President Schill urges UO to let go of the guilt

Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices Publick Benefits, 1714:

Pride and Vanity have built more Hospitals than all the Virtues together.

Pres Schill, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, today:

… First, a disclaimer. The University of Oregon has been fortunate to receive three extremely large donations from generous benefactors during the time I have served as president. Two gifts of $500 million each are from Penny and Phil Knight to create an applied bioengineering research campus. Another gift of more than $425 million is from Steve and Connie Ballmer to establish an innovative institute to fight one of the most important social problems of our time — the behavioral and mental-health crisis among our children. These gifts are transforming the university and enabling us to achieve our missions of teaching, research, and service.

How can one say that the billions of dollars devoted to medical research, student scholarships, and technological innovation by generous and, yes, wealthy people is not something to cheer? While we should all work hard to increase government support for higher education, we cannot and should not for a moment feel guilty for celebrating the philanthropy that enables our universities to grow and flourish. And, perhaps, if we execute well on the big ideas our donors have funded, we can demonstrate to the skeptics that there is no better public investment than higher education.

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22 Responses to President Schill urges UO to let go of the guilt

  1. just different says:

    Because rich people funding niche vanity projects is way better than taxing them and supporting public universities with public funds.

    • Townie says:

      “Donors, especially those ready and able to make very large gifts, typically want to restrict their giving to particular programs or subject areas and never want to hear that their funds will substitute for state money.”

      Maybe I am different but I would be more willing to cut UO a cheque provided it only went to supplementing UO’s state appropriation. Scholarships and special programs require additional administrative overhead.

      So far I have never given UO a penny.

  2. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    But there is so much more guilt to go around. The Kalapuyan land. It looks like UO will be vacating the campus. Or perhaps in lieu of that will be paying monetary compensation for the debt? What better way to redirect all this philanthropy. Or perhaps, also student tuition and faculty and staff salaries, since we are all in this together. Right?

  3. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    And another thing re the Knight Campus. I’ve been hearing from science and non-science people alike how this “Campus” is warping the priorities of UO, and sucking money and energy out of everything else. This would be a great thing for UOM to have a discussion about — since nobody, but nobody seems willing to talk in public fora.

  4. New Year Cat says:

    I think you probably have to look no further than the news about climate change and the mostly uninhabitable future, along with threats to Roe, war and now the threat of nuclear war, the economy, and the sense that only 5-10 people own and run American and indeed most of the world, to find causes for our children to be depressed and have “mental health issues”. Even many of we adults feel anguish and despair over the unwillingness of so many, and so many in power, to make the meaningful changes needed to keep our planet from resembling Venus or Hell, possibly in our own lifetimes and certainly in those children’s lifetimes.

    • “climate change and the mostly uninhabitable future”?

      I teach courses on Energy and the Environment — you’re welcome to sit in on this term’s 100 level Physics of Solar and Renewable Energy — and phrases like this infuriate me almost as much as climate denialism.

      Yes, climate change is real and important. To claim that it will render the planet inhabitable — or even worse for humankind than prior miserable periods or current miserable places — is alarmism that is irresponsible and dangerous.

      Quoting Michael Mann (, “by the time you’re done, it’s ‘we’re doomed’ when what the scientist actually said was we need to reduce or carbon emissions 50% within this decade to avoid 1.5 (degrees of) warming, which would be really bad. Two degrees of warming would be far worse than 1.5 warming, but not the end of civilization,” Mann said.

      Mann said doomism has become far more of a threat than denialism and he believes that some of the same people, trade associations and companies that denied climate change are encouraging people who say it is too late” (

      • uomatters says:

        Thanks for this comment, I agree.

        • Dog says:

          yes agreed – treating climate change as apocalyptical does
          a huge disservice to science and instills an unhealthy attitude in many others to they continue to promote gloom and doom.

          A large asteroid impact (natural to the Earthy system) is a catastrophe that can suddenly make many species go extinct. In that vane events like Snowball Earth (possibly Slushball Earth) and
          Hot House Earth involve much more energy that humans can generate and therefore also catastrophic events.

          In addition, Large Ice Ages that occur every 100,000 years have much larger impact that anything anthropocentric.

