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Register Guard: UO Trails Peers On Key Academic Benchmarks

The Register Guard | Nov. 6, 2013 1:36 a.m. | Updated: Nov. 6, 2013 9:44 a.m.

Contributed By:

Diane Dietz

The yardstick that the University of Oregon uses to measure its own performance shows that it’s falling short in important ways, including the student-to-faculty ratio, student graduation rates and faculty research activity.

The university’s so-called benchmarking report compares the UO on 22 individual indicators with 34 other public universities that belong to the exclusive Association of American Universities.

The UO is faring below average on at least 14 of the 22 indicators. It scored dead last in some categories, including percentage of tenure-related faculty of color; doctoral degrees granted per tenure-related faculty member; and total expenditures per full-time student.

“The key point for this is not to focus too much on the fact we’re at the bottom,” said acting Provost Scott Coltrane, whose office released the report, on Tuesday. “That’s important, but this is (measuring) the most elite universities. This is all the Ivy Leagues and Stanfords and MITs and University of Chicagos of the world that are just phenomenal and rich. They have huge endowments.”

UO President Michael Gottfredson, speaking before The Register-Guard editorial board Tuesday, said the chief remedy for the lagging indicators is an infusion of money.

Oregon has an obligation to restore annual funding — which has been diminishing for most of two decades — to the state’s universities, Gottfredson said. Oregon residents depend on state universities for economic and social mobility, and that adds up to a collective good that’s rightfully financed with tax dollars, he said.

The new bonding authority for university-based governing boards, which was granted earlier this year by the Legislature, could be a game-changing way to pay for teaching and research. The governing boards will be able to issue revenue bonds next year, after they are officially seated.

Gottfredson said the university will seek donations to build up the university’s relatively small, approximately $500 million academic endowment with the aim of better underwriting teaching and research.

“We aspire to have our academic fundraising also be at a very high level,” he said. “It’s great we have a high level of support for athletics. It’s been very advantageous for the university in many ways. What we need to do is increase the philanthropy also for the general campus.”

The benchmarking report showed that the UO is strong in the proportion of female tenure-related faculty; the output of books published per faculty member; the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded annually compared with the number of tenure-related faculty; and the ratio of philanthropic giving to total university expenditure.

But the university compared poorly in having a student faculty ratio of 35-to-1, whereas the ratio at comparable public universities is 23-to-1, according to the benchmarking report.

The university increased its faculty ranks by about 20 this fall to address the problem, but it would need about 100 additional faculty to keep up with the enrollment growth of recent years, Gottfredson said.

“That’s probably our near-term target,” he said.

The university has approximately 1,650 faculty members.

The UO also lags in research-related areas, including the number of master’s and doctoral degrees granted annually; the amount of federally funded research conducted; the number of articles published by faculty; and the number of times UO research is cited by other scholars, according to the benchmarking report.

But the university is still in the ranks of the elite research universities, Gottfredson said.

“We’re highly productive. Our faculty is doing outstanding work. We just need more of it. We need more faculty. We need more facilities. We need more financial support. That’s really the story. …

“We’re a very strong institution, and we’re getting stronger. We’re going to underwrite our strength through creative financing,” Gottfredson said.

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