HECC Comments: The Value of a Research University


This is the public comment presented by President Berkman to the meeting of Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission on February 11, 2021.

Good morning, Commissioners. I’m Elliot Berkman, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon and President of the University Senate. I'm commenting on today’s HECC evaluation of UO to be submitted to the legislature.

I am glad to see the evaluation highlights the substantial economic contribution the UO makes to the state. Our research expenditures and contracts increased by about 12% from FY18 to FY20, topping $133M last fiscal year. The economic footprint of the university is $2.2 billion. Spending by the UO community drove an additional $816M in household earnings and 22,852 jobs in the state.

But these numbers, impressive though they are, smooth over some of the texture that is apparent to those of us on the ground, as it were, in Lane County and near the university. While we’re in person, I’d like to give you some perspective from the ground level about what having a topflight research university means to the state of Oregon. The examples I describe here are skewed from my perspective in the Department of Psychology.  These are only two of the many ways that my colleagues contribute to the economic well-being of the state as well as the nationwide scientific and public health discourse.

For instance, well before I came to Oregon, I had heard of Electrical Geodesics. Just about everyone who does neuroscience – for research or clinical purposes – has. Electrical Geodesics is a company that grew out of my Psychology colleague Don Tucker’s research on the brain’s electrical signals as people think thoughts and feel emotions. During this so-called “basic research,” Don developed one of the most advanced electroencephalography (EEG) rigs and founded Electrical Geodesics in 1992. The Eugene-based company grew to employ more than 90 people and had an annual revenue of $14M in 2016. The machinery created right here in Lane County is used throughout the globe for research and clinical purposes such as epilepsy treatment, pre-surgical brain mapping, and pediatric neurology. If you or a loved one was diagnosed or treated for epilepsy in the past few years, there’s a good chance Don’s devices were part of that process. Electrical Geodesics was sold to an international device corporation a few years back, but the technical jobs remain here in Eugene.

The story of Electrical Geodesics beautifully illustrates the worldwide impact our research can have. But that impact does not stop at medical devices and local jobs. For instance, my colleague Phil Fisher, who studies the effect of toxic stress on children, launched the, “Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development – Early Child,” or RAPID-EC, back in April 2020. RAPID-EC is an ongoing, nationally representative survey of households with young children designed to measure the impact of the pandemic on their needs and well-being. The survey has uncovered the extraordinarily high levels of hardship faced by families, particularly those from underserved groups. The results are featured regularly in prominent national media, such as the feature this past weekend in the Sunday edition of the New York Times on parents under stress. The survey has drawn the attention of policymakers and major philanthropic organizations throughout the country.

Please note that these are just two of the many examples of how the UO has substantial impact on the state and can transform the world. I hope the HECC and legislature will bear this type of impact in mind when considering the evaluation of the University of Oregon.

File UO HECC Summary and Evaluation