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Chronicle follows up with Mike Schill on “Academic Reputation at Risk”

Last updated on 05/02/2016

5/1/2016: Text and video here: This is a brief follow up to Stripling’s “An Academic Reputation at Risk” report on UO, from September. That story is still gated if you are off campus, but here are some extracts below.

The re-interview touches on realignment and fundraising, and there’s a surprising amount on Schill’s decision to dump our 160over90 branders. Apparently UO’s academic side, and Schill, are still getting good publicity from our new “No branding crap”  brand. Thank you Diane Dietz!

Which prompted me to look at UO’s home page for the first time in months. Some of the 160over90 damage has been reversed – I didn’t see any mention of  What the If? or whatever it was – but it’s still hard to navigate. Which explains why the UO Matters “Crap-Free UO homepage” (TM) is still so popular.

9/14/2015: Chronicle’s Jack Stripling profiles UO and President Schill

Long article, well worth reading it all. Posted today, here: (Gated if you are off campus).

An Academic Reputation at Risk: The U. of Oregon’s big brand masks its fragile standing

An Academic Reputation at Risk 5

The duck is always up in everybody’s face. He shoves. He body-slams. He demands to be noticed.

The University of Oregon’s mascot, a Donald Duck knockoff in yellow and green, is a pure distillation of the university’s iconic brand. This is a place, the duck assures us, of unapologetically splashy sports and irrepressible good times. The image sells remarkably well to undergraduates, whose numbers have increased by 25 percent in the past decade alone.

… On a recent summer afternoon here, an admissions official asked a group of prospective students and their parents what they had already heard about the university.

Toward the back row, a young man said, “Big football team.” “Nike,” another chimed in, citing the university’s longstanding affiliation with the company’s co-founder, Phil Knight. “Track,” another said.

That’s to be expected, given how we recruit these students – UO’s administrators use football bowl games as undergraduate admissions events, so they can get the university to pay for their own junkets, family included.

Of course, there are other ways to attract students. Here’s the report from UC-Boulder admissions, where they emphasized academic rigor, instead of big-time sports (they’re currently #78 in the football rankings). Seems to be working:

A total of 3,083 Colorado residents enrolled as new freshmen in the fall class, as well as 2,786 from out of state and a record 386 freshman international students, a 41 percent increase from last year. …

“Our efforts in recent years to improve the academic rigor at CU-Boulder are paying off with the most academically qualified class we’ve ever seen,” said CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “Our Esteemed Scholar program, and our other scholarship and academic programs, continue to attract Colorado’s best and brightest to CU-Boulder, along with outstanding students from around the nation and the world.”

This year’s freshman class includes a total of 898 Colorado freshmen who were awarded Esteemed Scholarships, based on high school grades and SAT/ACT scores, up from 789 last year.  For out-of-state students, 425 were awarded the Chancellor’s Achievement Scholarships, 77 more than in 2013, and 102 were awarded Presidential Scholarships, up 18 from last year.

Stripling’s story continues with some information on the tensions that UO’s emphasis on big-time athletics at the expense of academics have created between the faculty and the administration, and President Schill’s plans to deal with them.

In Mr. Schill’s view, the university needs to break down barriers between professors and administrators. On the symbolic front, he has invited faculty members into his home, and asked them to stock his office library with their books. He has portrayed himself as a faculty member first, insisting that the title of “professor” appear alongside “president” on his business cards.

More substantively, Mr. Schill has signed off on a new contract with the faculty union, and he has agreed to settle a contentious lawsuit with the Oregon student who accused three basketball players of raping her.

“We need to end the circular firing squad,” Mr. Schill says, “and I think we’ve started that.”

If Oregon can avoid turning on itself, Mr. Schill says, the university can reverse the trends that have held it back.

Every promise Mr. Schill has made hinges on the success of a $2-billion capital campaign. The money will be used in part to hire 80 to 100 new tenured or tenure-track professors over the next four to five years.

… “I don’t want to sound too egotistic or narcissistic, but what was missing here was leadership,” says Mr. Schill, who is 56. “The last piece of the puzzle wasn’t here yet, which was a president who was going to stay and build a great university. I’d like to think I’m the person. History will look back and say whether I was.”

