Letters to the EditorOpinion

Commentary: Oregon University System ignoring students, search committee in decision

On a July afternoon in 2008, members of the University Presidential Search Committee gathered together for the first time. The immediate order of business was a presentation from Oregon University System Chancellor George Pernsteiner. He spoke to the present position of the University, where it needed to be 10 years from that date and the kind of leader we needed to take us there.

Former President Dave Frohnmayer had engaged in a noble and well-waged campaign to slow the rate of Oregon’s divestment in higher education. He had successfully kept the University thriving with the most successful fundraising campaign in Oregon’s history while, after 14 years, the University was falling below 10 percent state funding. The University had become the model for overachieving. Few institutions of higher education have been able to do so much with so little. Yet the University was at a breaking point.

Pernsteiner specifically stated that the Committee could not select a candidate who would simply kick the can down the road. The next president needed to be someone who wasn’t afraid to stand up with an idea that would challenge the status quo. This was the Committee’s introduction to the near impossible task of finding not only a replacement for Frohnmayer, but also the visionary leader who would take the University into a new phase of its journey.

Based on the Committee’s charge as directed by Pernsteiner, we have clearly found the right leader in Lariviere. As president, he has been a brave visionary who was hired to complete the very task he is now being fired for undertaking. With almost every performance measure available, he has been an absolute success. Private giving has held steady, the freshman class is smarter and more diverse than ever before and morale on campus is at an all-time high. One only needs to look at the widespread and almost unanimous support to see that Lariviere has become beloved to this community. Still, when the news broke about the ousting of Lariviere, I was hardly surprised.

Salem insiders correctly predicted the OUS reaction to the New Partnership when it was first released in a white paper in 2010. I was working in the capital at the time @@look at this [email protected]@and had the opportunity to speak with many legislators about the policy’s potential moving forward. This was a time when the budgets of state agencies were being trimmed with a chainsaw as opposed to a scalpel. The Chancellor’s office had long been seen as the embodiment of a top-heavy administrative system desperately needing reform. Policymakers quietly yet correctly predicted the Chancellor would aggressively avoid any controversy that would bring attention to his office. Further, because the University is the most powerful bargaining chip of the chancellor, they knew he would battle to maintain control. Lariviere’s proposal challenged that control. Tragically@@I’d say [email protected]@, that was Pernsteiner’s exact charge to the new president from the beginning.

Lariviere knew the University did not have the time to sit around and wait until it was politically convenient for the Chancellor to move forward with reform. Accepting the status quo meant accepting mediocrity, and the University should not and cannot fall to such a standard.

The sad irony is that a university is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, a place where new and innovative thinking should be celebrated. The message sent from OUS last week is clear: Attempt to stand up with a vision, and you will be pushed out before you can rise. It begs the question, though: What kind of president will we ever be able to recruit from this point forward under the current governance structure? Any leader who looks at this potential position will see that to succeed, they will have to get in line with a bureaucracy that has proven to be largely ineffective at stemming the tide of divestment and disinterest for higher education in Salem.@@due to lack of [email protected]@

There is a reason the vast majority of the Search Committee were immediate members of the University community — the faculty, staff, students and alumni of the University know what is best for our future. Yet, none of these stakeholder groups were consulted in the decision to remove Lariviere. If given the opportunity to speak, the message would have been loud and clear as it is now. The University community overwhelmingly supports our president, Richard Lariviere, and will continue to do so to the very end.

Sam Dotters-Katz@@http://senate.uoregon.edu/category/year/[email protected]@

ASUO President 2008-09

Member of University of Oregon Presidential Search Committee

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