          Only future data will tell if the current stimulus of climate change, e.g. human activities will have an impact on the Earth that is comparable to the small ice ages that occur every 25000 years or so, the most recent of which ended around 12000 years ago.

          The biggest problem with accelerated climate change is the tremendously unfair differential impact this event will have. But, for whatever reason, the social part of the Earth continues to evolve as a collection of disagreeable tribes unwilling to collaborate for any sense of common good.

          • Ticai says:

            There is an absolutely disheartening lack of urgency at our university around the environment and climate change. We need to do things differently at all levels, from internal taxes on carbon to more thoughtful construction projects to a rethinking of trash generation and collection to increasing energy use efficiency and the list goes on. Walk around most European cities and universities and see for yourself how many actions are taken through an environmentalism and climate action lens. What are we doing here other than paving the lawns with more cement and lecturing others about how to speak “correctly” on yet one more topic?

  5. Jenny says:

    From one angle it seems the university produces something like the mental illness–sometimes called “climate anxiety”–that it raises institutes to combat. For better or worse I was tempered by the book Unsettled, which at least helped me to think more humbly and, I believe, more clearly and reasonably about the issue. I note, though, in one of the endless flyers that circulate through my email: “Anxiety around climate change is often amplified by competing anxieties, including COVID-19, racial injustice and white supremacist violence, the decline of democracy, economic worries, as well as the standard stressors of school, career, and social life. Emotions around the climate crisis and other systemic issues are entirely justified—whether fear, grief, anger, or newly theorized, climate-related emotions such as Glenn Albrecht’s “solastalgia,” i.e. “the feeling of being homesick while at home.” This is from a flyer for a campus workshop that intends to do something about all this anxiety/m-nt-l illn-ss.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      Yes, “Unsettled” by Steven Koonin (former professor of physics at Caltech, and provost, i.e. impeccable credentials) is worth reading. I also recommend Bjorn Lomborg’s books. He makes the case — mostly from published mainstream science — that climae change is not going to be the end of the world, and that in any case it is probably futile to try to stop it with any present means that we have. CO2 in the atmosphere just keeps happening, and is likeley to continue because most of the world — India, China, Africa, South America — is going to climb out of desperate poverty, and the only way to do that with present technology is by using carbon fuels. Perhaps we will be “saved” by something else — perhaps geoengineering or a radical advance in use of nuclear power, either conventional or via fusion. But that will not be accompished by ruining the landscape with wind turbines — no, please do not tell me to put them in Kansas — tell me where to put them in Oregon! In any case, that would make little difference anyway in the grand worldwide scheme of things.

  6. New Year Cat says:

    I suggest reading Under a Green Sky, by Peter Ward. Six Degrees : our future on a hotter planet, by Mark Lynas. And the news. What makes you think we will keep the warming under two degrees? There are baby steps out there, but the carbon emissions rise yearly despite that. I prefer not to think about it most days, but it does not seem unrealistic to me that we will not manage to control this in time, given we’ve known about it for….decades….

    • Dog says:

      “under two degrees” — what kinds of degrees F or C – this matter
      as there is a significant difference between the two scales.

      For +2F, yes there is no way this can be meet and in fact most data
      is consistent with +2F right now. +2C seems likely to me that we
      will exceed.

      Depending upon how various feedback loops actually work +2C can go to +4C (by 2100); +4C is equivalent to a flux change similar to the last small ice age; the planet remains mostly habitable. I think it highly unlikely that +4C will be exceeded but
      I will be long dead to ever know.

      Final note – I wish the public were more aware of CO2e as a key measure. This is the equivalent GHG contribution from every thing, not just CO2. Everything is mostly methane (CH4) – at this point in time CO2E is rising a bit more rapidly than just CO2 – making the situation become non-linear.

      Non-linear trends make predicting a future more difficult.

    • 1 Thanks, all, for the pointers to various books. Since this is a 10–days-old thread, it is unlikely that anyone will read this comment! Still, the comments motivated me to make an annotated list of books I like on energy, etc., here: It includes e.g. David MacKay’s rather famous [Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air]( , a pointer from a history colleague, and more.

