Friday, December 9, 2011

Robert Berdahl named interim president for the University of Oregon

This statement was released at 5:30 pm on Friday, December 9:

Dear faculty, staff, and students:

I am pleased to report to you that the Oregon State Board of Higher Education has asked me to serve as the interim president of the University of Oregon and that I have accepted their invitation.  I do so with a mixture of excitement, sadness, determination, and gratitude.

I am excited to return to the UO, where I came as a young faculty member and spent important years of my intellectual growth in the presence of wonderful and stimulating colleagues, some of whom remain on the faculty or engaged in the ongoing life of the University.  Although the UO is a much different institution, and a substantially better university than I left twenty-five years ago, I still feel that I am truly coming home.

However, I am saddened by the circumstances that have led to my assuming this position.  I believe that the UO has made important progress on all fronts under the leadership of Richard Lariviere and I have made it clear that, whatever its reasons, I believe the Board of Higher Education made a serious and damaging mistake in terminating his presidency at the UO.

I am also moved by a determination to carry forward the important agenda President Lariviere has outlined for the campus: taking important steps toward the development of genuinely independent governing board for the campus, continuing to assure alumni and supporters of the University that investing in this institution will yield substantial dividends for the State of Oregon, and working with Oregon leaders to restructure and improve all levels of education for Oregonians.  I have said repeatedly that the quality of the University of Oregon is better recognized outside of Oregon than within it.  We must work to persuade Oregonians of the treasure they have in the UO and why it deserves their support.

Clearly, securing a highly qualified permanent president who shares our visions of innovation and academic distinction will be among the top priorities for my term as interim president.  The University’s next president will have unprecedented opportunities to work with other higher education leaders and Oregon lawmakers in setting an ambitious course for the future, expanding the UO’s impact throughout the state and the world.  I intend to assist in recruiting the next president in whatever way I can.

Finally, I am filled with gratitude to the faculty and staff for the confidence you have expressed in me.  It will be difficult to meet the high expectations you have set for me or to provide the quality of leadership provided by President Lariviere, but I commit to you that I will do my best.  I look forward to working with you all as we move forward together.


Robert M. Berdahl

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Faculty pass resolutions condemning board process

The UO Statutory Faculty met en mass today in Mac Court and heard statements from the Chancellor and State Board of Higher Education member and OSU professor Lynda Ciuffetti (kudos to them, especially Lynda, for attending a difficult meeting). A few pictures here. News coverage: KMTRKEZI, Register Guard, OPB.

The highlight of the afternoon was the entrance of President Lariviere to thunderous applause and not a few tears (here's some cell phone video). It was difficult to observe his reception and not to understand how crazy this whole process has been. When does any organization have such support for their leader -- especially an organization comprised mostly of headstrong academics. It is a real tragedy and a wasted opportunity. But the current power structure means that the UO must move on.

Many effective and impassioned speeches from faculty and students followed. The strongest statement of the day came from Pete DeFazio (thanks UO Matters).

The faculty then unanimously passed four resolutions:
1) A motion copied almost verbatim from a faculty resolution passed in 1987 when Paul Olum was fired by the State Board. Apparently not too much progress has been made, although the provides 65-70% less funding in 2011 dollars now, so the financial incentives of being subservient have lessened.

2) A motion calling for the establishment of an independent board of oversight for the UO.

3) A motion calling for the Chancellor to follow a recommendation from the Senate for who should be the interim president.

4) A motion calling for a State Board meeting on the renewal of the Chancellor's contract before the end of the year (when it is due to be renewed).

The major theme that emerged from the Chancellor's comments throughout the day today is that the actions that President Lariviere was taking were counter to the interests of higher education in the state as a whole, even if they appeared to be good for the UO.

The equity versus excellence issue is a difficult one in the public's mind. As this process moves forward, it will be important for someone (perhaps our newly activist marketing program) to reverse this message and show how an independent board structure is not selfish, but instead benefits public education in the state.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The financial benefits of excellence

Here are the numbers of budget funding sources and how they have changed over a three year period. Note that the state fraction has dropped by 50%. Also note that all categories except state funding are much higher now -- the capacity of the university to invest in education has increased by 25%. Gifts and grants show the largest percent increase, but an equally important category in terms of total amount is tuition and fees. Some of this has come from tuition increases, but for the most part those increases have been used strictly to balance losses in state funding. Most of that increase is driven by the increase in enrollment, especially for out of state students.

