June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

New UO president looks ahead to ‘Oregon 150’ sesquicentennial

11 min read
UO President John Karl Scholz: When I arrived in July, I committed to a process where, together, the UO community could substantially inform our next strategic plan...Out of that strategic planning process came our aspirations for this next chapter. And it's now my privilege to share these with you today.

The University of Oregon celebrates the investiture of its 19th president, John Karl Scholz. Interim Provost Karen Ford explains the history behind the ceremony.

Karen Ford (Provost, University of Oregon): Good afternoon and welcome to the investiture of John Karl Scholz, the 19th president of the University of Oregon. I’m Karen Ford, Interim Provost and Senior Vice President, for just one more day.

I arrived on campus in 1992 as an assistant professor, and this is my fifth investiture. I speak with 32 years of experience at the U of O and the wisdom of age when I say that our university is in very good hands. In the late 14th century, investiture was the ceremony of clothing, an ‘in-vesting’ or clothing of someone in the official robes of office. Today our ceremony formally confers the rank of authority and power of the presidency on Karl Scholz.

[00:00:57] John Q: Later in the ceremony, University of Oregon president John Karl Scholz:

[00:01:02] John Karl Scholz: It’s great to see everybody here. And so, I cannot tell you how moving it is to be here, and so I’m going to give my prepared remarks, but I cannot tell you from the bottom of my heart how grateful I am for all of you to be here, and to come out in the way that you have, and then to join us here, so thank you. I’m going to start.

[00:01:26] This place is breathtaking. Those who have listened to me over the last 11 months may have heard that phrase before. So I’m going to say it again, this place is breathtaking. What we have here can be found nowhere else. The majesty and beauty of the great state of Oregon, the dynamic vibrancy of our campus, the intellectual capital of our faculty and staff, our mix of the liberal arts and sciences and professional schools, and our willingness to push past boundaries in athletic and academic pursuits. These are the building blocks of a great, enduring university. And I feel incredibly fortunate to have come here, to this university, in this great state, at this moment in time.

[00:02:28] So, true confessions. True confessions. There are no circumstances I could have envisioned that would have brought me here to lead an institution of Oregon’s promise and potential.

[00:02:44] Last year, after 35 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Melissa and I were finalizing plans for the next phase of our lives. A future of light teaching, personal time, and extensive travel. New Zealand, Italy, Argentina. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I tried to be excited. This is a very melancholy, serious part of the speech. I tried to be excited, but in truth, I was heartbroken. I was heartbroken because someone else got what I thought was my dream job. What I really wanted, what I was passionate about was to have the opportunity to lead a great university. I had come close, but it seemed fated not to be.

And then came a series of unforeseen and seemingly coincidental events. And then a call, a conversation, an airport interview in a not very nice room, a trip to Portland, and then to Eugene, and many amazing months later, I find myself standing here before you, the luckiest person in the world.

[00:04:07] So like winning the lottery, when you realize you’re the luckiest person in the world, you don’t spend much time asking how you got there. As it turns out, the question you ask is: What does the luckiest person in the world now have the opportunity to do? So I’d like to spend our time today answering that question, telling you the future I see for the University of Oregon and some of the many reasons why I feel so fortunate to be here today.

[00:04:39] So I want to begin by acknowledging the precious, vital role of great universities. Those gathered here today have chosen careers in the rarest of all vocations, an ancient and collective cause driven not by gain, but by the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Throughout time, schools of learning, and ultimately universities, have created the knowledge upon which our technologies, our medicine, our understanding of history, art, the human psyche, and the world around us are founded.

[00:05:20] A community designed to continually create, share, test, and validate new knowledge, not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all of society. This is a process both universal and incredibly rare. And frankly, the world needs higher education now more than ever. The challenges we face across our globe are large and complex.

[00:05:48] They ignore equally the human constructs of borders and politics, ideology and geography, race and creed. The issues facing us demand that we employ the very thing the world resists: big ideas, cross-disciplinary work, critical thought, engagement, and dialogue. They demand both blue-sky research focused on a future not yet imagined, and scholarship that delivers insight gleaned from our past.