10/15/2015: Jefferson Public Radio interviews Jack Stripling

Audio link to 20 minute interview here:

Stick with the sports pages, and the University of Oregon is a school with a national reputation–AND a cute, one-of-a-kind duck mascot. But behind the duck and the flashy Nike uniforms is a university, one with challenges typical of public higher education in our time.

Chronicle of Higher Education Senior Reporter Jack Stripling lays out the challenges in a recent article, “An Academic Reputation at Risk.”  His work gives a history lesson, a state-of-the-university assessment, and views to the future from key UO players.

Jack Stripling joins us to talk about his work.

I haven’t had time to listen, comments welcome.


  1. Sherlock 05/02/2016

    “So what we did is we were looking very strategically – and this was done not by me but by the provost and the dean of the college.” What a coward Shill is. Blame the firing of all the NTTF on the provost and the dean. Real classy.

    • honest Uncle Bernie 05/02/2016

      I wonder if this is the prelude to dumping Andrew Marcus as CAS Dean, as a friend of mine predicts. After Andrew took a heap of troubles upon himself to do what Big Mike wanted. I hope my friend is wrong.

      • uomatters Post author | 05/02/2016

        I agree. Coltrane should have taken responsibility for the cuts, given that they were in large part the result of his decisions – or lack of decisions – as CAS Dean.

        Marcus stepped up to the plate and showed some leadership on this.

        • Old Grey Mare 05/02/2016

          Agreed. Andrew Marcus has shown leadership in a number of tough situations.He has also shown the ability to listen to faculty and change his mind.

    • Daniel Pope 05/02/2016

      Yes, some major league buck passing going on there. Wherever the plan for dropping the NTTF came from originally, he ought to take responsibility for such a drastic move, done with little regard for its impact on the teaching and research of those (TTF and NTTF) who remain and less regard for NTTF who have given years of good service to the university.
      To say “Where we didn’t renew the nontenured faculty are in areas where students stopped taking classes” is a half-truth and doesn’t get around the fact that departments that provide lower division “service” courses are now scrambling to figure out how they’ll be taught.

  2. Old Man 05/02/2016

    AAU and DoD

    My recent post argued that the UO doesn’t need AAU membership to continue its activities as a University with a respected research program. In my present post, I suggest that, in the minds of some folks, AAU membership is a blot on the mission of our University. The role of the AAU is to lobby for federal money for university research. In May, 2004, it lobbied the House Appropriations Committee for more Department of Defense research dollars to “…ensure that tomorrow’s warfighter has the technologies to face new dangers.” This was just 14 months after our nation devastated Baghdad with “Shock and Awe”, reaching new depths in the tragedy of endless wars in the Middle East. In its affiliation with the AAU, our University of Oregon is signed up for more of the same. (“Signed up” is accurate – the AAU letter quoted above bears Dave Frohnmayer’s signature, among those of the CEO’s of the other AAU universities.)

    • Daniel Pope 05/02/2016

      Thanks for posting this, Old Man. We fetishize our AAU membership here but as far as I can tell few of us know what the organization actually does. What precisely are the benefits of our membership, and how do they compare with the costs of further academic engagement with the military?

  3. honest Uncle Bernie 05/02/2016

    “I don’t want to sound too egotistic or narcissistic, but what was missing here was leadership,” says Mr. Schill, who is 56. “The last piece of the puzzle wasn’t here yet, which was a president who was going to stay and build a great university. I’d like to think I’m the person. History will look back and say whether I was.”

    Mike, you sound so egotistic and narcissistic! Just do the job and let others judge, and things will work a lot better for you.

    So far, the jury is very much out, in my opinion.

    And — you were not the only UO president within memory who showed “leadership.” True, there was a gap after Dave Frohnmayer. But Paul Olum, Myles Brand, Dave all guided this place through some very tough times, and/or largely are responsible for the circumstances in which you are able to try to “build a great university.” Don’t forget John Moseley, either.

  4. Thom Aquinas 05/02/2016

    How can I change my vote on “President Mike Schill’s grade so far”?
    He just dropped from a solid B to a weak D.

