OSU President Ed Ray fills page in newspaper

9/12/2010: Ed Ray, OSU President – and an economist – has a long Op-Ed in the Oregonian, bemoaning falling state support for higher ed. It’s the usual we provide a public good so taxpayers need to give us more money. That ship has sailed, what’s plan B? Does he support Lariviere’s “New Partnership” or does he think it will hurt OSU, and is he going to lobby the legislature to reject it?

And here is an Rachel Bachman interview with Ray from last month, on sports, if you are into that sort of thing. He is much more upfront about OSU’s athletic subsidies than UO has ever been.

Lariviere and Walth on "New Partnership"

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.

Reimagining the public university

5/12/2010: President Lariviere sends this to the faculty yesterday: “I am writing to share the University of Oregon’s white paper, “Preserving Our Public Mission Through a New Partnership with the State.” Bill Graves of the Oregonian has a good story on the proposal and reactions to the proposal. I took a quick peek, the plan is for a constitutional amendment that would:

a) Ask the state to underwrite an $800 million bond sale to add to the UO endowment (matched by private donations.) The state pays off the bonds from tax revenue, UO gets the investment earnings instead of the tax revenue as currently. This is a bet that in the future the state legislature will be even less supportive of UO than currently (or even more broke.) Not big stakes though, the earnings will be a small portion of the UO budget.

b) Take UO oversight authority away from the OUS system wide Board, replacing it with a UO Board of Directors. One non-voting faculty representative. Not clear how much of our theoretical faculty governance role we will lose, or how much of the theoretical protection we get via state laws and regulations. This is a bet that future governors will occasionally appoint wise and honest people to this powerful board, and not just use it as a political payoff. Huge stakes. It could be pretty good, it could destroy UO. Kulongoski’s record on this is horrible. In other states it has been mixed to bad.

Michael Redding put this proposal together. It is very detailed. This is a serious and innovative proposal. It is clear there is a lot of skepticism in the legislature. Chancellor Pernsteiner and OUS Board President Paul Kelly have the predictable reactions. This is round one in a long fight.

Any chance it will work? Well, see this link on what those ignorant, anti-science, anti-tax Texans did in response to a referendum proposal to raise taxes to support those pointy headed liberal professors in Austin. Too lazy to click? OK, I’ll tell you – they voted for it. The catch was the professors had to say what they would do in return for the money.

Personally, given how much tax and tuition money UO is currently wasting on people like Frohnmayer, Moseley, Martinez, Dyke, Daugherty and their ilk, I’d like more reform before this goes much further. $245,700 to Frohnmayer for teaching 47 students, 1/2 time? $220,000 to Martinez for pushing paper? $125,000 to Moseley for fishing in Bend? $120,000 to Davis for proctoring exams in Hawaii? This is bullshit and it makes us all look bad for putting up with it.

Obviously there will be a long debate about this proposal over the coming months, my hope is that Lariviere continues to sweep out Johnson hall in the meantime. It would make this proposal much more credible.