OHSU, Portland State University, Oregon State University and Portland Community College are taking an unusually pro-active political stance to push a concept called "The Oregon Idea." The four academic institutions have set up a slick website and are encouraging supporters to employ social media to spread the word.

Effectively, their "Idea" is aimed at pressuring lawmakers and Gov. John Kitzhaber to move forward with initiatives that give all higher ed institutions more autonomy and more support.

Those ideas are included in some pending legislation, most notably Senate Bill 242. But that plan conflicts with a competing plan, embodied in Senate Joint Resolution 20 that the University of Oregon is pushing. That plan would have the state issuing up to $800 million in bonds to boost the U of O's endowment. (The U of O has committed to matching that amount with private fund-raising).

The letter [PDF] announcing the "Oregon Idea" notably does not include U of O President Richard Lariviere's signature, nor is his institution mentioned on the "Idea" website.

The atmosphere in the Capitol over higher education is evocative of Civil War hostilities between Oregon and Oregon State. Except in this case—instead of taking on the U of O by itself—Oregon State is aligned with OHSU, the other members of the seven-campus Oregon University System and the community colleges.

In theory, the Oregon University System lobbies for the common interests of the seven campuses and the individual universities cannot lobby. But the ever resourceful University of Oregon Foundation, a private non-profit that exists outside the OUS system, has come to the U of O's rescue. The foundation has hired a flock of contract lobbyists, including the Gallatin Group, Dave Barrows and Phil Donovan.