  5. Old Man 05/03/2016

    Responding to Dan Pope: Wikipedia summarizes the Benefits of AAU Membership as follows:
    “The largest attraction of the AAU for many schools, especially nonmembers, is prestige. For example, in 2010 the chancellor of nonmember North Carolina State University described it as “the pre-eminent research-intensive membership group. To be a part of that organization is something N.C. State aspires to.”[1] A spokesman for nonmember University of Connecticut called it “perhaps the most elite organization in higher education. You’d probably be hard-pressed to find a major research university that didn’t want to be a member of the AAU.”[2] In 2012, the new elected chancellor of University of Massachusetts Amherst, a nonmember of AAU, reaffirmed the framework goal of elevating the campus to AAU standards which inspire them to become a member in the near future, and called it a distinctive status.[3] Because of the lengthy and difficult entrance process, boards of trustees, state legislators, and donors often see membership as evidence of the quality of a university.[1]…”

    Annual dues are $80,500.

    The AAU held a meeting here in 2003back. Greg Bolt reported it this way in The Register-Guard.

    “CIA Director George Tenet made a secret visit Monday to the University of Oregon campus, where he addressed a national gathering of university presidents on the role of higher education in solving world problems.

    The visit was conducted under tight security, and few outside the attending members of the Association of American Universities knew in advance that the head of the nation’s overseas intelligence agency would speak. Tenet was on campus for about two hours and left without making any public appearances.”

    Tenet, you may recall, was Director when the CIA introduced its criminal activities of torture. I don’t think that visit did anything good for the UO.

    • hmm 05/04/2016

      Wikipedia is now an official source of information for a National Academy member? What’s next, tweets?

      • uomatters Post author | 05/04/2016

        You’re dissing an old man for keeping up with the times? Shame on you ;)

    • Dog 05/04/2016

      Indeed AAU membership is nothing more than a perceived prestige factor here. But perception is what the UO has always cared about more than substance. Functionally, of course, we are not in the AAU
      at all.

      I will point out that the UO of the mid 1980s very much did belong in the AAU and, with its various reserach centers that morphed briefly into the Centers of Excellence hires of late 1980s, the UO was in fact quite a robust research University,

      • just different 05/04/2016

        UO doesn’t have the research standing otherwise to disregard that perceived prestige if it wants to be taken seriously. Stanford can diss the AAU; UO really can’t.

      • Anonymous 05/04/2016

        As much hot air that the UO blows about wanting to be a top tier research university, hardly anyone in the administration really knows what that means. As it stands now, the sponsored research part of the university is run by math faculty (VPR and CAS assoc dean for natural sciences). Bless their hearts but they don’t have a clue about sponsored research (the former will be fixed soon with the Conover hire, but the latter will continue to inflict damage until Marcus fixes the problem which I don’t expect to be any time soon). If you want to be a top tier research university, it’s an uphill battle without administrators that know that world.

  6. Old Man 05/04/2016

    The Old Man has a well founded distrust of “official” sources of information. Perhaps “hmm” can offer a more reliable bit of info on the “benefits” of being an AAU member.

  7. hmm 05/04/2016

    Wikipedia is banned in my classes for the obvious reason that it is not accurate. If we are going to discuss important issues (and AAU membership is one), let’s invoke more robust and reliable sources.

    • uomatters Post author | 05/04/2016

      And with that said I encourage anyone interested in this wikipedia discussion to move it to some other blog.

  8. Grim Reaper 05/12/2016

    UO already received an AAU inquiry that is a prelude to removal. In describing how colleges work, Birnbaum (1988) noted five cultures: collegial, bureaucratic, political, anarchical, and cybernetic. Everybody knows anarchy reigns at UO – a peculiar source of pride for UOM and its devotees. Anarchy allows extreme narcissism to emerge and culture devolves to nihilism until nothing remains, except perhaps a cameo appearance on the walking dead.

    • Dog 05/12/2016

      What is the nature of this inquiry and is it publically available?
      On what grounds is an inquiry a prelude to dismissal? And which
      University a good example of being cybernetic?

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