No longer Ducking the issue

The University of Oregon raises its profile in Portland.

Five years ago, when Terri Warpinski first forayed north from Eugene to expand the University of Oregon’s outpost in Portland, many in this city decided she was in over her head.

When Warpinski resolved to plant her flag in three of the sorriest buildings on one of the saddest blocks in Old Town, many in this city decided she was out of her mind.

Had naysayers peeked behind the portrait of the rookie provost barreling her way into the big city, they might have glimpsed a rather different figure. Warpinski is an artist or rare vision, an acclaimed professor of photography whose work in the Oregon desert hints at her remarkable gift.

Where so many merely look, Warpinski actually sees.

Which just helps explain why Warpinski was able the other day to unveil three stunningly restored historic buildings in what suddenly seems a neighborhood on the brink of the big time.

The White Stag Block, now a single complex at the west end of the Burnside Bridge, will afford UO students access to a wide range of only-in-Portland opportunities, including programs in journalism, architecture, digital arts and project design.

As the first Ducks migrated into Old Town during spring break, their arrival was heralded by a chorus of construction. Mercy Corps is building its expansive new headquarters in the Skidmore Fountain Building right next door. Revitalization also is racing along Northwest First and Second avenues, including the creation of another campus, for the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine.

Already, this is quite a Portland harvest from the University of Oregon’s long-incubated resolved to revamp its presence in the state’s largest city, home of so many of its alumni–and so much of its donor base. And lots more fruit is in the offing. Coming soon: lots more chances to work with other colleges long-established in the city.

The smart schools will move quickly to embrace these opportunities; the slow ones will feel threatened by them.

Portland’s colleges, all of them, continue to face a foreboding array of challenges as they must:

  • Build the scientific foundations for a thriving 21st century city
  • Produce the work force to fuel a vibrant, sustainable, locally veracious and globally linked economy.
  • Compensate for the fact that Portland remains one of the few major American cities without a major research university.

Meanwhile, we look forward to monitoring just how well UO President Dave Frohnmayer lives up to his promise that his school’s enhanced presence in Portland will be “collaborative and complementary, not competitive.”

And to watching Warpinski’s prediction come true: “When good things happen, good things follow.”