After Lariviere, a new chance for the University of Oregon

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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 received his undergraduate degree from UO in 2003 and a graduate degree in 2005.

The University of Oregon has a vacancy in the president’s office. The OUS Board probably has already begun looking for a group of candidates to replace President Richard Lariviere as I write this. Regardless of if you agree with the decision or not, this does present a wonderful opportunity for the institution. Interest in the U of O is high around the world and it is a special campus, that has wonderful things to offer our community. But across the country, institutions of higher learning have felt the stress of higher demand for services while getting fewer and fewer dollars from the state. Oregon is no exception, and some may argue we have been dis-investing for so long that we are worse off than most of the country. Reform is needed with both revenues and expenditures if the institutions are to thrive. That means cuts, and new sources of revenue at the same time.

I’d argue that while whole departments need to be discontinued to save money for students, this isn’t the end of the world for academia but there is merit in thinking about some bureaucratic pruning. Personally, I’d start with cutting the dean of students on down through the entire organizational chart as a money saving measure. Much of what is done by student service professionals, students can do for themselves. Further, if things were not made complicated, like transferring credits between institutions for example, the students would be more able to fend for themselves. I submit that in academia, sometimes things are made complicated on purpose for many reasons, none of them great.

On the revenue side, state treasurer Ted Wheeler has a solution for the outrageous increases in costs to students due to a lack of investment by the state government and as I discussed above, unnecessary bureaucratic complications to name at least one reason for steadily increasing costs. The idea, is to use the state bonding authority coupled with matching private donations to bend the cost curve for students by investing state monies into a revised Oregon Opportunity Grant that would be made available to Oregon high school graduates to supplement tuition costs at all the OUS schools. This measure must be coupled with strong budget oversight so the institutions don’t just increase tuition to compensate for the student tuition subsidy. This is where we have an excellent opportunity to find a transformative leader for the University of Oregon.

To be frank Oregon needs a new leader at the University of Oregon that is less concerned with the interests of one donor and privatization of one institution, and more interested in the welfare of students statewide. Students are suffering, the U of O president and Mr. Phil Knight are not. They will be fine. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of college graduates with high student loan debt unable to find work or pay off their loans, may not be so fine.

Independence of the University of Oregon from the state is a horrible idea if you are not getting paid to be there. No one has been able to convince me that more “autonomy” from the state would not translate into astronomically high tuition. U of O President Lariviere embraced the path of privatization, ignoring his supervisors and pursuing his own private agenda. I’d say all those are good reason for his dismissal, and this amazing opportunity to find a new president that better reflects Oregon's values.

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    Mr. Young, you and your group made a terrible decision. Your points on cutting administrative costs may be valid, but UO is no worse on that score than any of the other OUS institutions (whose presidents you didn't fire). You took something that was working relatively well (UO) and broke it. Criticizing the state's most generous donor in your piece shows just how messed up your thought-process was. Good luck finding anyone (other than a sock puppet) to take the job.

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      Just to clarify: Tim was on the state board nearly a decade ago - not now.

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        Thanks for the clarification. Tim supports the terrible decision, but he didn't do it.

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        I served '00-'03 on the board, which was an extra year because at the time the legislature was in such a gridlock the gov. could not make appointments. I studied public admin. in grad school and have worked at public universities around the country. I am also disabled now but feel I can still contribute from my keyboard. :-)

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    It is not a "wonderful opportunity for the Institution". We have just sent a message to those interested in the position that our main goal is to cut, cut and appease bureaucrats at the state level. Mediocrity is acceptable here in Oregon higher education. Your hired as long as you don't rock the boat or act progressively and do something wildly popular such as give some raise to badly needed staff. Cut, baby cut!

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      Cut, cut, cut is what our state is about right now. Any administrator who doesn't understand that is treading on thin ice no matter their job title.

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    Kari, Does this mean that he was on the state board before receiving an under graduate degree?

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    Tim, I don't understand all the ins and outs of this episode, but I agree with your point about the big expensive bureaucracy now in place at every U in the country. The current accretion of administrators probably outstrips even that in other areas of government. Administrators always pay each other well, and when you have, say, an assistant to the associate dean of parking paid more than twice the average pay of faculty, there's a problem. The heart of a U is the students and faculty and their work of teaching, research, and service to the U and to the public. Everything else must support that, or go.

    I'll even propose that paying the pres of a state U over a half million dollars a year has to stop. (And yes, I know that at big-time sports schools like Penn State or Ohio State, the pres gets way over a million a year plus perks.) And let's remember the perks a pres gets: a mansion on or near campus, a luxury car, a credit card for expenses, among others.

