Scholz lauds ‘breathtaking’ possibilities at investiture

While some question the value of universities in the face of today’s challenges, the 19th president of the University of Oregon has an optimistic vision.

“Frankly,” John Karl Scholz said in his speech during his May 30 investiture ceremony, “the world needs higher education now more than ever.”

During the event held in Matthew Knight Arena on the UO campus, Scholz articulated his vision for the university as he stood among family, friends and colleagues to formally receive the university mace and medallion. In his remarks, he urged the audience to embrace both the promise of higher education broadly and the unique attributes of the university he was chosen to lead.

“Working together, the U of O is at a point of remarkable opportunity,” he said, “with great staff, faculty, deans and other leaders, and the collective opportunity to envision, and chart our future course.”

Scholz was selected as UO president in spring 2023 following a six-month search. A nationally regarded economist, Scholz is recognized as a thought leader in areas of household savings, low-wage labor markets, financial barriers to higher education, and bankruptcy laws. He had previously served as provost of the University of Wisconsin since 2019 and was the dean of Wisconsin’s College of Letters & Science.

After assuming his UO duties last July, Scholz and his leadership team embarked on a months-long listening project called UO Onward. The project involved a broad cross section of the university community in conversations to help shape a new strategic plan. 

In his investiture speech, Scholz presented the goals of the new plan and its promise to focus resources, talents and attention on, as he put it, “the foundations of the university: our students, our state, our people and our scholarship.”

He outlined four goals: 

  • Student success, including removing barriers to on-time graduation
  • Career preparation, including better alignment between the needs of industry and efforts to ensure students graduate from the UO ready to contribute and succeed 
  • Creating a community of flourishing for faculty, staff, students and others, emphasizing well-being and opportunities for growth and resilience
  • Scholarship and creative work that accelerates societal impact, elevates the human experience, and develops innovative models for a changing world, particularly in the areas of environmental resilience, mental health and well-being, sport and human performance, and applied sciences, building on UO strengths in biological and material sciences.

These four goals form the core of the next strategic plan for the University of Oregon, which build on the university's current capabilities to meet the future needs of society. 

“Together, they create a focus for areas of investment and innovation,” he said. “They allow the university to provide the greatest impact to the greatest number of people for the greatest collective benefit — starting right here in Oregon.”

Scholz also emphasized the important role of philanthropy in supporting the university’s aspirations. He shared plans for a comprehensive campaign to begin in 2026, aligned with the university’s sesquicentennial or 150th anniversary. In the intervening period, the university has launched a fundraising initiative, called Oregon150, with a goal to raise more than $500 million before the end of 2026. 

Scholz thanked UO donors Connie and Steve Ballmer, who have kick-started the initiative with a lead gift of $100 million for scholarships and investments in the UO Portland Campus. He also thanked Phil and Penny Knight and the UO donor community for what they’ve made possible. 

“I am deeply grateful and excited by what we can build, together,” he said.

Scholz’s remarks came after he led a procession of faculty members in full academic regalia for the traditional ceremony marking the installation of a new president. The procession was led by Gerard Sandoval, the University Senate president. 

Joining Scholz on the platform and contributing remarks were Karen Ford, interim provost and senior vice president, and Ruby Wool, student member of the board of trustees. The Grand Ronde Singers presented an Honor Song, and ensembles from the School of Music and Dance performed additional music. Scholz’s wife, Melissa, and daughters watched from the audience.

UO Board of Trustees Chair Steven Holwerda presented Scholz with the president’s medallion and university mace, the official symbols of leadership at the UO.

Holwerda’s presentation was briefly interrupted by student protestors. But when the investiture ceremonies resumed, Scholz’s natural enthusiasm for his role — he restated his belief that he’s “the luckiest man on earth” — was undiminished.

“My hope, whenever my service here is finished, is that we will have unleashed, together, our university’s unlimited potential and our collective ability to accelerate impact, to flourish, and to lead,” he said. 

“Because, when we do, it will be breathtaking.”

By George Evano, University Communications