UO administration emphasizes research in latest budget framework

University of Oregon faculty gathered at a senate meeting on Jan. 13 to discuss a new strategic model designed to set the university on course for greater academic excellence. The meeting came a week after UO President Michael Schill set an initiative to realign the academic budget toward research funding.

The president’s message was addressed in a letter to the campus community and acknowledged several concerns about UO’s academic standing.

“Today, our university’s research profile is not as strong as it should be,” Schill wrote. “While there are many programs and pockets of excellence throughout the university, the overall landscape is very uneven.”

One specific worry relates to the university’s status in the Association of American Universities, an elite group that represents the best research colleges in the country. According to Schill, only 47 percent of UO faculty are on tenure track, 11 points behind UO’s AAU peers.

Provost Scott Coltrane was assigned to re-engineer the academic budget to address these issues. On Jan. 13, he unveiled a five-year strategic framework that he described as a “guiding document, meant to be aspirational.” However, it introduces some specific proposals, such as increasing tenure track faculty from 80 to 100. The 13-page draft, entitled “Excellence,” does not replace the 2009 academic plan, but rather complements it.

That same day, the UO dropped its $3.4 million contract with marketing agency 160over90 to focus more on research.

“They did a good job of capturing our creative spirit,” said Provost Coltrane. “But I think we need to turn more toward the content of the academics. They created a shell where we can tell that story and get people excited about who we are.”

According to Coltrane, creating the five-year framework initially aimed to set more specific objectives.

Coltrane says that about 50 members of faculty were involved in the process and wanted different, individual measures implemented. Coltrane hopes that a broader framework will lead to more unified goalsetting.

“I think we are a decentralized campus in that we’ve let departments make choices about [which classes to require],” Coltrane said, “Sometimes that’s good because they know what the most interesting areas are. We want those faculty to propose courses, but we have to align our curriculum so that the classes you take will satisfy graduation requirements.”

As the framework remains a draft, community and staff have until Feb. 3 to submit suggestions to further improve its content. The conversation now turns to whether this action will promote research and academic growth.

“The fact that this is a research school, and it’s not as research productive is unfortunate,” said assistant professor of marketing Aparna Sundar. “That is why I’m encouraged we’re starting to have this conversation. I think it will be successful if we change the culture of the university to celebrate research.”

Students who want to take part in research fund their projects through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. Alyssa Bjorkquist, a senior who recently received a mini-grant from the UROP for marine biology, is encouraged by the steps taken to emphasize research.

“The amount of progress I’ve seen from administration towards expanding scholastic opportunities makes me optimistic for the future of research on campus,” Bjorkquist said.

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