[00:06:23] Our students, our industries, our governments, and larger society need the deep thinking, bold vision, and continual contributions of great universities like the University of Oregon.

[00:06:39] So how will we meet this moment? Working together, the UO is at a point of remarkable opportunity, with great staff, faculty, deans, and other leaders, and the collective opportunity to envision and chart our future course.

When I arrived in July, I committed to a process where, together, the UO community could substantially inform our next strategic plan.

[00:07:07] This included listening sessions with students and with alumni, with faculty and staff, and with business, civic, and state leaders here in Eugene, across the state, and around the country. These conversations were invaluable, greatly informing my thinking as I got to know the University. Starting in the fall with a general set of principles, these sessions helped refine and sharpen our thinking and added depth and authenticity to our vision.

[00:07:38] Out of that strategic planning process came our aspirations for this next chapter. And it’s now my privilege to share these with you today.

[00:07:48] So over the next 10 years, the University of Oregon is committing itself to accomplish meaningful progress in four key goals, focusing our resources, talents, and attention on the foundations of the University. That’s our students, our state, our people, and our scholarship.

[00:08:10] So we are the custodians of dreams. Families trust us to help their loved ones transition to adulthood, poised to earn a good living and lead a good life. It’s an awesome responsibility, and the University of Oregon does it very well. I’ve talked to hundreds of parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents about the experiences of their family members, and I’m heartened by what I hear.

[00:08:39] But when we look at data, too many of our students encounter barriers to completing degrees in their chosen course of study. We must remove barriers to student success. We’ll increase efforts to re-engineer better educational pathways to support students over their course of study at the UO. ‘Finish in four’ will become a familiar refrain around campus, and we will place our energy and resources to make it happen for all who wish to do so.

[00:09:13] Number two: We’ll be a leader among the nation’s public research universities in career preparation. I defy anyone listening here to not fall in love with the great state of Oregon. I certainly have. The green, the physical beauty along with the kindness, compassion and grit of the people are inspiring.

[00:09:38] How can you not leave your heart in Oregon? But this place has a special responsibility on our great university to serve the citizens of our state. We will meet this responsibility by increasing the connections, experiences, and opportunities for students in ways that more directly prepare them for successful pursuits after graduation.

[00:10:01] We will become the go-to source for businesses, civic organizations, governments, and others who are seeking talent. We will create communities to provide industry-informed career guidance for students as well as formal programs that foster networking both while at the University and beyond through our alumni. In doing this, we will be a leader among the nation’s public research universities in career preparation.

[00:10:30] Number three: We will create a campus of flourishing. Organizations are only as good as their people. We are ‘the mighty Oregon’ because every day, talented people roll up their sleeves, give 110%, and accomplish great things, sometimes in spite of conditions that might discourage others.

[00:10:53] To support people, we’ll work to create a campus of flourishing. So what do we mean by this? Flourishing goes beyond the academic success of our students or the workplace success of employees, though of course both of those are important. It requires attention to mindfulness or well-being, finding opportunities for growth, developing robust connections, nurturing resilience, and fostering a sense of purpose.

[00:11:23] We’ll build on outstanding diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts on campus and develop programs, processes, and structures that make us known as a university that authentically supports the flourishing of our students and faculty.

[00:11:40] The fourth goal, of course, I’m a university president, I have to ground our fourth goal in our scholarship. Our potential to contribute to the public good has never been more needed. And in this moment, we have both the opportunity and the obligation to lead. To that end, and over the next ten years, we will continue to try to be outstanding in everything we do.

[00:12:05] But we will have a special focus on scholarship and creative work that accelerates societal impact, elevates the human experience, and develops innovative models for a changing world. And this will happen through focused investments in four areas:

[00:12:22] First, we’ll support preeminence in environmental resilience, including and especially programs that provide novel and scalable approaches to help mitigate the effects of a changing climate or that provide blueprints for human society to ethically adjust and adapt to a rapidly evolving world.

[00:12:42] Next, we will build and continue to build on strengths in mental health and well-being, including and especially programs focused on early detection, intervention, and support for mental and emotional health. And programs that add insight and scholarship to our understanding of the factors that strengthen individual and collective well-being.

