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Q&A: UO Board of Trustees chair Chuck Lillis on the role of the board and future of the univeristy

Chuck Lillis is the chairman for the University of Oregon’s new Board of Trustees. Lillis grew up in Kansas City and has his bachelors and masters degrees in business administration from the University of Washington, and went on to receive his doctorate from the UO. He has spent years in business academia as the former dean for Colorado’s three business schools. Lillis also ran a fortune one hundred company, Media One, which was a broadband provider to 22 countries. Recently, Lillis was asked to be a trustee by Governor John Kitzhaber and was appointed chair shortly afterward.

Q: How would you differentiate the responsibilities of the board from that of the president?

A: Well the president works at the pleasure of the board. One of the board’s responsibilities is hiring presidents, deciding how much to pay them, evaluating performance, all the normal things. It’s like a board or a corporate environment in that regard. Every board at every university has a unique relationship with their president and we’ve looked at a lot of what we would see as models. Our preference here as a board is that we’re very careful not to be seen running the university, we don’t think that’s the right approach at all. We think it’s much more appropriate for the president and the dean’s staff to run the university. We have retained as a board a document that describes what responsibilities the board will retain and which ones we will delegate to the president and beyond. That document basically would say that the board will involve itself in policy issues, deal with undergraduate resident tuition, manage and retain the president however we can, but we won’t run the university. So good example is the board is not involved in collective bargaining and negotiations, that’s the job of the people that run the university. None of us are really qualified to run the university, none of us on the board.

Q: Can you speak a little bit to the growing concern that the the University of Oregon will remain ostensibly a public university, but is appearing to be a little more private?

A: Well it’s a public university, both by history and by choice. Some people like to say that we are really just a private school, I would say financially we are really a private school that the state provides about $50 million of a roughly one billion dollar operating budget so, the rest of that has to come from tuition or grants or gifts or whatever. But I think if you think about how much money Oregon investors and taxpayers have put into this university over the last hundred plus years, you know they have committed major money, and I think it’s important that we not forget that, and that we remember we have some kind of unique and special responsibility to the residents of Oregon. But from a funding standpoint, we would look much more like a private school.

Q: What is tuition going to look like for students in the future?

A: Well we have the agreement as part of the change in governance model that created this board that we will not increase resident undergraduate tuition more than 5 percent a year, without getting approval from the legislator.

Q: What about non-resident?

A: We can do pretty much what we want to do in non-resident and we can pretty much in graduate. So the issue is very interesting. The better the school, the higher quality the university and the more you will receive in tuition payments and more importantly the more you will get to use as scholarship money.

Q: What are you looking for in terms of the new president?

A: When I think about what the most important attributes are of the president, having once been a faculty member, I think faculty work best if they are confident that the president of the university understands what it’s about to be a faculty member. That’s not true at Stanford, I’d say Stanford could go hire Jeff Immelt who’s the CEO of GE and probably everyone would say that’s a brilliant move, but I think for Oregon it should probably be somebody who has strong experience in the university administration system, who holds a Ph.D or something similar in terms of degree and someone who has superior communication skills.

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Alexandria Cremer

Alexandria Cremer