November 22nd, 2011 | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Legislature, Sports, Politics

Lariviere Out as U of O President (Updated)

     
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lariviereRichard Lariviere - PHOTO: Leslie Montgomery

WW has learned from three sources that Oregon University System board members met with University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere on Monday, telling him that when his contract expires in June, it will not be renewed. Gov. John Kitzhaber surprised Lariviere by affirming that decision in a 4 p.m. meeting today.

Lariviere became president of the state's flagship university on July 1, 2009, replacing Dave Frohnmayer. He came from the University of Kansas, where he was provost, and brought a brainy (he has a doctorate in Sanskrit from University of Pennsylvania) and sharp-elbowed style that was refreshing to some, and  offensive to others. He gave substantial raises to U of O faculty in the teeth of the recession, spoke provocatively for a college president (comparing college athletics to Lady Gaga) and, in his most controversial move, shopped an idea to have the the state sell $1 billion in bonds, which U of O would then match with private fundraising.

That proposal died in Salem a death of many cuts, some from those who thought the financing scheme highly risky and some from those who were angry at his efforts to put the U of O on a separate and unequal track from the six other universities in the state system. Even so, Lariviere continued to pursue further independence from the Legislature, whose financial support for higher education has shrunk over the past decade. 

A little more than a year ago, Lariviere was hammered by former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, when the U of O president undercut an effort to save money via a state-wide furlough plan.

This past summer, the OUS board chose to extend Lariviere's contract for only one year, rather than the more typical two or three. That move signaled he was on thin ice and yesterday, the board told him the ice could no longer support his weight.

Late today, Lariviere telephoned friends and supporters with the news, including State Rep. Val Hoyle (D-Eugene).

Hoyle says after speaking to Lariviere, she is extremely disappointed the board chose to let him go.

"I very proud of the job he has done," Hoyle told WW. "He dared to try new things and he didn't just tell people what they wanted to hear. He had plan and he had students and donors behind him. I just think this sends a terrible message."

Hoyle was one of many lawmakers who voted for two bills in the 2011 legislative session that will provide far greater autonomy to the university system. She says the board's decision to let Lariviere go makes her wonder if lawmakers were smart to give the university system more freedom.

"It really brings into question whether we made the right moves," Hoyle says. "And I'm questioning whether I made the right vote. After this, I've got to wonder how we're going to attract someone of Lariviere's caliber again."

Lariviere could not be reached. OUS spokesman Di Saunders declined to comment.

Update Nov. 23: Following WW's report last night, Lariviere's office released the following letter. "I was told I could resign or accept the termination of my contract," Laviviere writes, blaming the state higher ed board's action on an "ongoing difference of opinion over the future of the UO."

Dear Faculty, Staff and Students:

I received news on Monday in a meeting with the chair of the State Board 
of Higher Education that my contract as president of the University of 
Oregon will not be renewed. I was told I could resign or accept the 
termination of my contract, which runs through July 1, 2012, and I am 
weighing those options at this time.

This turn of events is a result of the ongoing difference of opinion 
over the future of the UO. But meaningful change often turns on 
uncomfortable moments, and it is my hope that I will be leaving the 
university well-positioned to take advantage of ongoing reforms to our 
state’s system of public universities.

Since becoming the UO’s 16^th president in July 2009, my focus has been 
on enhancing the education of our students at Oregon’s flagship public 
university. I have sought to do this by focusing on our critical public 
mission and tapping the brilliance and innovation that resides here 
among our faculty, staff and students.

The UO has had a leading voice in public discussions that resulted in 
this year’s legislative overhaul to the structure of Oregon’s entire 
educational system – from early childhood education through 
post-doctoral studies. Our bold ideas have led to the promise of 
additional changes in the not-too-distant future, including eventual 
consideration of our proposal for individual universities to form local 
governing boards.

But our primary mission has been to provide educational opportunity and 
academic excellence, and you have taken both to new heights. Enrollment 
is at an all-time high this year, topping last year’s record enrollment. 
Much has been made of our ability to attract out-of-state and 
international students, but we are also educating more Oregon students 
than ever before. This year’s freshman class is the most diverse and has 
the highest grade point average of any incoming class in UO history, and 
we have raised freshman-to-sophomore retention to a new level.

We are what great students look for in a university. We are different, 
and embrace difference. We have brilliant, dedicated faculty, 
cutting-edge research, and award-winning programs. Through careful 
financial stewardship we were able to give well-earned salary increases 
to faculty and staff. The UO’s research grant funding is setting records 
as well.

Even though the past 2 ½ years have been difficult economic times for 
our entire country, we have generated a quarter of a billion dollars in 
private gifts at the UO and we have half a billion dollars in ongoing 
construction projects.

One of my proudest accomplishments is the concerted advocacy for public 
policy, governance and funding changes to strengthen the university and 
the entire state. I remain hopeful that honest debate and the 
exploration of new ideas – whether academic or political – will be 
celebrated and encouraged.

I wanted you to hear this news from me personally, not read about it 
elsewhere. I encourage all of you to channel your energy into advancing 
the momentum we have built together.  Thank you for the great work you 
do.  I am intensely proud to be your colleague.

Sincerely,

Richard Lariviere

Update 3:30 pm: Nike chairman and top university donor Phil Knight had this to say about Lariviere's removal in a statement today:
"It deeply saddens me that some people in power in our state continue to drive Oregon into a death spiral with their embrace of mediocrity.  It's yet another application of Oregon's Assisted Suicide law.

For the Chancellor and the State Board of Higher Education, a "team player" is someone who falls in line with their acceptance of mediocrity, and the one who strives for excellence does not fit in.  Let us hope that the Oregon community can take this astonishingly bad decision and recognize that it does not have to define us.  We still have the collective capacity to rise up and do great things."

 
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