Legislature pushes back against Board secrecy, closed meetings, 40-40-20 goals

InsideHigherEd has the full report, here. Worth reading it all:

How transparent should a public university governing board be?

Politicians in a number of states, who often say they’re responding to concerns from constituents, have been calling for appointed or elected governing boards of their public colleges, universities and systems to be more open, particularly when it comes to public meetings.

“There seems to be little trust in the trustees today,” said Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “There are calls for governing board members to show their work and how they came up with the conclusion, instead of just showing up with their outcome.”

Suspicion of public officials is nothing new, but, in the case of board members, it’s ramping up as more and more people are concerned with hotly contested issues like college affordability and presidential compensation, says Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an organization that is often critical of college leaders and supports board activism. “It’s a natural and somewhat tempered response to the failings of the institutions themselves,” he said. …

Most of the article is about UNC. Here at UO, our new Board has got off to a rocky start under Chair Chuck Lillis. The most serious part has been a failure, so far, to deliver on the tit-for-tat: the UO boosters got independence, in exchange for raising lots of money to substitute for declining state funding. Instead it’s been the state that has increased its funding, while too much of the donor money has gone to sports facilities such as a new $16M softball stadium complete with jumbotron.

Missteps have ranged from holding meetings when school was not in session, sudden power-grab over academic policies, last-minute distribution of dockets, decisions about presidential buyouts, hiring, and athletic raises that were apparently made before the public meetings, a big push for an irrelevant “sports product design program” in the midst of a crisis over our status as an AAU research university, and then most recently a clampdown on public dissent from other board members, and an unusual parliamentary move that extended Lillis’s own term by a year without an explicit vote. The student member of the board, Helena Schlegel, resigned on principle after that meeting. See video of her testifying at the legislature below.

Meanwhile the Faculty representative, Susan Gary (Law) who was apparently nominated by Kitzhaber on the basis of her friendship with Dave Frohnmayer, took off to Hong Kong for a year’s sabbatical last year in the middle of her term. The UO Senate voted unanimously to have an open process for recommending replacement faculty candidates to the governor, but in the chaos over the Kitzhaber resignation she slipped through with another 2 year term. Interim President Coltrane and BOT Chair Chuck Lillis recommended her reappointment without even telling the faculty.

Now the HECC and Ben Cannon have stepped up their pressure on the independent boards over transparency, and the Legislature held a hearing a few weeks ago. Docket here.

It’s clear that the boards, and the UO Board in particular, have gotten the message that there are many concerns about their performance. This is the context for the “chats” Trustee Susan Gary has tried to arrange with faculty (last I heard attendance was zero – maybe she did better the second time) and the more useful meetings between faculty and the other trustees that Angela Wilhelms has been organizing. It’s still to be seen if this is just window-dressing, or if some board members are beginning to realize that they are not going to make UO better without cooperating with the faculty, or if they’ve got the message from the HECC and Kate Brown that the State is not going to put up with a board that picks pointless fights with its faculty and students. Here’s UO Senate President Randy Sullivan’s message to the Trustees, full text on page 39-40 here:

 Lastly, many of our colleagues were deeply disappointed to hear of the resignation of student Trustee Helena Schlegel in protest from the Board of Trustees.   Many of us worked long and hard to ensure that students, faculty, and staff would have an effective voice in the governance of this public university and we are chagrined to learn that that system does not appear to be being honored.

Video of the legislative hearing here, with UO Poli Sci Prof Joe Lowndes explaining how the board has isolated itself from students and faculty:

and here’s former UO student trustee Helena Schlegel, giving a very balanced perspective explaining what’s good about independent boards in general, and areas that need to be improved, such as add a graduate/professional school student seat. She’s very professional, and only after being asked about the news reports does she explain why she resigned: a struggle to get heard, not treated equitably and listened to by some trustees, frustrated to see the board not follow its own procedures.


The RG’s Diane Dietz has a preview of the Dec 2-3 Board meetings, here:

A proposal to offer students guaranteed tuition for four years, a plan for upgrading residence halls and a roundtable discussion on race relations are on the agenda when the University of Oregon Board of Trustees meets Wednesday and Thursday in Eugene. …

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