members of our campus community may encounter hardship as we become better stewards of our resources. As we move forward, we will do everything within our power to make the transition as humane and smooth as possible. But we must move forward. To do anything less would consign our great university to mediocrity. That is unacceptable to me. I am sure it is equally unacceptable to you.

We have an historic opportunity to elevate this university in ways that serve students, the state, our nation, and that will further the production of knowledge. We must change, adapt, and align our operations and resources with our goals if we are to achieve our lofty aspiration and continue to meet our mission as a preeminent public research university.


Michael H. Schill

President and Professor of Law

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26 Responses to President Schill: Aligning our resources to achieve academic excellence

  1. Angel says:

    Wow. This is very hard to take with the unnecessary remodeling of Hayward Field and other million dollar nonsense being talked about (some illegal) and just plain hard to swallow (1% state tax increase).

    I would suggest that Schill put a hold on ALL money spent that isn’t on academics (our reason for being here right?) or support of academics NOT athletics. Put the needs of the majority above the needs of the few. Would very much like to see him get his priorities straight – this email would seem as though he does – but actions speak louder than words.

  2. Eugenenative says:

    “The University of Oregon, as the flagship research university in the state”

    President Schill, repeating that assertion over and over doesn’t make it true.

  3. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    translation: I’ve kind of learned by now not to expect more from the state. (Though I’m just beginning to grasp how indifferent the state is. Yikes! It’s not a question of not being funded like North Carolina, it’s more like continuing not to be funded like OSU and WOU). My private donors haven’t come through with the big bucks needed, e.g. look at the cluster hire funding, thud! But we still insist on calling ourselves the “state’s flagship research university.” [Note to Mike: that doesn’t go over well in Oregon, it’s an old tune that had gone pretty flat even before you got here. ]

    So, we’ll favor the favored, and have a night of the long knives for the rest, regardless of the actual income your unit is bringing into the University. At least that’s what we’re saying until you (and the union) fight back. A new strategic plan. Yet another new budget model. About one every 5 years, right on schedule.

    Kind of revealing the list of the “pockets of excellence.” It sounds like many of the usual suspects are getting his ear. And many more are being left out, as usual.

    See my (Uncle Bernie’s) recent post on the troubling aspects of the cluster hire plans. There should be widespread discussion of these matters. But so far, not.

    Being incorrigibly optimistic and positive, I (Uncle Bernie) don’t want to sound too pessimistic and negative. But I’m just saying how it looks and sounds this time around.

    By the way, fancying myself somewhat knowledgeable about PERS, I must take some exception to Mike’s explanation of the difficulties the University finds itself in with respect to that part of UO personnel costs.

    • Daffy Duck says:

      Agree with uncle Bernie. Schill must be swallowing jamie moffitts line on both pers issues and the merits of centralizing program decisions. Wrong, wrong. we have seen this movies several times before. A new model is needed every five years to try to try to offset the mistakes made centrally over the past five years. Blaming it on what is referred to as our overly decentralized campus is a very bad sign. Good luck.

  4. Artist on the chopping block says:

    I am scared my department will be seriously damaged. We’ll see.

  5. GTFatLarge says:

    Is the number of budget models of the past 5 years higher or lower than number of presidents?

  6. Dogmatic Ratios says:

    Where are his peer-reviewed studies, backing his idea that a particular ratio of tenure-track to non-tenure-track employees, researchers or teachers, produces better research or learning outcomes? This is just irrational dogma. It would be impossible to run a world-class Business or Education school, for example, just with people who’ve spent their entire careers in higher education. The actual factors for successful institutional outcomes are much more complex and interesting than those he’s suggesting.

    • uomatters says:

      I don’t see anything in Schill’s letter suggesting that ratios shouldn’t vary across colleges, etc.

    • Patrick Phillips says:

      It would certainly be great to see some sort of organizational analysis that might address this question, although it is clearly complex. What is clear is that the proper allocation of teaching resources is critical to both our educational *and* research success. We would clearly be dead as a research institution without the (frequently unbelievable) contributions of our NTTF instructors — especially in the sciences.

      I actually read the president’s letter a bit differently, as in, why should full professors who are making a minimal research impact teach much less (and get paid so much more) than the NTTF who are making a much larger educational impact. It may be that there are no such professors on this campus, but I suspect that there are, particularly in departments with traditionally lighter teaching loads.

      The bottom line is that everyone needs to be pulling equally hard on the oars if this ship is going to keep moving forward. I suspect that there will be a new effort to check for calluses on everyone’s hands.

