Co-Creating Our University through Shared Governance
Westling Award Speech By Robert Kyr, Philip H. Knight Professor of Music
Thank you so much for your kindness in offering the Wayne Westling Award for University Leadership and Service to me today. I’m humbled in being selected for this award, when so many others are equally or more deserving.
It is no understatement to say that all of us have been through an unparalleled trial by fire over the past five long years. We are not the same university that we were prior to the firing of Richard Lariviere in the fall quarter of 2011, which was an event that forced us onto a path that has tested us again and again. And even this past week, we were sorely tested when the Senate considered its latest version(or should I say, versions)of the “Responsible Employee Policy,” also known as the“Policy on UO Responsible Employee Duty to Report Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault.” We did not turn away from our obligation to consider this policy in detail and to engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue, which is particularly challenging when discussing controversial issues that we care about so deeply.
Taking the long view, it is obvious that we remain in the middle of an extended,challenging journey, the end of which we cannot ascertain. And it is clear to me that through this journey, all of us are being tested to demonstrate our commitment to the core values of the Wayne Westling Award, as stated in the description of the award, those being:“the principles of shared governance, participatory decision-making, and fostering a campus climate of inclusiveness and respect.”It behooves us to take just a few minutes to reflect on where we find ourselves today and where we needto go from here.
When the now defunct State Board of Higher Education fired President Richard Lariviere, it triggered a series of events that changed our university forever. And a host of other life-changing decisions and legislative initiatives quickly followed:
• The decision of Richard Lariviere to sign both the University Constitution and Policy on Policies prior to leaving office;
• The decision of the faculty to unionize;
• The decision of the state legislature to allow our university to have its own Board of Trustees, a so-called independent governing board; • Extensive shifts and changes in the administrative leadership of the university at all levels;
• The decision to undertake an extensive realignment of university policies that is regulated in part by our revised Policy on Policies.
And I could go on for quite a long time recounting our five-year history, which often has felt like a twenty-year history. As a Senate that represents the entire university—faculty, students, Officers of Administration, Officers of Research, and Classified Staff—our role in the transformation of our university continues to be demanding and at times overwhelming. However, it is always well worth every ounce of effort that we have devoted to fulfilling our obligations and responsibilities.
As challenging as these past five years have been, and as an eternal optimist, I see them as an incredible gift to us. Through whatever indefinable workings of fate, we have been offered a series of remarkable opportunities to co-create our institution in ways that promise to be visionary and transformative. As I have often said, the Senate and its committee structure, which providesover15,800 hours of service per year, is the engine of the university.
The Senate is not some random collection of constituencies. We are an ever-evolving community, a family that faces all of the challenges that come with being a single body of individuals devoted to the work of attaining the highest good for all concerned. In our common striving and seeking, we embody the spirit of change, the spirit of transformation, and the spirit of that measure of devotion, which is essential to reaching for the truth, for greater understanding, and for self-determination.
It is self-determination that is at the heart of our journey, even more today than in the past.In order to fully determine our own future, rather than taking a path that others might force upon us, we must continually renew our commitment to the three “Westling principles,” cited in the description of the award, those being:
• “…[commitment to] shared governance;
• [commitment to] participatory decision-making;and
• [commitment to] fostering a campus climate of inclusiveness and respect.”
Whenever we participate in decision-making, we must take into account the impact of our actions on the lives that will be affected most deeply.We must never lose sight of the human cost of any decision that we make or any action that we take as a legislative body.
If we uphold the “Westling principles”, and if we maintain a clear focus on them, then we will continually reinvigorate our will to co-create this university that we love so deeply. This university that we proudly call “our university,” because it truly belongs to all of us—students, faculty, Officers of Administration, Officers of Research, Classified Staff, and administrators. Moreover, I am grateful to President Schill for his vision of the University of Oregon, as a vibrant institution that is focused on achieving and sustaining academic excellence through research, teaching, and meaningful service.
Thank you again for your kindness in offering the Wayne Westling Award to me, but in truth, given the very special circumstances of our five-year history, it belongs to all those who strive to uphold its principles. By this, I mean everyone in this body, because it represents the entire university—and in particular, I mean everyone here today and everyone who has served in the Senate since the fall quarter of 2011, which became a turning point for our institution.
In accepting this award today, my deepest thanks to all of you for your service, which has sustained our university through its most challenging times, and is needed more than ever now,as we strive to achieve our greatest goals. Thank you so much for your devotion to working together to co-create the best university that we can be.I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you.