University seeks more independence from State Board, Chancellor Pernsteiner

After the firing of University President Richard Lariviere, the University and campus community are looking to become more independent from the State Board of Higher Education while remaining a public university.

Faculty, staff, students and community members alike were stunned by the sudden firing of their leader back in late November. Many people felt betrayed by the Board for not having a say in the decision-making process that led to Lariviere’s firing, and now the University and some campus leaders are looking to set up an independent governing board for the University.

“It is essential to the hiring of a quality president for this University to have its own governing board,” Interim President Robert Berdahl said.

Berdahl advocated for the creation of an independent governing board in his first meeting with the Board’s governance committee last Friday. He said an independent board should have the authority to hire and fire a president, issue revenue bonds, prioritize building projects and design an affordable framework to meet the needs of the University.

Other administrators and campus leaders also believe that independence from the Board is what’s good for the future of the University and are backing Berdahl in his endeavors to get an independent board before a permanent replacement for president is found. The University Senate even approved a motion back in November that outlined the establishment of a University Board of Trustees.@@[email protected]@

Many faculty and staff members also feel that the trust has been betrayed by the Board, and that independence is the only way to achieve excellence at the University. Economics professor Joe Stone@@[email protected]@ believes that the University needs its own governing board due to increasing state disinvestment in higher education.

“State funding is so low that each (Oregon) institution needs to be able to develop and pursue its own unique strategy for success as much as possible,” Stone said. “Each institution needs more flexibility and independence in order to serve its particular constituency of students because they are not all the same.”

While many advocate for independence, some students think that independence from the Board may lead to less student involvement in decision-making, including setting tuition.

“I think the most important thing to remember is that we are a public university, and a public university should have statewide coordination,”  ASUO President Ben Eckstein said. “That’s the best shot we have at keeping education accountable to Oregon families.”

Eckstein said removing legislative and statewide oversight of the tuition-setting process has historically led to unilateral tuition increases, specifically in Texas where the higher education system was deregulated.@@[email protected]@

“I don’t think it’s about the chancellor, (and) I don’t think it’s about the Oregon University System,” Eckstein said. “I think that it’s about whether we want to maintain strong oversight and keep this institution accountable to the students.”

OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner@@[email protected]@ maintains his desire for a strong relationship between the OUS and the University but said he recognizes the University’s need for more flexibility. Pernsteiner said he is willing to work with the University and that last Friday’s board meeting with Berdahl was a successful step in the right direction.

“Berdahl used the opportunity then to make a proposal for how he would like to see some of the major policy issues that were raised in November addressed,” Pernsteiner said. “The important thing is that we have identified the major issues, and we’re having constructive conversations about them as we evolve a proposal to bring to the Oregon Education Investment Board and then onto the governor to propose them in the 2012-13 legislative session.”

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