Most private colleges and universities began as religious foundations. What medieval monks intended at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Paris, is what New England Puritans wished for Harvard and Yale, Virginia Anglicans for William and Mary, New Jersey Presbyterians for Princeton, Philadelphia Quakers for Swarthmore and Jason Lee and his Methodist missionary friends for Willamette in 1842.
Known originally as the Oregon Institute, Willamette was dedicated to the "intellectual and moral training" of the territory's youth, including women as well as men, and people of color as well as whites. Serving God through education was (and is) a natural for the Methodist tradition, which arguably began in a university -- Oxford, where its founder, John Wesley, taught Greek and logic.
Today, Willamette affirms its education-friendly United Methodist affiliations with nearly 100 other institutions -- places like Duke, Boston, Syracuse, Dickinson, Drew and Emory. Any college with "Wesleyan" in its name also shares Willamette University's heritage.
Like these and other nationally-ranked colleges, Willamette values liberal learning and welcomes students of "all sorts and conditions." Nevertheless, it maintains its church relationship. The most obvious markers are Cone Chapel, the Office of the Chaplains and the Religious Studies Department. In addition, two representatives of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church (a clergyperson and a layperson) serve on Willamette's Board of Trustees and the resident bishop of the Greater Northwest Area is an ex-officio member.
A more important continuity is the ethos of service represented by the University's motto: "Non nobis solum nati sumus. -- Not unto ourselves alone are we born."