a sobering opinion

1/19/2011: Tony Van Vliet is a serious guy with a long and distinguished career as a professor at OSU and as a real public servant. And he is pissed.

Van Vliet was state representative from 1975-95, was a Ways and Means Committee member for 17 years and later was a member of the state Board of Higher Education. His Op-Ed in the Gazette Times rips into Larviere’s plan and legitimizes the opposition to it in a way that George Pernsteiner never could. Read the whole thing.

This bad idea repeats history

By Tony Van Vliet 

It seemed hard to get any rational discussion about saving higher education in Oregon while the euphoria of a football team occupied so many column inches. But a recent article by Chairman Norm Brown of the University of Oregon Foundation and Fred Poust of the UO Alumni Association requires a response.

The title “We need bold action to save higher education” is a plan that has been floated by two UO presidents to save their institution — and not any of the other six universities in the system.

The plan is built around the idea that they are starving for funds more than the rest of the system. As campuses have grown — some more than others — the amount of allocated state funds has not kept up. This then leads to a lower percentage of funds received.

They use the terms “bold” and “partnership” as if saying it enough will make legislators buy into the idea.

By having five boards of university regents in 1929, each competing for scarce funds, the Legislature formed the state Board of Higher Education to oversee the campuses.

There is no shortage of boards, advisory groups or commissions on each of our campuses. It is a planned distraction that will allow the UO to legally side-step the state system in requests for dollars. They imply that other quoted systems work better, without admitting they are all in trouble fiscally.

The real crux of all this is they wish to legally lock in $63 million annually (their budget allocation) for paying the debt service on $800 million in state bonds for UO’s endowment. Wouldn’t all the remaining institutions love to lock in their annual allocations? And to add to this sweetheart deal, they want it for 40 years! Well, folks, after that, then what? They want to be free of the system that has built most of their campus since it was established.

Phil Knight may be the only one who has honestly alluded to the dream that the UO should be a private university, maybe modeled after Stanford (a university he also loves). No one can fault the best benefactor any university could want for wishing this.

Let’s not take valuable legislative time end-running the board’s better proposal, hiring a big-gun lobbyist and maybe costing the UO another president, as it did in the 1980s. It’s self-serving and arrogant to treat their fellow university presidents as non-existent and the state board as unworthy of solving their problems.

However, another solution is to make their dream come true.

First, UO President Richard Lariviere can raise another $800 million on the wings of a great football season.

Phil Knight can slowly pick up the annual cost of operations. They would sever themselves from the state entirely. PERS accounts and health payments switched to private enterprise. All state bonds would be changed to private bonds and the people of the state repaid. And, most important, we would not repeat 1995 by giving away all control, use, or sale of state property to a so-called public/private corporation.

A 30-year mortgage on the replaceable or assessed value of their land, buildings (not built with private funds) and equipment would be paid to the people of the state and used as a rainy day fund for Higher Education. The University of Oregon would now become Oregon University.

That becomes a far more straightforward approach than running these hidden agenda ideas as being a bold way to save higher education! It could be done this year.

Thanks to OUS spokesperson Di Saunders for the link. She never posts anything critical of OUS, but this sort of thing makes her cut no problem!

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