Portland strategy, president’s performance top board meetings

A review of President Michael H. Schill’s performance and a discussion of the university’s presence in Portland highlighted the Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon’s regular meeting, which was held in Portland.

Jane Gordon, vice provost for UO Portland, provided an overview of how enrollment services and advancement consider the university’s Portland presence a front door to Eugene for prospective students and donors.

UO Portland is organized around 52 initiatives taking place within the programs housed there. The organization follows the “six bridges vision,” which Gordon shared during the last board meeting held in Portland.

“Our focus is on distinctive professional programs,” Gordon told the board, highlighting programs and initiatives that included Urbanism Next, Health in the Built Environment, Virtual Reality Lab and Wings.

In addition, the board took two significant actions, including a new five-year contract for Schill, which trustees approved unanimously.

“President Schill has done a tremendous job in his first three years,” said Chuck Lillis, the board’s chair. “He inherited a challenging situation and brought vision, enthusiasm and stability to the presidency.”

Lillis said Schill exemplifies some of the values that are “very near and dear to the trustees,” noting his continuous pursuit of academic quality, his very high standards and his commitment to access and affordability.

“It was clear: As happy as we are with Mike in his first three years, the right thing to do to protect that and continue our trajectory is to establish a new five-year contract,” Lillis said. “The combination of his abilities, style and character carries enormous value to the institution, the state of Oregon and the students of the university.”

“It is a team effort,” Schill said. “I am surrounded by a wonderful, wonderful team, both inside and outside Johnson Hall. All are deeply committed and all are moving in the same direction. Your vote of confidence in me is a vote of confidence in them.”

In the second action, the board voted unanimously to award an honorary degree to Philip H. Knight.

Schill announced last year that the university would again consider granting honorary degrees. Knight was selected through a process that began with a nomination by members of the university faculty.

In committee work, the Academic and Student Affairs Committee reviewed the ongoing initiative to update the approach to general education courses, now known as core education.

“The student body has changed,” said Chris Sinclair, associate professor of mathematics and faculty lead on the project.

“We need to update the core. We distilled the mission statement into things that we could call goals,” Sinclair added as he showed trustees a new model that links areas of inquiry with methods of inquiry.

Goals for core education programs include critical thinking, creative thinking, written communication and ethical reasoning.

“The Core Education Council will have their eye on the ball,” said Ron Bramhall, associate vice provost for academic excellence, who noted that core curriculum has been stagnant for nearly 25 years. “You’ll have the right people in the room to ensure (this effort is) going forward.”

Core education will be organizing around students and their success, Bramhall said, “not around how the university is structured.”

“This is a piece of a bigger story that relates to student success,” added Jayanth Banavar, provost and senior vice president. “It is what a great university is all about: Asking, what should the first-year experience be? How can we retain our students? How can we graduate our students?”

The full board heard an overview of Carnegie Global Oregon and the Prison Education Program as part of its ongoing series focusing on specific academic programs. Shaul Cohen, professor of geography, outlined how Carnegie Global Oregon is a program for students who are interested in exploring the complexities of living and working in ethical ways, and he discussed how the prison education program  is working to break down barriers through education and provide unique learning opporutnities for UO students.

The next set of regular board meetings are scheduled for Dec. 3-4 in Eugene.