Volume 79 | Issue 2
March 2011

University of Oregon, Erb Memorial Union

University of Oregon
Four-year, public, urban
Full-time enrollment: 21,022
Location: Eugene, Ore.

Erb Memorial Union

Director: Wendy Polhemus
Size: 220,000 sq. ft.
Floors: 5
Year built: 1950
Operating budget:
$9.8 million
Student staff: 400 (part-time)
Nonstudent staff: 57 (full-time); 25 (part-time)

In 1924, the student body president at the University of Oregon spearheaded the campaign to build a union on campus. Twenty years later, the institution had the monetary and campus support to create a nine-person Student Union Committee that would oversee the creation of the union.
The building’s design work was completed in 1948 by H. Abbott Lawrence with considerations made for recommendations by students and the committee. Construction crews finally broke ground in 1948. Two years later, on Nov. 3, 1950, a dedication ceremony marked the official opening of the Erb Memorial Union (EMU), named after the university’s seventh president, Donald Milton Erb, who died in office in December 1943.
“An outstanding characteristic of Erb’s administration was the spirit of confidence and unity of purpose which his wisdom and good judgment stimulated among both faculty and students,” said Jessie Steward, scheduling assist. “His spirit has survived him and has been a source of strength to the institution.”
The EMU also honors members of the university community and graduates who served during the war.
Over the years, a variety of additions and renovations have kept the building up to date. These included adding a dining hall, renovating an art gallery, adding an elevator, replacing windows, and making other general improvements, according to Steward. Additionally, an outdoor amphitheater was constructed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the student government body.
“It was designed with strong involvement from user groups of students, faculty, and staff. The ‘free speech plaza’ was long envisioned as part of the EMU’s features and this project restored that concept,” Steward said.

Unique features
Those who have seen the movie “National Lampoon’s Animal House” may remember the food fight scene. That scene was filmed in the EMU’s Fishbowl, and “for better or for worse” is the union’s “main claim to fame,” Steward said. “Other locations in the building also received screen time. And one of the EMU’s current employees had a small nonspeaking role in the film.”
Steward said the two hallmarks of the EMU are the Outdoor Program and the Craft Center.
The Outdoor Program is one of the oldest in the country as it was established by students in 1966.
“Rather than trips being planned and offered by program staff, student and community participants post their own trip ideas up on a trip board,” she said. “The planning, work, costs, and decisions of the trip are shared in a cooperative fashion through consensus.”
Annually, the Outdoor Program organizes 125–175 trips and an additional 100 events, clinics, and interpretative outings.
The EMU Craft Center is “a comprehensive arts program that offers well-equipped studios/labs and extensive workshops in most areas of the visual arts,” Steward said.
The center is open to the entire university and surrounding community. More than 300 workshops are offered each year at the Craft Center.

Students’ role
“Students play an active and vital role in the EMU,” Steward said. “They hold a variety of positions in each department and govern on the EMU Board. Student engagement and involvement is encouraged and built into all union programs and services.”
And when students aren’t working, they can often be found studying or hanging out. According to Steward, the top spot to meet is the Fishbowl. Those students looking for a quieter atmosphere may choose the Taylor Lounge or Mills International Center, both of which offer fireplaces.

The EMU hosts a wide variety of programming. The Civil War LAN Party is a gaming tournament between the university and Oregon State University. The Cultural Forum provides a variety of student-based programming, such as an art exhibit addressing censorship or a campus visit by Michael Moore, Steward said.
Additional activities include the Bike Music Festival, bringing together local bikers for one day of pedal-powered music, and Intermingle, which is a collaborate effort to provide enjoyable activities and social opportunities for all students prior to the start of the academic year, according to Steward.
A unique event sponsored annually by the Outdoor Program for the past 22 years is a rafting and cleaning of the Rouge River.
Over the years, “1,400 tires and more than 10,000 bags of garbage have been removed from this spectacular wilderness river by student volunteers,” Steward said.