For Michael H. Schill, who became the University of Oregon’s 18th president on July 1, life is all about exploration, investigation, and learning new things. Which makes his new job ceaselessly rewarding.
“One of the things I love most is discovery, so I’m excited about meeting with faculty members and learning all of the areas in which the university is excellent. Each one of those is going to be like a little present,” he says.
“Every day, my assistant gives me a briefing book that says what my day is going look like, and at the end of the day, it’s been nothing like that. Different events and meetings have intervened. That’s what makes life exciting; every day is an adventure.”
Schill joins the UO after serving as dean of the law schools at the University of Chicago and University of California, Los Angeles. Earlier in his career, he was a tenured professor at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania. He earned degrees from Princeton and Yale Law School. He emphasizes, however, that the success he envisions for Oregon will come on its own terms, and not in relation to some other—perhaps better-known—institution.
“I will work every waking moment to make this place better. Not so it is identical to the University of Chicago, not to make it identical to UCLA or NYU, or any other school, but to make it as good and authentic and true to its history and its traditions as the University of Oregon can be,” says Schill.
For the UO, that means building the faculty and the research intensity of the school. “The University of Oregon is an excellent university that has for years been a pioneer in combining the liberal arts and sciences with the professions.” Over the next five years Schill plans to hire 100 tenure-related faculty members in addition to replacing professors who will retire or leave. Each professor will need to be proficient at scholarship and teaching.
In addition, Schill is committed to making sure that higher education remains accessible to students, regardless of who they are or where they came from. Schill and his sister Margo were the first in their family to attend college, so he is particularly interested in seeing that students like him have that opportunity.
“It is incredibly important for us to instill high aspirations among young people—the idea that any of us, regardless of economic, racial, or cultural background, can go on to get a great education at a great institution,” says Schill. “Our students will then go off to use that education to make the world a better place.”
These dreams—academic excellence and access—are costly. Thankfully, one of Schill’s greatest pleasures is fundraising. “I love meeting alumni and hearing about their experiences and careers. I also am very fond of playing the matchmaker . . . helping them find the parts of the university that they can become passionate about and help to support.”
After less than a month on the job, Schill is obviously excited and inspired by his new position. “Being president of a university is just this never-ending set of discoveries,” he says. “Every year, we regenerate. We enroll new students, hire new faculty, and graduate a new set of alumni. It’s all just wonderful.”
—By Jonathan Graham
In the coming months, the UO community will have many opportunities to learn the details of its new president’s vision, priorities, and aspirations for the university. In the meantime, OQ asked President Schill about some of his first impressions of Oregon, and what drew him to the UO.
LOCAL COLOR(S) “Hirons Drug Store just brought a smile to my face when I went in there. It reminded me of the old time five-and-dime shops that I grew up going to in Schenectady, except it was exploded, it was huge. You just go down an aisle and you say, ‘Is it possible that there can be so many things that are branded with the University of Oregon and with Ducks?’”
HIS MENTOR “When I was at Princeton, Dick Nathan and I developed an ideal professor-student relationship. I still speak with him; still see him and his family. Dick was my thesis advisor; he financially supported my work; then after graduation, I took a year off and wrote a book with him. He was the person who was my number-one recommender when I went on the academic job market. He would tell anyone who would listen that he had always hoped I would marry his daughter. That’s a pretty good recommendation. This type of relationship with a faculty member is an example of what I hope each of our students will one day have.”
BIBLIOPHILE “One of my hobbies is buying books. So right now, my entire house is absolutely full of books—in bookshelves, on the floor, everywhere. So where would you find me last weekend? At Powell’s bookstore, buying more books. Whenever I travel, which I do a lot, I also go to the best bookstore in the city.”
SHOPPING SPREE “Every time I pick a new area to learn something about, I feel two incentives with respect to that area. One, I just love learning, but the second is it opens up a whole new area to buy books in.”
GUILTY PLEASURE “I am the opposite of a foodie. In Chicago, you’d have to travel pretty far to go to a Red Robin, and you wouldn’t be able to park. Here it’s like two or three minutes and I’m in there with the Bonzai Burger. I’ve also been to Voodoo Doughnut and Prince Pückler’s Ice Cream—I am eating my way through Eugene. Now all I have to do is find some time to exercise!”
LEARNING CURVE “I haven’t quite caught on to the geography of Eugene yet. Whenever I need to make a right, I make a left, and vice versa. I’ve lived in very big cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia—with grid systems, which are consistent and numbered. That isn’t the case with Eugene. So every morning when I come to school here, it’s an adventure.”
THE ESSENTIALS “I need a connection to the Internet, plenty of sugar, and Diet Coke (not a diet that I would recommend to our students), and a quiet place to sleep at night. Those are my only demands.”
BECOMING A DUCK “I love coming into a new environment and learning what it means to be an authentic part of that community. I’m new, I’ve spent very little time in Oregon throughout my life, but I know I’m going to love it. Although I may never put the syllable emphasis on ‘Eugene’ in the right place, I’m going to be someone that people come to think really understands what it means to be an Oregonian, what it means to be a Duck. I may not have it all yet, but that’s part of the intellectual and the human excitement that I have for being here.”