  7. Dog says:

    Indeed I will be astonished if we end up deviating from “Business as Usual” – that would be a major change and long overdue. Perhaps
    Schill now realizes exactly how broken things are around here and how difficult it is for us to recover.

  8. Dogmatic Ratios says:

    Of course he does: “Today, our faculty is out of balance; only 47 percent are on the tenure track, 11 percentage points less than our AAU and public research institution peers.” This implies a procrustean toolkit coming out, because there’s some overall ‘correct’ ratio. Maybe he’ll find extra money for new tenure lines, but some department will still need to drop-or-cap non-tenured faculty numbers … whether or not it’s the right thing to do! They are prescriptive, dogmatic ratios.

  9. Dogmatic Ratios says:

    But, I am, by the way, VERY happy that he wrote this letter, so these issues can be raised.

  10. BenjaminHansen says:

    There have always been winners and losers here at the university budget wise. The question is who is going to win or lose more with the changes, and why.

  11. Jack Straw Man says:

    Any letter of this sort that makes no mention whatsoever of athletics-related expenditures is nothing but a concentrated exercise in missing the point.

    • aligned enough for you? says:

      Especially when UO athletics generates more than any other program in the country by a large margin – $35,000,000 more than the next most lucrative program, University of Texas (see the link from the Chronicle above – sortable table at the bottom of the article).

      Somehow they’ll manage to spend it all this year and come to the student with a hand out to request more from the students this spring for the opportunity to be drawn for a ticket to their own games.

      • BH says:

        Just as a clarification, the $196,000,000 you’re referring to includes a one time gift of $95,000,000 from Phil Knight to build the football complex. They generate closer to $100,000,000. Not saying it’s chump change, but there are about a dozen or so athletic programs that generate more money.

  12. Anas clypeata says:

    These two parts of his letter were pretty far apart:

    “Labor costs, which account for more than 80 percent of our expenditures, have increased significantly in recent years”

    “I will ask each of our central units to suggest ways in which they can streamline services and achieve significant cost savings.”

    Hint: you can’t achieve significant cost savings in central administration by focusing only on purchases of paper clips and black redaction markers.

    • Dysfunction says:

      The problem with asking central units how to streamline services is the fact that their processes are often archaic and have been broken for so many years that individuals making the suggestions have not seen what true efficiency and data based decision making looks like. If they don’t get a firm in to help with restructuring and process improvement we are all doomed.

    • inquiring mind says:

      Seems like asking central units to decide where to cut is inevitably going to lead to cuts down at the department levels. (Fox and the hen-house etc) Against human nature to find cuts within your own cohort. With the growing student body and increasing faculty size and activities, that would provide an opportunity to realign admin support positions, not eliminate them.
      There would be some important efficiencies in centralizing certain HR or IT functions. However compared to other Universities we have FEWER mid-level admins and OAs who are doing the day to day work in departments such as IS and SPS. We need more, not fewer, such positions to support research and academic activities.

  13. heyyeah says:

    What I hope hope hope this means, is that when he references workforce demands shifting, is that the temporary huge subsidies that the law school got which created a giant hole for CAS’s budget will end.

    • Dysfunction says:

      Did you forget who our new President is?

      • heyyeah says:

        In my experience, admins from your field can either be your advocate or your enemy (to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest).

  14. Dysfunction says:

    Maybe Mike can start with a volunteer salary adjustment to be a bit more aligned with comparators. Maybe that will create some goodwill for buy in of the onslaught and political carnage that appears to be ramping up. Welcome to the UO Budget Games.

  15. SaveUofO says:

    We can reallocate so much money if the administration would simply stop handing out Vice President and managerial titles like they’re candy and it’s Halloween. We can also stop paying these ridiculous hourly rates to outside law firms and make the attornies in GC take on more.

    Every five years, just like China.

  16. Anon says:

    They need to start actually coming into units to see what is happening instead of relying on OA structure to accurately report. So many puppet shows on campus, perpetuated by (justifiably) terrified middle manager OA’s who are afraid to give their direct reports bad news for fear of losing their contracts, resulting in active perpetuated Emperor Has No Clothes-ing all over the place.

    If anyone wants to know why any one thing isn’t right on campus, they should embed themselves in the responsible group’s meetings for a week or two to find out what/who needs to go. Look ground up, not top down. It is hard to know that your immediate leadership isn’t being honest with central admin. I hope central admin isn’t buying it. All that most of us can do is work on our resumes without actual power to effect change, and without a proper route for reporting lack of effective diligence.