When University of Oregon President Michael Schill sat down with Daily Emerald reporters and editors on Thursday morning, he came with a spiral-bound book in hand. Within the pages was a progress report that explained plans "coming down the pipe," Schill said, in the new year and beyond.
Guaranteed tuition, a constant rate of tuition for students, will be on the table in 2020, following Schill’s December 2019 suggestion to the tuition board. "It's complicated," he said. "It's got a lot of moving parts." He declined to give his opinion on the topic due to the lack of a formal proposal at the moment.
Schill said that due to acute financial concerns, it was time to make a decision on whether to go forward with guaranteed tuition proposals. The process would begin with the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board making a recommendation, leading Schill to make a preliminary proposal, followed by student forums. The tuition board requested a student forum on the tuition guarantee on Jan. 14. Schill would then send a final proposal to the board. The Higher Education Coordinating Commission, a state board on statewide education policy, needs to approve tuition increases above 5%. The board of trustees would determine guaranteed tuition’s fate.
Schill said that if the UO adopted guaranteed tuition, it would be a "great opportunity to create some certainty" for the cost of education.
Schill became UO’s president in 2015. "This was a really different place" five years ago, he said. At the time, the university was better known for the 2015 sexual violence lawsuit involving a Jane Doe and three UO basketball players than academics.
In October 2019, the board of trustees requested that Schill compile a report on the university’s progress over the last five years, presenting it in December 2019. "I believe it tells a great story of university progress," he said. Following 2015 tensions, Schill said he wanted to refocus the university on three core principles: research, academics and students.
Schill pointed to "the biggest gift ever to a public university" — $500 million to construct the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.
Another area of development Schill mentioned was diversity, reporting an increase from 27% to 34% for students of color. The opening of the Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center was another point of pride. Graduation rate increases and the construction of Tykeson Hall exemplified a commitment to student success for the president — "if a student comes here, we're going to make sure they succeed."
Looking more critically at diversity, Schill responded to inclusion concerns. "If you don't make people feel a part of the university, they're going to leave," he said.
A pitfall within the five-year report was the budget, something Schill chalked up partly to lack of state funding. "It shows up in our budget at the end of the day, and that's an issue." Comments about the allocation of funding would be the topic of an upcoming Open Mike, the president's newsletter. Simply put, he said, "Most of this is funded through philanthropy, restricted gifts or state money."
Construction projects abound on campus, leading to possible concerns of debt. "Debt is always an issue," Schill said. "Whenever an entity decides to take on debt, we look at it very carefully."
"The amount of debt the university has taken out is prudent," he said, but he also emphasized how integral enrollment was to stability.
"We've been incredibly successful with domestic students," Schill said, lamenting how the school has "tanked" with international students. He mentioned a "combination of factors coming together to really hurt us," including tuition costs for international students and an overeliance on students from China.
Schill said he wanted to promote interaction between domestic and international students. Even division between out-of-state students versus in-state students was something Schill was concerned about, in relation to students from California.
He highlighted the importance of the 2021 World Athletics Championship as an opportunity for advertisement. The athletics would highlight Eugene, he said. "The world comes to Eugene."
In December 2019, the UO board of trustees approved a $100,000 bonus for Schill. Last Tuesday, six students stood outside Johnson Hall, protesting the bonus. Schill dedicated $75,000 of the bonus to a scholarship in remembrance of his father. Protestors said that the $100,000 could be given to a student group, instead, to let students make the call on the funds.
"I'm not sure what to say," Schill said. "They've picked a very small issue to latch onto.”
When asked whether he found protests and the language directed towards him hurtful, he said, "I'm human." Schill said that "there's a certain meanness to culture" at UO and in Oregon. "What stings me is when you behave badly. I'm embarrassed for you when you behave badly."
"Anything I'm proud of is not my achievement; it's our achievement,” Schill said, but did not declare the mission complete. "We should go further," he said.