At the start of the new term, students aren’t the only ones getting settled back into campus. The University welcomed the start of a new year with a new University President: Robert Berdahl.
Berdahl was appointed interim University president by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education after the firing of former President Richard Lariviere in late November. No stranger to the University nor to holding an executive position, Berdahl will serve as president until a permanent replacement can be appointed by the Presidential Search Committee.
“I’m willing to serve until whenever somebody is willing to take the job,” Berdahl said. “Whether that’s July 1st or June 15th. But hopefully we’ll have somebody in there by the beginning of the school year.”
Berdahl worked as a history professor here at the University from 1967 to 1986. He then worked as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1981 to 1986 before jumping into the world of administration. He previously served as president of the University of Texas, the Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, and most recently as the president of the Association of American Universities from which he retired back in June.
His return to the campus began mid-October when Lariviere — five weeks before he was fired — hired Berdahl as his part-time special assistant. Berdahl’s job description was to provide counsel on higher education funding and academic planning. He worked two days each week under a $96,000 annual salary.
“I was taking a temperature of the campus,” Berdahl said of his role as a special assistant. “I met with all of the deans and talked with them at length— mostly meetings with people.”
Berdahl said that Lariviere’s firing came as a surprise and left him very upset.
“I can’t say whether he foresaw it, but I certainly didn’t. It felt like a bolt of lighting,” he said.
Berdahl was first recommended as an interim president candidate by the University Senate. The OUS officially selected him for the position on Dec. 9, the last day of Finals Week during fall term.
“We are very pleased that Dr. Berdahl will be providing leadership to the University of Oregon during the coming months as the search for the next president is underway,” Board President Matthew Donegan said. “His long tenure in leadership positions in higher education and support of the broad University community make him a natural fit.”
Other University administrators are also supportive of Berdahl’s leadership and believe that his many connections from a long career throughout various parts of the nation.
“He understands the University of Oregon, and he knows the kind of president that would fit,” Provost Lorraine Davis said. “He’s been at institutions that ascribe to excellence, and he has close affiliations with potential candidates.”
Berdahl hopes that he can play a helpful role along with OUS in the search for a permanent replacement for Lariviere. However, in interviews and in his speech to the University Senate Wednesday afternoon, Berdahl has repeatedly said he wants the University to be governed by a board independent of OUS. Berdahl would like to see this before the permanent president takes office.
“An independent governing board is essential to the recruitment of a strong and successful president,” Berdahl said. “I believe the moment is right for change.”
In the coming weeks, Berdahl and the rest of the campus community will have the opportunity to nominate people to the presidential search committee that will be headed by state board member Allyn Ford@@http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/10/allyn_ford_appointed_to_oregon.html@@. Berdahl intends to work closely with the board and the search committee in order to find the best possible candidate to lead the University.