The meeting was a sham.
That in and of itself should not come a a surprise.
We knew Lariviere was going to get fired. There was no doubt about that coming in.
What was frustrating was the arrogance displayed by the State Board of Higher Ed. After listening to an hour of public testimony, they had the audacity to come back with pre-prepared statements. After listening to public concerns about lack of transparency and trust, the Board has the audacity to lecture on the importance of transparency and trust. While showing how out of touch they are by saying that all the outrage came as a surprise.
My first reaction was emotional. And my first (and now deleted) thread on the subject was overly so.
That said, no amount of protest is going to bring Lariviere back. Nor should that be the goal at this point. We have to move forward, and that's going to include a number of things.
The Board of Higher Education, whether they like it or not, has a major mess on their hands. People are very angry, and rightfully so. And I think a lot of people are more angry about the process than the decision itself. That University stakeholders, students, faculty, and alumni were not kept in the loop, then patronized when they finally got a chance to speak. Clearly, Lariviere was a difficult man for the politicians to deal with. But he also embodies what a lot of us feel: that our chance for greatness is now, that we can't continue to be held back so that other univerisites in the system don't feel bad, and we certainly can't wait for years for a broken system to deliver results. The Board has a lot, and I mean A LOT, of work to do to build trust and respect with the University community. They cannot do that until they acknowledge their own faults in that process. That was something they were not prepared to do tonight. Perhaps, after reflection, they will be.
But what needs to happen in this state is a serious discussion about the future of higher education. Our system is archaic: a system of seven members, each with different goals and missions, all being treated exactly the same. That's not going to work. We need all of our public universities to give a good education. But equality for all means mediocrity for all. The University of Oregon has resources available to it that aren't available to other schools in the system. That may not be fair, but you're never going to build Western Oregon into a giant research university with a large donor base. That's just not a feasible goal. But you could build the University of Oregon into a great University, rally the donor base to more of its operations, and give the savings to Western Oregon for them to improve their school. It can happen. But for this to happen, the U of O needs to have a board whose sole purpose is to further the Unversity of Oregon to make this so, and they need to be able to make decisions in the best interest of the UO without having to worry about hurting feelings at other institutions. In facts, I'd argue that Oregon State and Portland State could each benefit greatly from independent boards as well--still accountable to public oversight, but dedicated to what's best for each particular institution. That is the way forward.
There is going to be a lot of outrage on campus and around the University community this week. This is a good thing. But the goal shouldn't be to punish. It shouldn't even be to bring Lariviere back. It should be to make sure that we are heard. That our vision can live on. Real change is hard, but this is the kind of catalyst that can get inertia going. The Board of Higher Education tonight has forced us to work with them. Now, we must go through the process of making them to listen to us. Only when both sides of that equation are understood can we move forward.
Richard Lariviere is a great man, but he is one man. To win the game, its going to start with winning the battle of public opinion. That's not going to happen if we come off as elitist. That's not going to happen if we all give up on the dream. But we have the facts and the logic on our side. If we continue to have the dialogue and build the relationships, it can happen.
Two immediate issues come to concern. The Board of Higher Education will have to select a new president, and it is imperative that they recognize the importance of listening to the UO community on the hire. The other is the next legislative session, which will determine what the new higher education model under the Governor's education reform package looks like. President Donegan said that he supported the idea of independent boards, and I will take him at his word on that. We need to cultivate the public demand to make this happen.
Tonight was a setback, but it wasn't a game ender. We have to keep fighting the good fight. Morale is going to be down for awhile and, despite Dave Yader's insulting attempt to put all of that responsibiltiy on the University, the Board itself is going to have to work to improve that with how they move forward and work with University leaders. Like it or not, we have to work with them. The University's reaction will be predictable. If the Board responds with defiance, this mess is going to get really ugly. If they can do what they didn't do tonight--which is show respect and allow involvement for stakeholders other then themselves, perhaps we can move forward. The University community has a responsibility to be receptive to that--but if the Board maintain the status quo, they also have a responsibility to demand it.