New Partnership and trust

3/8/2011: The RG has an editorial that reads like a wake for the New Partnership plan:

President Richard Lariviere’s proposal to fund the University of Oregon’s operations with a public-private endowment is going nowhere in Salem, even after he offered to include a cap on tuition increases as part of his plan.

I hope he pulls off a hat trick. You just know he wears it for a reason. Meanwhile, here is a post from 6 months back. Both are still worth reading. Read the part from Walth at the bottom. This was a “trust me” proposal, and there is very little trust in UO, at any level, still. The good things that have been done – some financial transparency, firing Grier and now Dyke – have been canceled out by the DPS mess, parking, graduation, the Denecke and Geller hires, the no faculty CFO search, ORI, and so on.

Perhaps more significantly, the legislature does not seem to trust our administration either. If this fails Lariviere should try again. He needs to spend the interim shoring up trust with the faculty and the students, as well as the legislature.

8/28/2010: The Oregon Quarterly magazine has two interesting articles on the “New Partnership” plan, one by Pres Lariviere, one by Oregonian reporter and Tom McCall biographer Brent Walth.

Lariviere’s article lays out the plan:

A state funding commitment of about $63 million per year, less than the $64.9 million amount allocated in 2009–10, can be used over thirty years to make annual debt payments on $800 million in general obligation bonds. The UO will match the $800 million in bond proceeds with money raised from private donors and manage the combined $1.6 billion as an endowment. … Our proposal calls for the UO to trade its prospects of a state reinvestment in public higher education for a predictable—though minimal—level of support. That reliable income stream will then create an incentive for increased philanthropic investment in the University, and the state’s base level of support will be capitalized in a manner that best fulfills Oregon’s promise to offer Oregonians an affordable higher education.

Walth’s article – well worth reading it all – gets into the backstory:

Lariviere recalls having dinner one night with two major UO supporters, who were then trying to woo him to accept the University’s presidency. Lariviere says he was intrigued about coming to the UO but was not yet convinced. At one point, one of the donors turned to the other and asked, “Shall we talk to him about the freedom movement?”

Lariviere perked up. His dinner companions told him the UO’s current relationship with the State of Oregon—the very relationship that spawned and fostered the University for more than a century—was a wreck. The state’s repeated cuts to Oregon’s public higher-education system and the UO in particular had gone so far that the University might as well be private. Lariviere says he told his hosts he didn’t want to take the UO private. They told him they wanted to keep the UO public but find a way to bring it the financial stability it now lacked. “That,” Lariviere says, “was something I could get behind.”

 … The plan has already run into opposition in the legislature. That’s not surprising, given that the plan—at its core—is about power. Lariviere’s plan would give the University more power than it’s ever had to control its own fate. Under his plan, the UO would be overseen by its own board, appointed by the governor. The board would have final say over major UO decisions, such as hiring top officials, its budget, and setting tuition.

One rumor is that Lariviere extracted a promise from OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner that he would support the New Partnership plan before he would accept the job. A promise Pernsteiner promptly broke by having his staff draw up their own alternative plan that puts the power in OUS’s hands.

I like the ending of Walth’s story, on motivation for the concrete efforts Lariviere has been making on transparency, including firing Melinda Grier, establishing a new public records office, posting basic financial data on the web, and promising further financial transparency. It is clear that Lariviere understands that his proposal is to some extent a “trust me” proposal – and people still don’t trust UO:

The University has faced similar criticisms about its reputation for excessive secrecy, especially in regard to what some perceive as foot-dragging when it comes to responding to public-records requests. My colleague at The Oregonian, columnist Steve Duin, wrote that the UO had “adopted a code of secrecy worthy of the KGB”—especially around UO athletics and Phil Knight ’59, chairman of Nike and the University’s megadonor.

Lariviere says the Bellotti mess (he actually used a barnyard epithet instead of the word mess) helps to make his point about transparency and accountability: He believes a board dedicated to running the UO would have demanded more transparency in the first place and never allowed the University’s athletic director to work based on a handshake deal. Similarly, he has already responded to criticism about public-records foot-dragging by creating a public records ombudsman who will track and make posts on the Internet about the way in which the UO deals with every public records request it receives.

Lariviere says it might take years to rebuild the trust the UO has lost. “The legacy of mistrust is pretty deep,” Lariviere says. “I don’t understand it. I understand there is mistrust. I don’t understand what gave rise to it or why the policies were in place that gave rise to mistrust.”

Actually, at this point I think Lariviere has a pretty good understanding of why there is so little trust, and of why Frohnmayer was so intent on hiding so much of what happened at UO during his 15 years as President.

But regardless, I don’t think it will take that long to rebuild some trust, at least internally. Things have already changed a fair amount. It’s crucial that the new public records office follows through on its promise of course.

Another problem will be the secrecy of the UO Foundation, which will have an expanded financial role under this plan, and which Attorney General Kroger has recently ruled is exempt from Oregon’s public records law – an exemption which the Foundation shows every sign of exploiting to the hilt.

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