President Michael Schill all but raved about his first 11 months at the University of Oregon to the Board of Trustees at their final meeting for the 2015-16 school year. Students from the Divest UO movement had their time in the sun as well, urging the Board to move away from its partnership with fossil fuels. A short discussion was also held concerning the renaming of certain buildings on campus.
A day after his investiture, the university’s president spoke about the challenges that lie ahead for the UO as well as the positive steps that he and his ever-forming leadership team have taken.
“We had a really good year in hiring faculty […] and we have expanded diversity,” Schill announced to the room. “We hired three new vice-presidents, we have three new great Deans, assuring new leadership stability.”
The president even hinted at a still undisclosed hire, an assistant vice president for “Student Success” who will be announced soon.
A number of members from Divest UO signed up to make their voices heard and call on the board to “make a decision” in terms of what the university is going to do about its relationship with dirty energy.
Michael Dreiling, associate professor of sociology, opened up the discussion, offering his support for the student-run Divest group.
“One of the fundamental things that students who attend our university leave with is how serious [climate change] is,” Dreiling told the Board. “The Divest movement is an effort to say, ‘This is serious.'”
A call to action was set forth for the Foundation to formally file a report that will help explain what they are doing in terms of protecting the university and the planet. Tensions have been high between the Foundation, administration and Divest members since their banner was removed from the front of Johnson Hall earlier this term.
Countering claims that the UO is playing an active role in participating in investing in fossil fuels, UO Foundation President Paul Weinhold defended the Foundation.
“We are in alignment with many things students are saying,” said Weinhold. “We as investors have not invested in coal in decades. We have one percent invested in carbon based energy and six percent in alternative energy.”
The hard and fast numbers are not currently available for public viewing, but Weinhold told the Board that, “We don’t have any direct investments [in fossil fuels]. That is, based on my understanding of what direct investment is.”
Divesting was not the only topic of contention that the Board has had to deal with this year. The discussion of renaming buildings on campus–Deady Hall specifically–was called for by the Black Student Task Force earlier this year.
A handful of alumni, scholars and a former Lane County Commissioner stepped in to defend keeping the name of the controversial Matthew Deady from the oldest building on campus. Helena Schlegel presented the end of year report from ASUO and explained the unofficial position of the group is to “stand in solidarity” with the task force which is seeking to rename the hall.
Despite the pointed questions directed toward the Foundation’s relationship with fossil fuels, officially, the Board of Trustees policy did not allow them to comment on any of the issues raised in the public comments section of the meeting.
Schill, described himself as the latest president in the university’s current “leadership churn.” He said that he and the Board enter the summer months with optimism that the university is headed in the right direction. That direction, according to Schill, is going to include less action in day-to-day activities from administrators and rely more heavily on the faculty.
“The Provost and I will set the budgets but the leadership of the university will take place in the schools and not in Johnson Hall,” said Schill. “We want to be facilitators of that great activity. Most great things bubble up from the faculty to the deans. The less that we do in Johnson Hall, in terms of prescription, the happier we will all be.”