[00:13:06] Three: We will seek to be leaders in the study of human performance in sport, leveraging our unique strengths in the study of human performance in the business and science of sport. Who better to lead this than the University of Oregon in TrackTown, USA?

[00:13:25] And finally, we will accelerate the impact of our science on society, including and especially scholarship that builds on our strengths in biological materials and applied sciences to accelerate the rate and scope of societal impact to Oregon and the nation.

[00:13:45] These areas leverage our current capabilities while anticipating the future needs of our society, our planet, industry, governments, and the communities in the coming decade and beyond. Together, they create a focus for areas of investment and innovation that allows the University to provide the greatest impact to the greatest number of people for the greatest collective benefit, starting right here in Oregon.

[00:14:14] So the dreams and aspirations I’ve described are big, and we know philanthropy will play a critical role in realizing them. That’s why we’re not standing still. The University will be celebrating its 150th anniversary, also known as a sesquicentennial, in 2026. Working within our new strategic framework, we will bring together deans and other academic leaders to organize and launch the University’s next comprehensive campaign around this important milestone.

[00:14:49] And as we prepare for that comprehensive campaign, we’re building capacity with a critical initiative that we’re calling Oregon 150, with a goal to have raised over half a billion dollars before the end of 2026.

[00:15:06] I’m delighted and grateful to announce that this initiative was inspired by a lead gift of $100 million for scholarships from Connie and Steve Ballmer. This generous gift will promote access in research, build student support services and career preparation, and make investments in the UO Portland campus.

[00:15:30] I also look forward to celebrating with the UO community a naming gift for our School of Global Studies and Languages later this year. In sharing these important gifts with you, I am again reminded of all that philanthropy has made and will continue to make possible.

[00:15:50] As I stand here in the Matthew Knight Arena, I’m overwhelmed when I think of our Knight Library, the Knight Law Center, our Knight Professors, the Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, and I could go on and on. So I want to thank Phil and Penny Knight and the UO donor community, past, present, and future. I’m deeply grateful and excited by what we can build together.

[00:16:22] And before I finish, there are a few others to whom I’d also like to express my gratitude. This is the part of the speech where I say, ‘I’d like to thank Valvoline Motor Oil for keeping my car running smoothly. And my elementary school teacher.’ Alright. But I’m going to do this a little bit differently. My parents have both passed away. They would be in utter disbelief and unimaginably proud of this moment.

[00:16:53] Melissa, who followed her boyfriend to Wisconsin 36 years ago, I love you. And to Libby, Kate, and Carly, collectively known as the Scholz Girls, thank you, thank you for being here. and for being such a source of joy in our lives. Friends from around the country who are here, the Wisconsin team and others; my thesis advisor, John Shoven and his wife Katie; you know, college presidents from around Oregon. I cannot believe, thank you so much for being here, and my new, many new Oregon friends are here.

[00:17:43] I can’t tell you how honored and how I’m looking forward to spending some time together. And to the higher education leaders, trustees, community members, and UO faculty, staff, and students, thank you. I walked into a wonderful environment. To former president Mike Schill, former board chair Chuck Lillis, current board chair Steve Holwerda, thank you. Thank you.

[00:18:09] And thanks to others past leaders and advocates of the University. I truly stand on all your shoulders and take seriously the charge to strengthen this great institution and to accelerate the impact we have on the community, state, and the nation.

[00:18:25] I sometimes get asked what I hope my legacy at the UO will be, and I’ll admit, I kind of shy away from that question. And while today is about beginnings and not endings, I find that beginning with the end in mind is often helpful. So here it is:

[00:18:46] At the beginning of my remarks, I called myself the luckiest person in the world. But I’m not the only lucky person in this room. We all sit at a propitious moment with remarkable opportunities to benefit our students, our state, our world, and to create a shared future. That opportunity doesn’t rest solely to me. It belongs to every one of us in this room, every member of the UO community, and every person in the wider Duck family across the country and across the world.

[00:19:26] So my hope, whenever my service here is finished, is that we will have unleashed together our university’s unlimited potential and our collective ability to accelerate impact, to flourish, and to lead. Because when we do, it will be breathtaking. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you all.

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