By Tim Young of Portland, Oregon. Tim is a former student body president at Portland State and a former member of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education. Tim is a University of Oregon '03, '05 graduate.
It's been said "you got to spend money to make money". In higher education, they measure their "products" in decades and by some studies the return on invest is ten to one. That is worth the collective state investment but increasingly, the investment burden required for a higher education has been left to the student. Between 1979 and 2009, tuition alone at the University of Oregon was well up over eight times what it was in 1979, adjusted for inflation. Why? Largely because Salem stopped paying for all of our public universities. There is speculation of privatizing the University of Oregon and some may argue that they have been at it for a while now already. I’m not just talking selling the name of a building or raising private monies to endow chairperson-ships in departments; I’m taking the University of Oregon operating in a fully privatized model ala Willamette University which currently charges $38,800 in tuition alone per, year. Is this the right direction to be going in?
In a recent piece in the Oregonian Steve Duin wrote of the University of Oregon that "[UO President] Lariviere has campaigned for increased autonomy in a state with a diminished interest in supporting higher education. He has emulated [Phil] Knight's unapologetic commitment to run the university like a business."
I love the UO but this bothered me. First, it is state government that has abandoned higher education, not Oregonians and I just want to make that distinction. As a concerned citizen I want to blame Salem, warcraft on the ballot, and some misguided elected officials that have shirked their responsibility to higher education, not we the people of this fine state. We just haven't been asked the right question(s). The vast amount of fundraising done to supplement the anemic state support Salem has provided over the last 30+ years and the consistent in-state enrollment growth the UO has experienced over the years too, shows Oregonians are still committed to higher education, even if state government is not.
Second, the universities are run “like business[es]” and, as a consequence, the next bubble to burst behind the tech and housing bubbles will be the student loan system if we don't act, and soon. Autonomy from the state on the road to privatization is not the answer for the UO. President Lariviere is wrong. A well-crafted ballot measure (or series of ballot measures) aimed at making the most affordable, accessible and excellent institutions of higher learning in the world, is/are the answer(s). And I bet the majority of the electorate would agree.
On the ballot, we've been tricked by the electioneers like Kevin Mannix to build more and more prisons to house pot dealers, rather than labs to house genius and scientific experimentation. We listen to the constant stream of the media detailing the awful underbelly of human existence, and some judge our world accordingly, faked by the press into believing around every corner is an armed criminal ready to take from us that which is most precious. We the people, Oregonians, never have given up on our highest aspirations for the common good or that of our children. We’ve just been fed garbage.
The likes of Bill Sizemore would have us believe the government is the beast that needs to be starved in the Biblical sense,but no, in our constitutional republic we are the government, however prickly and messy it may be. Let’s not privatize the UO because we have systemic problems with our state financial system. Let’s go to the ballot and fix what is wrong with the system rather than put in jeopardy our state treasures, like the UO. The UO existed long before Nike and it will long after, not the other way around. Don't privatize our historical common goods for the sake of circumstantial, self-imposed constraints cloaked in the name of efficiency and faith in market forces.