Our University reaches its crisis moment as the Oregon Board of Higher Education moves to strongarm UO into perpetual mediocrity

As much as we love sports, in the grand scheme of things, they just don't matter.

I love that our football team has become a national power, that our entire athletic department has become world class.  But I would trade it all for a world class chemistry department, a world class mathematics department, a world class law school.  While we love to celebrate the football victories of recent years over the likes of Cal, Washington, and Michigan, the fact is that, when it comes the core mission of our University, we sit in line woefully behind the great public institutions of our nation, mired in a perpetual mediocrity.  I had hope that one day soon, we could truly call those great universities our academic peers.  Sadly, recent actions by the Oregon Board of Higher Education have taken away all hope.  Our University has reached its crisis moment, and it is a moment we may never get back.

As you are no doubt aware, the Board of Higher Ed has opted not to renew the contract of Unversity of Oregon President Richard Lariviere for the next school year.  Lariviere was hired because he was seen as an innovative and out of the box thinker.  Lariviere has more than delivered on this expectation.  He has taken on the issues that, more than anything, have caused UO to be stuck in the rut of mediocrity: paltry state funding, substandard faculty pay that makes the University a stepping stone job for many of the brightest professors, crushing annual tuition increases, and a small endowment. He has attempted to meet those issues head on.  Unlike the excuse makers on the Board, Lariviere sought out of the box solutions to the problems that have plagued us for generations.

What Lariviere didn't like to do was stoke the political egos of the Board.  He knew that, in order to achieve greatness, the University needed its own board, independent of the directional schools which have always held a disproportionate amount of clout with the Board.  He also advocated creative solutions that could increase the University's endowment, and provide more stable funding than the massive fluctuations given by the state.  When the Board was unreceptive to his ideas, he appealed directly to the legislature, irking those on the Board who wish to retain total control over their cash cow.  It seems his decision to give raises to many UO faculty this fall, in order to curb the longstanding tradition of excellent professors going elsewhere in search of a market value payday, was the final straw for the Board.  Of course, we can't know for sure, since they refuse to comment on "personnel matters."

Make no mistake, this move by the Board is a power play, pure and simple.  Lariviere has a vision of excellence for this school and, when the Board, the same Board that has failed us time and time again over the last century with their incompetent leadership, stood in the way, Lariviere made the bold decision to leap to greatness without them.  But the board has made their decision clear.  The University of Oregon must not be allowed to rise up over our directional schools.  More importantly, their appointed and unchecked power over the UO must remain steadfast, even when many of their primary allegiances lie elsewhere in the state.  The Board has proven their incompetence time and time again but, as we see so often in politics, concentration of bureaucratic power and massaging of political egos takes precedence over much needed change.

The Board announced this decision during Thanksgiving week, no doubt hoping that with campus shut down, all will have been forgotten by Monday.  This gutless decision by the Board has no doubt backfired.  All 36 department heads of the College of Arts and Sciences signed a petition to reinstate the President.  The UO Senate called an emergency meeting on Wednesday to do the same.  And the Alumni Association strongly criticized the move, urging their members to write the Board, the Legislature, and the Governor.  Outrage both on the campus and among alumni have has actually spread over the weekend.  On Monday, massive protests are planned both outside Johnson Hall, and at the Board meeting at Portland State where Lariviere's termination is expected to be finalized.  Later in the week, a teach-in will be held, and a Statutory Faculty meeting will be held, and a vote will be taken on a motion of no confidence in the Chancellor and the Board.  Many are asking for a "fedora out" to show support for Lariviere at this weekend's football game.

Sadly, once Lariviere is gone, the UO's foundation becomes very, very unstable.  After a well loved and extremely innovative and forward thinking President is fired in a power play, it is almost a guarantee that no quality candidates will want this job.  The board simply wants a puppet who will execute its tired, failed decisions, and will likely end up with a retread--a career administrator at a directional school who takes the job because its his only shot at a payday.  Nobody with any actual vision will take a job where vision is to be shunned.

But, more importantly, this Board clearly cannot continue to exercise control over a University that has no respect for it.  The people associated with the University want to acheive greatness.  The Board's attempts to quell UO will be met with contempt, as they have unleashed a fury in the faculty, students, and alumni.  Instead of consolidating power, the decision will further desires by those associated with the University to have its own board, not adjoined with the other universities in this state, but who will work exclusively to further the University of Oregon.  I am glad that protests will happen.  I want them to shut the whole campus down.  I encourage all of our alumni to cease any donations to the school until Chancellor George Pernsteiner and President of the Board Matt Donegan submit their resignations.  Should the Board reaffirm their decision on Monday, there can be no mistake about what the respone must be.  Independence, or complete chaos.  The Board cannot run an insitution that has no respect for it.

In the meantime, I encourage all those who care as much about this University as I do to contact the Board, the Legislature, and the Governor and let them know that you do not appreciate a future of mediocrity for our beloved alma mater.  I will be taking Monday afternoon off to attend the rally at the Board meeting.  This is expected to take place at 3:00 PM in the Academic and Student Recreation Center at Portland State University (1800 SE 6th Ave.).  If you love this University as much as I do, please join me in protesting the Board's egregious decision.  Show this state that we will not accept a future of mediocrity.

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