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Thinking About…The Knight Gift

W. Andrew Marcus, Dean

Thinking About…The Knight Gift

Wow. What a moment to think about the future of our college.

By now you’ve heard the announcement of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. This is a tremendous opportunity for the university, representing the largest private gift on record—ever—to a public flagship institution. I am heartened that this philanthropy is 100 percent dedicated to academics. This is an amazing moment to be part of this university. I feel privileged to be here, at this institution, in this college, at this moment.

As President Michael Schill told us, this gift is focused on a specific new program—a “campus within a campus” dedicated to accelerating the rate at which basic science is translated into practical applications. I am (of course!) excited about the many ways this gift will support science in service of the public good, a goal at the very core of our mission. At the same time, the Knights’ astonishing gift will allow the university to improve campus infrastructure via the construction of new facilities and to acquire and upgrade scientific equipment. It will also help us grow our tenure-track faculty in areas that are experiencing strong student demand and add to our community of staff, undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs, bringing in hundreds of new and diverse people who will contribute perspectives that enrich us all.

This is a gift focused on science—and the sciences are a significant part of the College of Arts and Sciences, to be sure—but I want to share with you my excitement about what this gift will do for all of our college, our individual departments and each of us. By way of addressing this, I ask you to consider the question: “What does it mean to accelerate scientific impact?”

For me, as dean of a college dedicated to the liberal arts, it is absolutely clear that “impact” involves far more than converting electrons into semiconductors. From a research and teaching perspective, translating basic science to serve the public good requires active engagement from every part of our college. What, for example, are the ethical ramifications of inserting microbes in utero to prevent the development of diabetes, and do these ramifications suggest different approaches to diabetes prevention? How might the creation of materials that enable households to harvest sustainable energy disrupt economies and local cultures—and what can we do to address those disruptions? Does the creation of techniques for rapid monitoring of pollutants in soils indicate that new laws and policies should be developed with regard to acceptable levels of pollution?

All of these examples reflect actual science already taking place on this campus. And each also reflects how the humanities and social sciences can play an integral role in shaping application of scientific discovery. But I don’t see them in a supporting role. In fact, many of our humanists, social scientists and scientists are pursuing important research questions that rely on collaboration with partners from outside their disciplines to explore their own inquiries fully and in new ways. For example…

We already have a robust environmental humanities program—arguably the most robust in the world—that deeply engages scientists in questions about human response to environmental change and solutions. We have economists working with brain scientists to understand compassionate behavior better. Our cultural, literary, historical and geographical scholars are inviting scientists to consider issues of disability in new ways. The gift will only expand these transdisciplinary opportunities as we engage more broadly and deeply in conceptualizing applications and implications of big data, life sciences, and material sciences for our society.

I want to be clear—I do not believe that humanities and social sciences are only of value when they collaborate with the sciences, or vice versa. Our scholars who are doing fundamental research on the origins of Islam, the intricacies of international trade or the recording of gravity waves are engaged in inquiries that are central to our mission as a flagship liberal arts institution. What the new campus offers is a radical opportunity to expand our vision, find new collaborators, build new facilities and place ourselves at the cutting edge of transdisciplinary work.

I also want to emphasize that the impact of this gift extends far beyond the immediate opportunities for faculty and students to expand their research.

A gift of this magnitude will buoy many elements of the university. The excitement around our translational work will enhance recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students, help attract and retain diverse, top faculty across the entire institution and inspire philanthropy. It will enable us to support excellence in all its forms across all segments of the college. And it will contribute to our reputation as a world-class university. This is a moment when the rising tide lifts all the ships.

I am proud of what our university has done to this point and how our past contributions and present ambitions have prompted an act of amazing generosity by the Knights. With this gift, they have expressed deep faith in our ability as faculty and staff to bring to life a vision that sets us apart as a research university serving the public mission. I feel a profound obligation to live up to that act of faith.

The impact of the Knights’ gift will be realized over many years and decades. But the nature of that impact will depend on what we do in the immediate months and years ahead. This is a pivotal moment for each of us to be “thinking about CAS”—to consider the implications of this gift for the future of our university. I invite you to join me in envisioning how this exceptional gift will help us achieve our collective aspirations. We will have many opportunities to carry on that conversation; I look forward to it.

For the moment, however, I simply want to offer my profound thanks to the Knights. What a moment to be in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon! This is a moment when we all can—and should— dream big.

W. Andrew Marcus
Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences

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