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UO’s New President: Put the Hat in the Ring

August 24th, 2022 by dk

Bring back the Hat.

University of Oregon President Michael Schill is returning to Chicago as the new president of Northwestern University. He spent seven years boosting key metrics used by the Association of American Universities and elevating our reputation worldwide. But who will now replace Schill? One of his most fearless predecessors fits the bill.

When Richard Lariviere was fired by the Oregon University System in 2011, the campus and community was aghast. Petitions circulated to have him reinstated. Memes developed around “We Back the Hat,” referencing his habit of wearing a variety of distinctive fedoras.

As the community reeled, Lariviere kept a low profile. He granted only one interview during that initial shock — to the student journalists at the Oregon Daily Emerald. He was calm and candid.

When asked what advice he’d offer his successor about staying in the good graces of the OUS board, he didn’t mince words. “It is my sincere hope that the future president won’t have any relationship with the OUS, that we will have a publicly appointed board that’s sole purpose is to guide this institution.” His termination hastened that outcome. Lariviere lost the battle, but won the war.

One answer stood out for me from that interview. He was asked whether being fired from such a high profile position would make it more difficult for other institutions to consider hiring him. He paused for a second and recognized the teachable moment. “My future employment prospects is of no concern.”

Leadership requires courage, especially when guiding an institution that envelopes so many people’s identities. Lariviere passed that test with flying colors, and those colors were green and yellow. He was hired a few months later as president of the Field Museum in Chicago. He’s still there, and most assume that he has no desire to leave.

That’s probably true, but he might still be intrigued by the prospect of returning to Eugene. Lariviere is an educator to his core. The Field Museum maintains a strong research team, but much of the museum’s education mission is fulfilled through field trips for grade schoolers.

I grew up near Chicago and we had the best field trips. Every year, we’d take trips to the Field Museum, the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Shedd Aquarium. The aquarium was named after John G. Shedd, Ginevra Ralph’s great grandfather. The Shedd Institute for the Arts in Eugene also bears his name.

Ginevra Ralph is the current president of the UO Board of Trustees. Who better to travel to Chicago to ask Lariviere whether he prefers impacting students near the beginning of their formal education or near the end?

Even if Lariviere declined, the offer itself would convey a powerful message. University of Oregon is indebted to him. We can affirm that. It would also tell other candidates that losing a job to better the institution is recognized and rewarded.

Lariviere remade the University of Oregon’s relationship with Oregon’s political leadership, thanks to his willingness to be fired. The university’s standing has grown since he left. New complexities lie ahead that will require bold thinking.

For example, how will the school respond as athletics (especially football) morphs into a semi-professional training league? How will schools relate to one another in that context? As the entertainment value of its sports offerings increases, how can the university remake its relations with Eugene and Oregon? As university research expands, how can its benefits flow easily into the local business community?

Those are big questions that will require real risks. I hope the University of Oregon Board of Trustees gives the job to a person who is not afraid to lose it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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