UO Mission statement panel discussion opening remarks from Jeffrey Hurwit, Art History, February 14, 2001

The University of Oregon, like any university, is organicÜand not just because it has living, moving parts (students, faculty, staff). It is an entity that is constantly changing and evolvingÜadding a department or a program here, building new facilities there, enlarging the student body here, re-structuring the curriculum there. Like a human body (which, I am told, has all its cells replaced by new ones every seven years), the University has all its students replaced by new ones every four or five years (though, thankfully, faculty cells are exchanged more slowly). In the midst of all this change, however, the vision of the University remains somehow, to a very large degree, the same.

Unlike most organisms, the University can manage (or at least attempt to manage) its own evolution, its own growth. And it is the mission of the University Mission Statement to provide general guidance for that evolution, to set forth a set of principles that govern the way we change ourselves, when we wish to, or undertake change when we are compelled to do so by forces beyond our control.

We find in the Mission Statement what we expect to find thereÜa commitment to teaching and research and to freedom of thought and expression, a commitment to guiding students to think critically and ethically, to providing models for social action, and so forth.

What we do not find there is this: it is the missionÜand if it is not the "mission" then it is at least the organic needÜof the University to maintain and nourish itself, to continually improve its fiscal health so that it can carry out its other missions and live by all the other principles that guide it. In the last decade it became clear that this need cannot be adequately met without dramatically increased outside help, without the financial support and donations of alumni and friends of the University, both private and corporate. As state funding has declined to the point that we can fairly argue that we are no longer a "state university"--donated dollars have become all the more critical, and that, as recent events have shown, has forced a re-consideration of who we are, what we are becoming, and what we should be. We have the need to strike a balance between what is expected of us by those who give to us and fund our activities, and what we choose to expect of ourselves. We cannot afford to alienate our friends. We cannot afford to forget our mission. Sometimes, inevitably, these obligations come into conflict.

That is to be expected. Negotiating the conflicts may not be easy, but it can be done. Other Universities have done so without corrupting or undermining their ideals. But in this new fiscal environment we can no longer be na´ve or disingenuous. Like any organism, we need to adapt. The question is how to do so while fulfilling our mission and respecting our ideals. 

Peter B Gilkey 202 Deady Hall, Department of Mathematics at the University of Oregon, Eugene OR 97403-1222, U.S.A. Phone 1-541-346-4717 Email:peter.gilkey.cc.67@aya.yale.edu of Deady Spider Enterprises