Meet the UO’s interim president: Scott Coltrane
Scott Coltrane was introduced as provost of the University of Oregon in February 2014. Not even six months later, he was introduced again, this time as interim president of the University of Oregon.
There’s a lot to cover in order to answer why. Funding from the state government has shrunk for all public universities across the state and, last fall, the UO, Oregon State and Portland State all got their own Boards of Trustees.
Coltrane’s predecessor, Michael Gottfredson, led the charge to get the Board of Trustees, but had grown unpopular with faculty for mishandling the university’s bargaining with a newly unionized faculty. Faculty and students were outraged at last spring’s revelations of sexual assault scandals within the UO men’s basketball team because they seemed to take too long to act.
Then, a month after the Board of Trustees took complete control, Gottfredson stepped down, invoking the “spend more time with my family” trope.
“I think this is a turning point for the university,” Coltrane said. “I think we’re poised with the private capital we expect to get, with our new board setting direction for us, I want to make sure that the university stays on the right track.”
Coltrane was schooled at the University of California, Santa Cruz where he earned his bachelors, masters and doctorate between 1974 and 1988. He then moved to UC Riverside to teach and research for 20 years, until he became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest school at the UO.
One of the biggest hurdles Coltrane and the next president will face is that of keeping tuition costs low. The State of Oregon covered almost 10 percent of UO’s costs back in 2008, but today that’s closer to 5 percent. It will be the Board of Trustees’s job and the president’s job to try and get the state to reinvest, while shaking hands with donors.
“All that we can do that’s going to get more resources to do it, so I think the legislative piece and the private philanthropy piece go hand-in-hand,” Coltrane said. “We’re tuition dependent, we have private dollars and we have research dollars that come in but the state did provide for us.”
Coltrane also inherited an administration derided for its opaqueness. He quickly became a favorite of the faculty for his openness, hosting public forums and city hall-style meetings for people across the school to chime in on issues.
“The administration and the faculty have to work together,” Coltrane said of the divide. “…We need to be better at posting information before it’s asked for, and routinely put up important documents and financial statements and that sort of stuff. That should be available to the public all the time.”
He has already made waves in the academic department with the announcement of a Clusters of Excellence initiative, designed to find the best proposals from schools within the UO to attract better teachers and programs.
“I think first and foremost we want to look at ways we can increase academic quality,” Coltrane said. “And examine ways can increase access and build a curriculum with student life and support that makes our students successful.”
Coltrane believes that Eugene and the UO are poised to grow under the next president and the Board of Trustees. Eugene itself, he said, could be a big draw to get a stronger faculty at those clusters of excellence.
“Faculty want to live in Eugene, people want to live in Oregon,” Coltrane said. “We have good communities, we’re a more intimate university than a lot of the big state schools, that’s a huge factor.
It will likely be a year before a permanent president is found. Coltrane will operate as what Board Chairman Chuck Lillis called a “super provost.” He has no intentions of throwing his hat into the ring for university president because that would hurt the search.
“No, my job is the interim,” said Coltrane. “And my job is to make sure the pool for the presidential search is the best that it can be and one of the ways to signal that I am an interim, so I’m going to be participating with the hire efforts.”
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