Don’t call him ‘Mr. President’: Michael Schill keeps things casual as he steps into office
Lauren Garetto is also an author on this story.
Just call him Mike.
Not Mr. Schill. Not Mr. President. Not Michael.
The University of Oregon’s newest top administrator doesn’t introduce himself with a formal title. When he toured campus on his first working days, every employee he shook hands with — from cooks to operations folks to administrators — was asked to address him by first name.
Just Mike. That’s the way he rolls.
Michael Schill spent his first week on campus meeting with department heads, getting the lay of the land and amassing a trove of treats.
As students trudged to their morning classes on Tuesday, Schill cheerfully strode to Johnson Hall after a brief meeting with campus operations employees. As he approached the building, he balanced a briefcase, a bag full of Oregon goodies from his meet-and-greet and a plate full of sweets. A duck cookie topped the mound of brownies and other treats.
He spent his second morning on campus touring the university’s power plant and recycling facilities, ooh-ing and ah-ing as he went. Schill nodded, joked and laughed with every faculty, staff, student or alumni.
He was routinely running late for his next appointment. He took time with everyone he met, asking about their hometowns, their relationship to the university and about their jobs. A tight schedule didn’t keep him from finding out as much as he could.
He learned that the UO’s backup generators can power all of campus in the event of a blackout and that the campus recycling program has reached a point where the university recycles more material than it brings in.
On Monday, July 6, he toured the Carson central kitchen, where much of the university’s food is prepared before it’s shipped out to other buildings. He chatted with chefs and other kitchen personnel.
That’s when his sweet tooth came out.
Schill told the staff that even though neither of his parents was an ace in the kitchen, there were always plenty of treats at home. (Even if they were usually prepared by Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines, he joked.)
He capped off his visit to the kitchens with a short tour of the bakery, where an employee cut cookie dough into a familiar shape.
Those duck cookies eventually made their way, along with Schill, to Allen Hall for a welcoming reception on Monday afternoon.
The atrium was packed before Schill arrived. The seating area next to the entrance was bustling with staff, faculty, students and alumni waiting to meet the university’s newest president.
As he entered the building, a microphone and speaker system waited for him in the hallway next to the Hall of Achievement. But 45 minutes in, event staff realized the microphone may have been ill-advised. Schill maneuvered through the crowd like he was wading through honey — as he finished one conversation, he would immediately enter another.
He shook hands. He smiled and posed for pictures. The speaker system was disassembled as Schill stood roughly 15 feet from where he entered.
“It’s clear that he is passionate about being here. He is excited about the U of O,” said Carolyn McDermed, chief of the UO Police Department.
“I was really excited to see his energy in person,” said James Chang, director of the alumni association’s Duck Career Network. “He seems so personable and so experienced in complex organizations.”
Although Schill naturally wove his way from person to person during the welcoming reception, that gift of familiarity didn’t necessarily translate to geography — he got lost en route to campus for his second day of meetings.
As he drove down Fairmount Boulevard from his home near Hendricks Park on Tuesday, he took a wrong turn that made him a few minutes late.
“When I was coming down I thought it was a right to get to Agate,” he said. “Of course, it was a left.”
This is Schill’s first long-term stint anywhere near the Pacific Ocean. He has spent most of his professional career on the East Coast.
He earned his A.B. (equivalent to a bachelor’s degree) in public policy in 1980 from Princeton University, and received his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1984. He is a first-generation college student and specializes in real estate and housing law.
Before he was hired as the UO’s newest president, Schill served as the dean of the Harry N. Wyatt Law School at the University of Chicago. Before that, he was the dean of the law school at UCLA.
Schill’s selection at UO came from a closed search; none of the candidates or finalists were announced.
Even though Schill hadn’t spent much time in Oregon until he moved here, the school’s reputation made a mark on him.
In Chicago, Schill says he saw a lot of love for the UO. When a coworker heard about his new job on the West Coast, her husband immediately congratulated him on becoming a Duck.
Of course, Schill will have his work cut out for him.
Six months before his hiring, the university announced a $2 billion capital campaign, the largest in the university’s history. Much of Schill’s job will entail seeking donors and hunting down sources of cash to reach that goal.
He’s also taking the reins as the university grapples with the issue of sexual assault, from ongoing litigation in the 2014 men’s basketball case to the series of surveys and recommended actions from the UO Senate’s Task Force on Sexual Assault.
Schill says he’s intent on overcoming those challenges and several more, including the state’s disinvestment in higher education and what he says is the university’s negative portrayal in the media. He wants to stress that there is more to the university than athletics.
“We want to win the championship. We want to win more Nobel prizes,” he said. “I want to proclaim the good parts.”
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