      2 Re “New Year’s Cat”‘s suggestion: The Green Sky book is mostly a thorough description of past mass extinctions followed by brief, impressionistic thoughts on the future that no one would take as real projections. The author himself notes, the scenarios that ending of the book are “inelegant but variably plausible” (p 201). The gloomiest relies on a CO2 level of 1100 ppm in the year 2100 (for scale, the pre-industrial level is 280 and the current level is 420), even higher than the IPCC “business-as-usual” / “worst case” scenario. The temperature rise the author imagines is over 10C, far beyond the probable range calculated by the IPCC, etc. Is it worth noting? Sure, if part of a *quantitative* assessment of risk. Does it imply that our students should be despondent about the future? No.

      3 Which is a bigger threat to civilization, climate change or anonymous internet comments? I’m honestly not sure, but my leaning is towards the latter.

      4 Coincidentally, a student who was in my Physics 161 & 162 (Energy & the Environment, Solar & Renewable Energies) on Zoom last year emailed wanting to chat, for no reason other than to talk in person & ask some questions. The days are packed, but we met the week before last. We discussed nuclear power, solar power costs (from $100 /Watt to 30 cents/ Watt in my lifetime!), and more. The student asked why his humanities professors are gloomier about climate than his science professors. It’s not a topic l wanted to go into, nor is it one whose answer I know. I went sideways into the question of why, in the industrialized world, air quality is so much better than it was 50 years ago. What happened?

  7. Townie says:

    Dear UOMatters,

    I recently spent a few hours skimming through various international higher-ed rankings and I noticed a few alarming things. As an aside, I am not an academic so please forgive me if I am wrong about my claims below.

    1. UO sucks when it comes to international rankings and its rankings started dropping off a cliff after the start of the Nike (“big-time sports”) era. The most recent QS ranking puts UO in the 650-700 range.

    2. UO strongest ranking is the Leiden ranking which measures the proportion of publications that are among the top 10% most cited that year (rank = 131). However, in 2011 UO was ranked way higher and even looked somewhat elite (rank = 40).

    3. UO and its donors invest in sports, marketing/branding, flashy facilities, etc. which, if any thing, have hurt UO’s international profile and distinct charm. Professors and students seeking an “alternative lifestyle” would be happier in Santa Cruz or even Salt Lake City now that UO is an extension of Nike.

    4. I remain convinced that it was not just the budget cuts that hurt UO and that Nike and the “big-time sports” mentality have forever damaged UO and its reputation. It has lost its niche for good.

    5. UO is on its way to becoming USC North. Wouldn’t the faculty prefer Berkeley North or “MIT in the Woods”


    Concerned Townie

    • CSN says:

      I, a faculty member, would certainly prefer Berkeley North or MIT in the Woods. I, a faculty member, have very little power to make that happen. Do you have any suggestions?

  8. Publius says:

    Does Schill mention that the major private donations are coming from someone, Phil Knight, who has worked AGAINST public funding for higher education? Schill may not be aware of Knight’s 2010 attempt to defeat ballot measures 66-67 giving more funds to higher education (Knight failed). But now Knight wants to bring us Betsy Johnson for Governor, whose plan to improve education in Oregon consists entirely of “not be cowed by the Oregon Education Association”. So I guess her plan for improving the U of O would that it “not be cowed” by the faculty union. Correction to “Townie” above: USC is no longer the joke it once was as a sports-dominated school. Better analogy is that they are turning the U of O into the Texas A@M of the Northwest.

    • just different says:

      ^^^THIS. Enough already with rich people and their “independent” politics.

  9. Serge Protektor says:

    Is this what happens when you become a university president without an adequate grounding in philosophy, ethics, literature, and history?

    • Prosser says:

      I think the problem is having a law professor as president. The typical law professor, like Schill, only has a law degree, which is the equivalent of a masters degree in any other field–most of the serious education goes on in the first year. It equips one to be a law dean, but not to oversee a wide ranging liberal arts institution mainly composed of faculty with vastly more education and knowledge of the liberal arts. Hence law professor/presidents are easily swayed by extra-academic concerns, having no academic focus themselves. The few exceptions to this (eg Bollinger) prove the rule.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      Serge, a tad parochial yourself, perhaps? No visual art, music, science or mathematics?

  10. vhils says:

    Here’s a related question that seems right up your alley UOmatters:
    How much is Nike actually paying to kick out everyone from the Ford Alumni building for over a month so they can use it as their VIP clubhouse?