Update: The Emerald has added a comment from ASUO President Sabinna Pierre regarding her absence from the board of trustees meeting.
The University of Oregon board of trustees approved a $100,000 annual performance bonus for President Michael Schill in a 12-0 vote on Tuesday.
Schill told the Emerald last week in an email statement that he plans to use $75,000 of the bonus to create a PathwayOregon scholarship in memory of his father, who died in October.
“My dad was unable to go to college because of the Great Depression,” Schill said, “and he would have been pleased to know that this donation will go toward supporting a vital program that is helping open the doors of opportunity for deserving young Oregonians.”
The bonus comes after another year of tuition increases. Since the 2009-10 school year, tuition has increased eight times, according to inflation-adjusted figures from the UO institutional research website. Those present all voted to approve the bonus, aside from two absent trustees, including student member Katharine Wishnia. Trustees read a comment from Wishnia, who had a final, that expressed her disapproval for the bonus.
About 40 people attended the trustees meeting. Most came to protest the potential bonus, including members of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, UO’s graduate-employee union, and The Insurgent, UO’s leftist newspaper. GTFF President Ellen Gillooly-Kress cosplayed as “schillbot_3000,” a Twitter account mocking President Schill and his salary.
“We’re all about education and we’re all about scholarship,” Gillooly-Kress said. “But the reason people need scholarships is because tuition is so high.”
A few attendees wore signs hung around their necks, saying, “I am ANGRY that this will be approved no matter what we say.” Another said, “present & listening.”
Schill’s contract states that the bonus would range from zero to $200,000 depending on what trustees decided, according to the meeting agenda. If Schill met the board’s goals for that year, then he’d get $100,000, but he could get more if trustees saw fit.
Those goals included expanding UO’s endowment to $4 billion, raising graduation rates, improving the university’s overall academic position, expanding externally funded research and advancing diversity and equity.
Board considers “guaranteed tuition” model
The Tuesday trustees meeting also included discussion of a potential “guaranteed tuition” model, which could be something the board votes on in March.
The model would lock students’ tuition rates for five years beginning the year they entered school, something that meeting materials describe as an “insurance policy” for students. UO’s current ideas for it are still tentative — neither trustees nor the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board have voted on it yet.
One benefit of this model is that it would make UO more attractive to prospective students. Also, with many UO scholarships giving fixed dollar amounts and not adjusting for tuition, the model would also prevent rising tuition rates from further outsizing the values of those scholarships.
“Your buying power remains the same,” Vice President for Student Services and Enrollment Management Roger Thompson said while presenting.
Financial pressure is one of the main reasons that students drop out, according to the meeting agenda, something “most likely” linked to “students not anticipating tuition increases throughout their college career.”
UO also sees the model as a possible means of reducing stress for students pressured by rising costs of education.
“Guaranteed tuition, in my view, changes every discussion,” Thompson said. “It removes a major stressor in our students’ lives. I think this program would enhance campus climate.”
UO’s tuition board would need to discuss the details in early January and recommend a potential model to President Schill, according to the meeting agenda. After reviewing the program and after some kind of community input opportunity in mid-February, he would make a recommendation to trustees in early March.
“I think this moves the conversation with families away from cost,” Thompson said. He added that his recruitment team spends a lot of time with families discussing potential costs, when he’d rather be discussing academic programs and university initiatives, such as Phil and Penny Knight Campus.
Other universities, such as the University of Arizona, Ohio State University and the University of Virginia, have similar guaranteed tuition programs, which differ in some respects. At UA, the program is mandatory and excludes summer tuition rates. But at UVA, students have to opt in to the program, and transfer students are not included, according to the meeting agenda.
But Moffitt said she is worried that this model would put the university in worse financial straits if the Oregon legislature cuts funding to public universities, following a pattern of steady disinvestment that began in the ‘90s.
Moffitt said this program offers a “big risk” for the university. In the short-term, the only tuition rates that the university would be able to change would be that of incoming classes.
This means it would take the university more time and more reserves to recover from budget cuts, since the university wouldn’t be able to increase the tuition of all students for revenue.
Ideally, Moffitt said, the plan for this would be to have some reserves built up, with the funding potentially coming from fundraising or some kind of “insurance policy charge” tacked onto these rates.
This isn’t the first time that the board of trustees has considered a guaranteed tuition model. In 2016, Thompson presented the idea to the board of trustees in 2016, according to The Register-Guard, but it wasn’t adopted.
Though Associated Students of the University of Oregon President Sabinna Pierre had been scheduled to give a report on student government, she did not show up, and the board had to skip her. Pierre did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A university spokesperson said that the board invited her to the meeting to update trustees on student government multiple times, but Pierre did not respond to any of the inquiries.
“Unfortunately, I was unable to attend because I had a final at the time,” Pierre wrote in an email statement to the Emerald. “I'm a student before anything else. In regard to the approved $100K bonus for President Schill. What I will say is I think it’s frustrating because there are students like myself who work multiple jobs on top of being a student just to make it with these tuition hikes. Although Schill has made some great efforts in the last few years, I don't believe the bonus was necessary. That generous bonus could undoubtedly benefit students who absolutely need it on campus. It's very insensitive. All I can promptly do is rightfully ensure that the 75k that was willingly promised for the pathways scholarships promptly go towards just that.”
UO President Michael Schill also gave his five-year report, which included discussion of Knight Campus, revised course evaluations and an increase in the number of tenure-related faculty. The board also set some key goals for 2020: improving the university’s finances, completing the development of Knight Campus and continuing to work on student success.
The board also voted to approve general obligation revenue bonds to fund the UO’s 10-year capital plan for construction.
C. Francis O'Leary contributed to the reporting of this story.