The University of Oregon names Michael Schill as its newest president
Meet the president
Michael Schill is new to the University of Oregon, but he may look familiar to some students. Before his official debut press conference on April 14 with cameras, lights and media, UO’s newest president took a much more incognito tour of campus.
Before he was even named a finalist for the position, Schill took an informal trip to Eugene and spent some time walking through the campus and talking with some of the students.
This impressed the only student to interview the final four presidential candidates.
“When I asked him a question about students, he already had a good idea of a lot of the issues on campus that students care about and are passionate about…” Helena Schlegel, student on the board of trustees and ASUO president-elect, said.
Schill, who got his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale, is currently dean of the University of Chicago’s law school, was also a dean at UCLA’s law school from 2004-2009 and taught at the University of Pennsylvania and New York University.
The search for a new president began with the resignation of Michael Gottfredson in July 2014. Gottfredson resigned shortly after the university instituted an independent governing board, the UO board of trustees.
Schill describes his upbringing as blue collar. He’s from a small city and his parents didn’t go to college.
“A great education gave me the opportunity to become the president of the University of Oregon,” Schill said. “I would love to see every student who comes to Oregon have those same types of opportunities.”
For trustee chair Chuck Lillis, Schill’s academic record stood out when the search committee was whittling down its list of candidates. Under Schill, both law schools rose in the national rankings. Schill’s fundraising abilities also stood out, Lillis said, as did his personality. Schill was engaging, humorous and an effective communicator.
“When he was on campus that one day he just stopped and talked with groups of students on a number of occasions,” Lillis said. “He’s very interested in having open dialogue with the students on their issues.”
What’s the plan?
Schill will take over the presidency during a busy time for the administration – amongst other things, the university is in the midst of a $2 billion fundraising campaign and contract negotiations with the faculty union.
The UO made headlines in the last year for its handling of sexual violence after the alleged sexual assault between three members of the UO basketball team and a female student, a lawsuit from that student and controversy over confidentiality at the Counseling and Testing Center.
Schill said that he is aware of the issue of sexual assault issues but is not an expert.
“If you care about higher education, you should care about issues of sexual violence,” Schill said. “Every student on the Oregon campus needs to feel safe, needs to feel that their administration will protect them and needs to feel that if, God forbid, something were to happen, that the processes would be fair and we would be ones that they would have faith in.”
Moving the school forward was a major theme in the presidential search. A set of frequently asked questions distributed at the presidential press conference twice mentioned Schill’s ability to move the university forward. Where will forward take the university? Don’t expect him to answer right away.
“New President 101 is that you don’t come into a place that you don’t know and start suggesting everything that the school should be doing,” Schill said.
Schill plans to meet with different campus stakeholders before committing to any specific course of action.
“I think it’d be a mistake to come into the institution and have already a set of plans, probably because I don’t know enough so those plans would, in all likelihood, be faulty,” Schill said. “But also it does not demonstrate respect for the faculty or students, alumni and staff for someone from the outside to come in.”
Schill’s selection came from a closed search; none of the candidates or finalists were announced. The UO search committee chose to make its search private in order, committee members said, to attract the best candidates and to help protect the job security of potential candidates.
Coincidentally, Schill had been a finalist in 2013 for the University of Wisconsin chancellor position, a search that had been conducted publicly.
“This was an extremely closed search,” Bill Harbaugh said, a tenured economics professor and an outspoken critic of the university who runs the blog UO Matters.
Lillis said that the closed search was necessary.
“I would say I am 100 percent certain that we would not have gotten nearly as good a set of candidates interested in a job as if we had an open search.”
Schill will receive indefinite tenure, meaning that if he leaves the presidency he will remain a faculty member with an annualized $450,000 salary.
As president, Schill will earn a $660,000 yearly salary, a $25,000 stipend for academic research at the UO School of Law and a vehicle stipend.
The board of trustees has the power to hire and fire the president, as Schill is well aware. When asked if he would stay longer than previous university president UO has had five interims and presidents in the last six years he said he hoped to but it wasn’t all up to him.
“I serve at the pleasure of the board so I can’t guarantee you that,” Schill said. “But I think they’re excited about a long-term relationship and I think they’re excited about the idea of moving the school forward.”
Schill officially takes office July 1 and is excited for more face-time with students. In fact when his interview with the Emerald ended Schill’s next appointment was with a student.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to get to meet them and be part of their lives,” Schill said. “I don’t want to be someone who is distant or someone who they’ve never met. I want them to see me on campus.”
He’s also excited for the food in Eugene.
“I need to find all of the good ethnic restaurants in town,” Schill said. “I hear there’s at least one good Chinese restaurant, which is actually a really important thing for me.”
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