At UO, much to cheer for in 2019

First published in the Register Guard on December 30th. 

In the ’70s, Eugene residents ran produce sales, church socials and other fundraisers to support their state university.

That would be the 1870s. The $27,500 raised from the community bought 18 acres for what became the University of Oregon campus.

Nearly 150 years later, the bond between the university and community is just as strong, just as innovative and just as relevant.

2018 has been a banner year for the university and for the region.

The most recent buzz has been over the Ducks’ preparation for the Redbox Bowl against Michigan State on Monday. Yes, football bowl games do raise a university’s profile, as the UO has learned.

Last week, Duck fans got the welcome news that quarterback Justin Herbert would return in 2019 for his senior season. It says something about his character that Herbert, a local product who played at Sheldon High, would not depart for the NFL despite being considered a high draft pick.

Some would argue that Duck athletics gets too much attention when the overall university offers 325 degree and certificate programs, and has produced seven Oregon governors, eight U.S. senators and 20 members of Congress, along with winners of 18 Pulitzer Prizes, nine Academy Awards and nine Emmys. And there was that little movie made 40 years ago on campus, “Animal House.”

Oregon and its archrival Washington are the only two Northwest universities accepted into the prestigious Association of American Universities, which comprises the 60 leading public and private research universities in the U.S., plus two in Canada. So, it is worth noting that AAU schools also have many of the top programs in college sports.

Sports does have a way of bringing people together — and putting Eugene on the map, first as “Track Town USA” and now as a national power in other men’s and women’s sports. Meanwhile, UO track fans remain among the most knowledgeable in the nation. Nothing compares to hearing the applause and cheers move through the stands as runners circle the track, or start their next field event, at venerable Hayward Field.

That field, which has given us so many memorable performances, and also inspired the business concepts that became Nike, is giving way to a reconstruction that will host the 2021 World Track and Field Championships.

While it’s bittersweet to lose the traditional Hayward Field, the new facility will be an exciting opportunity for Eugene to host major events beyond the Olympic Trials and world championships. Over time, new memories will be created for thousands more spectators and new traditions will emerge.

The UO and Hayward Field are inextricably linked with Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who has invested in both the university’s athletics and academics. Oregon broke ground this year on the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, a billion-dollar project to expand the university’s research and teaching. Construction also is under way on the Black Cultural Center, as well as other academic buildings.

Teachers throughout the world continue to benefit from the College of Education’s pioneering leadership in how to most-effectively teach students who have disabilities. The college recently received a five-year $32.6 million federal grant, which might be the largest in the university’s history.

The UO also is evolving in ways that do not make national headlines but are important to the community, such as its somewhat-successful efforts to curb overdrinking, including at tailgate parties. And during the current winter break, the campus police department has offered to check off-campus students’ residences while they are away, which will contribute to neighborhood security.

As for that 19th century financial investment by Eugene residents? It’s been repaid over and over. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the UO reported employing 10,685 Lane County residents, paying them more than $353 million, and doing more than $427 million in business with local vendors.

As the state’s flagship university, the UO also is a local university. As of last year, its Lane County contingent numbered almost 34,000 alumni and more than 3,350 students, including 1,122 transfer students from Lane Community College.

As with any relationship, there are ups and downs, miscommunications and misunderstandings as well as collaborations and successes. Through all these times, it is inconceivable to imagine a Eugene without a University of Oregon.

Eugene is proud to be a university town — a vibrant, creative blend of campus and community.