UO aims high.
When Phil and Penny Knight gave $500 million to the Oregon Health & Science University a year ago, with the provision that OHSU raise an equal amount within two years, supporters of the University of Oregon had to ask themselves a question: Would the UO be able to meet such a challenge? The answer, UO officials believe, is yes, and then some: The UO intends to reach a $2 billion fundraising goal within four years, with $700 million already gathered from donors during the "silent" phase of the campaign.
That leaves $1.3 billion to go by 2018, or $325 million a year, a significant quickening of the current pace of fundraising. It is the largest philanthropic drive ever conducted by an Oregon institution of any kind.
While Knight, co-founder of Nike Inc., and his wife gave part of the $700 million raised so far and may make important contributions during the remainder of the campaign, they were conspicuously absent from Friday's event announcing the $2 billion goal, underscoring a vital point: The UO is confident that it can count on more than one megadonor to secure a future that is increasingly dependent on private philanthropy.
The UO plans to use the money to increase the number of need-based and merit-based scholarships, add 150 tenure-track faculty positions, expand enrollment in the Robert D. Clark Honors College by 50 percent, underwrite its effort to establish "centers of excellence" in teaching and research, and pay for a number of academic and athletic buildings and facilities. The overarching goal is to kick the UO into a higher gear, as befits its status as a member of the Association of American Universities.
The opening of the public phase of the campaign closely follows the creation of an independent board of trustees to govern the UO. Oregon State University and Portland State University also gained their own boards, but it was the UO that pushed hardest for the change in structure, which was approved by the Legislature and supported by Gov. John Kitzhaber partly in expectation that greater success in fundraising would follow. The state, having steadily reduced its role in funding public universities over the past quarter-century, has faced the fact that the UO and its sister institutions can make use of the autonomy and flexibility that self-governance provides to seek financial support on their own.
The $2 billion goal was announced at a time of transition at the UO - the Board of Trustees is still new, and the university is being led by an interim president. As the board conducts its search for a new president, an essential qualification will be an ability to see the $2 billion campaign through to success. By making the campaign public now, however, the UO is showing that success ultimately relies not on a particular leader, but on the potential of the institution itself. A president and a board can make a big difference, but only when making the case for donations whose effects will endure long after they're gone.
OHSU is close to meeting the Knights' $500 million challenge - partly thanks to a $200 million legislative appropriation, but also by proving that it has a deep pool of large and small donors across Oregon, the nation and the world. The Knights didn't want to give half a billion dollars to an institution that couldn't raise at least that much from other sources.
The UO will have to draw on an even deeper pool of alumni and supporters. But as with the Knights' gift to OHSU, there's a circular effect to fundraising - each show of support is an expression of confidence in the UO, and strengthens the university in ways that will in turn open the door to further donations. It will be necessary for a small number of wealthy people to come through with big checks. They'll be more likely to do that if they see that thousands of smaller donors are giving what they can. It will be gratifying to see the UO's whales and minnows alike achieve the goal, and surpass it.