    The claim is always that ya gotta pay it or ya can't get a good leader. But I believe there are always very capable, qualified, often younger, candidates with teaching experience who would gladly do a good job of it for, say, merely 1/4 million a year plus perks. But most places now use headhunters who love the big bucks positions to fill, and many college presidents have started to imitate their Wall Street counterparts in estimating their self-worth. (I won't even mention millionaire sports coaches . . . .) That's all gotta change, and Oregon could be a leader into a new era of getting serious in higher ed.

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    There are two institutions that left higher ed - OPB (was part of higher ed, then the governors office, then a private non profit with the governor playing a role in appointing board members) and OHSU (was part of the U of O, then one of the 8 institutions of higher ed, then became a public corporation with structure similar to the Port of Portland). I worked at both before, during and after their transitions - today both are doing an excellent job serving their public mission and I believe a much better job than they would have done had they remained in higher ed. Prior to separation the state essentially is minority stockholder that exercises majority control. I don't know enough about the current U of O leadership issues to have a firm opinion, but I do believe that our current structure for managing public higher ed institutions does not cultivate innovation and excellence.

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      Look at tuition at OHSU now, and the out-of-state students to in state ratio since becoming a public corporation. Both numbers are shocking. I believe OHSU has one of the highest tuition levels in the world for that matter.

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        Thank you, Tim!

        The OHSU story is exactly the one we should be studying here! You are correct - their tutiton rates are shocking and the number or Oregon students able to get in is appalling. They should take the "O" completely out of their name - they provide essentially no opportunity for good solid Oregon students.

        And in my opinion, that is exacrly where Dr. L and his "generous donor" wanted to head with the U of O. Outrageous in every respect!

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        Tim, Yes, and a couple of years ago there was a scandal about the fortune the top administrators at OHSU paid each other (duh). As reported in the O, I think the top dog offered to take a serious pay cut the next year, or something like that, to get himself off the headlines (search the O for the details.) And so yes, we surely don't want to corporatize our public U's. Look at the damage the for-profits like Phoenix are doing to higher ed. Thanks to you for being on this issue and I hope you stay with it--

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    I'm not familiar enough with Lariviere's record or the state's higher ed system to have position on whether firing him was the right move. But I do know that several of my local politicians (Paul Holvey, Phil Barnhart, Chris Edwards, Mayor Piercy) and professors who I respect, and who have the knowledge to have positions on this, think it was a poor decision.

    The case can easily be made that he did some things that are fireable offenses, but that certainly doesn't mean that firing him was what was best for Oregon.

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    I continue to ponder this.

    I think the best possible outcome is a new president that a) is an aggressive advocate for the University of Oregon, b) recognizes UO's role as part of a state system and is willing to use his/her power to improve the entire system, and c) is able to work and play well with others.

    After all, you're not likely to be a successful advocate if you're not able to make friends and influence people.

    Being a university president (especially at a public institution) is inherently a political job -- and politics is about relationships. If you can't manage the relationships of potential allies, you're going to fail.

    In other words, we need someone with Lariviere's vision and passion, but with substantially more interpersonal and political skills.

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    What a muddle we have in public higher education in Oregon. On the one hand, one university president sought to create a more private, independent elite university (think Stanford North with some string to state government) by raiding public bonding capacities. The only way to create an elite (national and international reputation) institution is to pay more for faculty salaries and other programs. The only way to pay to such cost increases in Oregon is to raise tuition. Raising tuition prices many Oregon students out. We could have, in theory, a Stanford North, but the students would mostly come from out of state (and internationally). That would be ok with me.

    On the other hand, we have a timid Board of Higher Education, and now an Oregon Education Investment Board, neither of which shows any understanding of 21st century economics or educational technology. They have done nothing, and have no plans, to expand online learning opportunities (the most cost-effective means of higher ed) nor to expand foreign language (especially Mandarin classes) and economical study abroad programs (needed in an era in which all the markets for economic growth are abroad). Currently, they are tinkering, when more substantive changes are needed.

    Poor Oregon. Our political and educational leaders are letting us down.

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    I admit my comma splice errors and humbly apologize to the English language, and English educators everywhere. I feel this this is a good "oops" moment for me. :-) Sorry ya'll.

