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University of Oregon President Michael Schill addresses Rotary Club of Lake Oswego on fundraising, new programs and how the drought for higher ed funding in Salem is affecting the university's budget

PMG PHOTO: SAM STITES - UO President Michael Schill addresses Rotary Club of Lake Oswego on the funding crisis for higher education.

Rotary Club of Lake Oswego hosted a special guest this past Monday when University of Oregon President Michael Schill stopped by talk about the expansion of programming, capital investment and fundraising, as well as the dismal state of funding for higher education given out by the Oregon Legislature.

Schill spoke for about 20 minutes about his goals which included improving the academic performance of students and the academic stature of the institution as a whole.

"(That goal) includes our ability to teach future generations and create research that has an impact on the entire nation and world," Schill said. "We have made tremendous progress toward achieving these objectives, and they remain our fundamental priorities."

PMG PHOTO: SAM STITES - UO President Michael Schill talks with Rotary Club of Lake Oswego member and UO alumnus Paul Graham, owner of the former Grahams Book and Stationery.

According to Schill, the University of Oregon has aspirations not only to be the best research university in Oregon, but in the country as well. To achieve that, it is implementing projects like a new "academic success center" that will employ 23 new full-time academic counselors to work with students.

Schill believes that academic success and diversity go hand-in-hand, so the completion of the new Black Cultural Center on campus is a huge priority, as well as rethinking some of the cultural studies programs and bolstering wrap-around services to help keep students in school and on track to graduate. According to Schill, this incoming freshman class is the most diverse freshman class ever — 36 percent who identify as an ethnic or racial minority — as well as the second most qualified class ever. To build upon that, Schill wants to expand programs like Pathway Oregon to improve access to an education at UO to every Oregonian who wants it.

"We want to make sure every qualified Oregonian who wants to attend the UO (is) able to do that," Schill said. "We want the UO to be the first choice for the very best and brightest. We want the UO to be the first choice for all of those, like myself, who are the first to attend college in their family."

Schill used the opportunity to speak briefly about the negative affect the state's Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) is having on funding for higher education in Oregon.

"My job as president is to make sure we get as much state funding money to our public universities as we possibly can; that goes for all our public universities like Portland State, Oregon State and our regional universities," Schill said. "Our operating costs at these universities continue to increase and are accelerating, and the answer is simple: 80 percent of my budget is people, and salaries go up."

According to Schill, the rising cost of PERS is causing students today to pay for people who have retired in the past.

"That's wrong," he said.

Because of PERS, Schill said, the UO is being forced to cut $11 million out of its budget, resulting in the loss of faculty and programming.

"I know what you're saying: 'Fine, administrative bloat, too many people,'" Schill said. "The UO, head-to-head with other universities, we have 60 percent of the staff they do. We've already been cut... and we've never recovered."

Schill believes the cost of higher education has shifted from the state — from every Oregonian — to the students, making the lens through which we view higher education change from a community good to a private commodity.

"The only future for Oregon, the only future for this nation, is with an educated populace," he said. "Today's college degree is what a high school degree used to be, so we're at a critical moment."

Schill ended his speech by imploring members of Rotary Club of Lake Oswego — many of whom are UO alumni — to reach out to their elected officials in Salem to tell them how much higher education means to them individually and as a state.

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Sam Stites at 503-479-2375 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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