Tuition and Fees
State Appropriation
Gift, Grants & Contracts

Three main points here:

  • Somehow President Lariviere was able to lead the university to unprecedented growth despite the worst economic climate in the state in many generations. When you include the investment multiplier of this spending, this is a multi-billion dollar impact on a state that is seriously struggling. Was this at the forefront of the minds of the governor and board when they considered how much President Lariviere annoyed them? Shouldn't their vision been a bit broader in terms of the students and citizens of the state?
  • The areas in which the budget has been able to increase are in "prestige funding." These are the grants, gifts and out of state students that have been flocking to the university because of our rapidly increasing reputation. Again, this is largely a flow of funds from outside the state to inside the state. It does not seem that the folks making these decisions have thought much about these numbers.
  • The raise in faculty salaries (totaling a few million dollars) in a time of fiscal hardship has drawn much of the attention. First, tax dollars from hard pressed citizens did not fund these raises. Second, OUS member institutions were already empowered to make salary decisions for their academic staff. President Lariviere apparently only perturbed the Governor in his desire for salary freezes; there was no official policy at stake here (i.e., it is all about politics, not finances). Third, this set of employees had just doubled their financial impact on the university while working several years under frozen wages. UO faculty make 80% less than faculty at public peer institutions and are constantly being poached by other universities. Was it a good management decision to adjust their salaries in this climate or to risk the hard fought gains of the last three years by losing them? Perhaps whichever state manager who is currently calling themselves the CEO in this circumstance can explain the proper business case here.
And for those students wondering why tuition keeps increasing, check out the chart below. The central feature of the New Partnership agreement was to stabilize the level of state contribution in order to generate tuition stability over the long term. This is still a worthy goal, not properly acknowledged by the OUS.

Statutory Faculty meeting

There will be a statutory faculty meeting Wednesday afternoon at 3:00 in Mac Court. Faculty should plan to arrive by 2:45 so that they can check in for voting purposes. For procedural reasons the meeting actually officially begins with a University Senate meeting at 3pm, followed by the broader meeting at 3:10.

Live coverage of the meeting will be provided by the UO Channel here.

The entire university community is invited to attend. It is likely that motions will be entered in support of President Lariviere, in support of establishing a separate oversight board (independent from the OUS) for the UO, and perhaps a motion calling for an evaluation of the renewal of Chancellor Pernsteiner's contract, which must be decided upon by December 31.

Pernsteiner himself will be in attendance, as will a representative of the board. This is an important opportunity to move the university ahead on a positive path forward.

Rally success!!

The UO community held a highly successful rally today at noon outside the EMU. Lots of press coverage (we'll provide links as they come available, add them to the comments).

The main themes to emerge were a great sense of loss of President Lariviere. Many great testimonials regarding his outreach and diversity efforts. Also, many speakers emphasized the need to continue the President's vision of an oversight board that is independent of the OUS.

Here is the updated fact-sheet and informational flyer that was distributed at the rally. Pay special attention to the financial figures in terms of state support. It has decreased 50% in the last three years, down to less than 6% of the total budget.

Rally flyer

Rally today at noon!

There is a rally today at noon at the EMU amphitheater. While we still want to support our president, it is important to start moving onto next steps.

There are two main issues:
1) Input form the UO community was not sought. It was also clear that the State Board does not know and does not care about the impact of their decision on the University of Oregon. Board President Donegan touted the fact that he had "spent a whole day on campus" since becoming president. The process here is broken and political, and does not serve the best interests of the university system or the state.

2) The UO needs an independent oversight board that is responsive to the needs of the university. Board President Donegan is to be commended for breaking protocol and at least attempting to address some of the concerns of the audience (the rest of the board in no way participated in an open meeting process). However, his description of his distress of seeing how wonderfully everything was going at the UO and then having to return to the difficulties facing the board generated by President Lariviere's actions seemed especially telling. It is not about him and how hard the life of the board is. It is about building excellence in higher education within Oregon, which is exactly what President Lariviere was doing. Falsely pitting the UO against other campuses is a complete canard, since the state only supplies 5.8% of the UO's funding. Whose funds the UO stealing exactly? In fact, the UO has been subsidizing many of the other state universities for years.

The issue at hand is exactly the opposite of the State Board's position. Building excellence in higher education in Oregon is dependent on each university being allowed to play to their unique strengths. The entire state benefits from the increasing reputation of each of its member institutions. It brands the state as a place that businesses that rely on well-educated employees can come for innovation and engagement. It allows natural rivalries to be based on who is doing things the best, rather than how an unnecessary bureaucracy can attempt to keep all institutions uniformly mediocre.

It is time to aggressively push forward the need for an independent board. The OUS is irrelevant to this discussion. It the State Legislature and the Governor who must build on the outrage of this broken process to provide a future path for excellence within a state that no longer provides adequate support for higher education for the benefit of its citizens.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lariviere given 30 day termination

The State Board voted at 5:56 pm to terminate President Lariviere, with his termination taking place on December 28.

Chancellor Pernsteiner will be visiting the campus this week to consult with UO faculty and administrators in order to identify an interim President. He would like the board to name the interim next week.