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    Three points -

    1. However well qualified or independent, the next UO President will inevitably be viewed as a stooge to the OUS.

    2. The State Board of Higher Education is appointed by the Governor, subject to approval by the Senate. The lack of independence from the governor has been disturbing. While the Lege didn't approve of Lariviere's plans, they still supported him. In other words, they didn't blame him for trying to innovate. The Governor did. I can't think of a better reason to change the ORS to require that half the Board be appointed by the Lege.

    3. Cost-cutting should be part of the solution. We probably need to cut administration and services and take a narrower view of the role of the University. It cannot be everything to everyone. Frankly, in light of the Penn State problem, it's a hard sell to say that the U should have it's own police force, not a police force responsible to a politically elected body. The U of O has to focus on educating students and conducting research, not providing health care, housing, food, IT support, and all manner of other services not directly tied to the educational mission.

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    Oregon is a tiny state with very limited resources and a huge budget gap. as a result, we have education battling social services battling the need for infrastructure investment ad infinitum. it's gruesome, destructive & bad for the entire state.

    to have the UO (or any other state entity) tell the rest of the state to piss off while doing their own thing is incredibly foolish. yes, UO could conceivably strengthen itself going that route, but i doubt it. if they became a private school, then everyone gets to pay private school tuition — Lariviere claimed his plan would bring down tuition, but we've had that smoke blown up out butts before.

    this is a state that requires all of us to be on the same team for any of us to have any chance to prosper. that means all the universities along with the community colleges. i'm glad the Board acted in this way. now they can select a president who'll work for the entire state, not against it.

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    I am far less conflicted than you are Kari. Based on what I know thus far, this was a terrible decision, and was made by an insular board and supported by a detached governor. I hope I am wrong, but I agree with a number of the posters above: this is going to make it very hard to hire a replacement.

    As to the Willy Week story, I would have to know more. Being silent in the face of a policy you agree with may not strike you as courageous, but in some settings, it's the right thing to do ("live to fight another day") and is surely not a fireable offense. You otherwise quote the person who led the board who unanimously voted to fire Lariviere--have you considered that Donegan may be putting out a public relations fire?

    Other reactions: 1) The claims that Lariviere wanted to "privatize" U of O are simply false. The plan was for the state (which by the way currently pays a grand total of 9% of costs!) to create a separate governing board, create a bonding mechanism whereby U of O revenues would remain predictable (though low), and allow U of O to set its own tuition and manage its own finances. "Stanford North"?? Please.

    After the last 25 years of mismanagement by the legislature and the Board, I'd think something new ought to be at least considered.

    2) U of O and the "whole state." It is not the job of the president of an institution to look out for the interests of all the other institutions--that's why we have an OUS Board and pay Perlsteiner all those big bucks! Yes, ideally it would be good for OUS and the U of O president to be on the same page, but if the Board refuses to take the steps to address a system that by most measures is mired in mediocrity and is only getting worse, what would you have a president do? Just shut up and wait another biennium and hope things get better (the Gov's suggestion)? We've been doing that for decades.

    Tim criticizes OHSU but this is the only school in the state that can even claim to be national class. The U of O is ranked below 100th--did you realize that, Tim (and no, I don't mean in football, the only investment the citizenry seems interested in).

    Get rid of student services? Are you kidding?

    The fact is that a number of state systems are thriving. They are systems that separate schools with research intensive missions from those with those that are primarily MA granting, are community colleges, or have other missions. In most of these systems, the state board is independent of the legislature and the governor, particularly in matters of admissions and tuition rates.

    And these institutions are in our economic competitors. I have in mind the UNC system, the Georgia system, the Texas system, Washington (all schools have separate boards), and until the recent budget meltdown, the UC and CalState system.

    These schools (all but UC) are hiring, are growing, bring in research dollars, and are economic engines for their state and region.

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      1) There are those that would have the U of O be a private school. This isn't anything new, and should not be a shock. Lariviere was simply walking in that direction. Bad direction.

      2) The leadership of Oregon has plans, I believe, for a better future for all Oregon university students. Yes, I am serious about cutting deans of students on every campus. Those are interesting comparisons of state systems. Thanks for your input Mr. Gronke.

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    At PSU, where I work, when our previous president Judith Ramaley ran afoul of the State Board, due in part to too much independent action, when she left they hired a president, Dan Bernstine, whom many at PSU disliked and felt to be a "stooge." Many felt we were being punished. But we made it through the Dan years, maintaining growth, and now have a creative, high-profile president in Wim Wiewel, who plays well with others. Personally I cannot believe that anybody is surprised Lariviere was fired.

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