40 Minutes with the UO’s President Schill

It’s halfway though fall term and Michael Schill has been UO president since July 1. He’s five months into his term as the fifth president (counting interim leaders, too) in five years, something that has led the Chronicle of Higher Education to call the Ducks’ leadership position a “revolving door.”

Schill met with members of EW’s editorial board Oct. 30 to talk about some of the UO’s current occupations.

Eugene, like many college cities, has a “town and gown” split. Schill says the UO seeks to be a good neighbor, and he points to his efforts, back when school started, knocking on doors in areas around campus with Mayor Kitty Piercy.

Schill says one plan is to develop the UO’s role as an “innovation hub” and increase development of the sciences on campus. The president wants to emphasize the importance of the benefits, on a city and state level, of a “flagship university.” Schill has a background in real estate law, and he says the skilled workforce the UO provides is “critical for a state to grow and flourish.”

This need for a skilled workforce, Schill says, is tied to what he sees as a need to help the state appreciate what the school provides to the state, as well as what more the UO could provide locally and to people in rural areas.

This led EW to ask about the lack of funding for higher education, as well as for K-12 education, and whether the educational systems could team up in lobbying for better state funding. “For us to succeed, we need K-12 to succeed also,” Schill says, as there is a pipeline of students from the public K-12 system to the university. “We should be part of the effort to strengthen K-12,” he says, adding that he thinks currently K-12 has the stronger lobby.

As a first-generation college student — the son of a clothing factory worker — Schill says that “everyone should get a great education,” and the UO teaches students not just book learning but “how to be leaders in the world.”

The UO’s most visible outreach is via its football and athletics programs and, while the Ducks are wildly popular with some, the athletic program is controversial for many who see the school’s academics falling by the wayside. How do we raise up the UO’s academics comparably to the way its athletics has risen?

According to Schill, the UO athletics program creates school spirit and keeps an alumni connection. He says that the athletics program is “self-supporting so it doesn’t drain our resources” and it “gets our name out.” He says the school will be hiring 80 to 100 new faculty members in the next four years and building its sciences, which he says tend to be expensive as faculty need labs.

One controversial issue that has been linked, in some instances, with athletics is the rape allegations and allegations of mishandled sexual assault cases that have been in the news. EW asked Schill how the UO can rebuild trust in the light of those allegations.

Schill points to the climate surveys conducted at the UO and across the nation, saying that while the UO is in the middle of the pack in those results, “that’s not saying it’s acceptable” and “all universities need to take action and have zero tolerance for sexual violence.”

While maintaining that the UO did not do anything illegal when it accessed the counseling records of students who had made rape allegations, Schill also says that the school has moved to protect student privacy in such situations, requiring the UO to “subpoena ourselves” if there is a legal action or notify students whose records it intends to review, giving them an opportunity to object.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jennifer Morlok, a therapist and whistleblower on the UO’s handling of the records, wrote a resignation letter to Schill on Nov. 1, saying that the university had “taken no supportive actions to make sure I am safe and treated with the full professional support I need in order to do my job.”

Schill says the counseling records issue “seems to be a story people can’t let go of” and expressed a desire to be “forward-looking, and focus on what makes us great.”

 Schill’s first all-campus address will be on “The UO’s Commitment to Access and Opportunity” at 11 am Tuesday, Nov. 10, at the EMU Ballroom on campus.

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