Over this sleepy Thanksgiving weekend, dissenting views continue to surface over the decision by Gov. John Kitzhaber and the State Board of Higher Education to oust Richard Lariviere as president of the University of Oregon. As WW reported earlier in the week, Lariviere was informed that his contract would not be renewed, and while the explanations from the State Board of Higher Education have not been terribly detailed, a number of sources believe it has, in part, to do with Lariviere's decision to give 1,300 professors and administrative workers raises earlier this year, at a time when other universities were holding the line, a move that annoyed public employees unions (even thought the funds used to raise salaries came not from the state, but from tuition and private giving).
Today, a number of deans at the U of O released a letter of support for Lariviere, (who was often seen wearing a fedora, which explains the slogan, "We Stand With The Hat" that has been making the rounds). In addition, WW has learned that the state board of Higher Ed and chancellor George Pernsteiner received an email of protest from Larry Singell. Singell is a former associate dean at the University of Oregon and is now a dean at Indiana University. More importantly, however, Singell is considered a national expert on the economics of Higher Education. Here is his email:
Dear Chancellor Pernsteiner and Board Members,
As a former long-time faculty member and administrator at the University Oregon, I felt an obligation to take time out of my Thanksgiving day to communicate with you about how your decision is being viewed from outside the state. As I believe some of you know, I work on the economics of higher education. It is widely understood among researchers that, because the state of Oregon is at the forefront in the dis-investment in higher education, the state-centralized systems that were put in place to govern an institution when it was a state-financed institution are no longer viable now that it is largely financially independent of the state. Thus, the independence plan put forward by President Lariviere is generally considered to be a creative and necessary step to properly align governance with the new and present realities where the state is a very limited financial partner. It is also understood that, while this will both benefit the UO and the instate students who attend the institution, the one body that is ultimately harmed by this action is the state governing body. Thus, you might see how the decision to remove a President who effectively represents the collective interest of the people who serve and who are served by the UO might be rightly viewed as an effort to protect political turf at the expense of constituents served by the UO. Even worse, because you have signal a willingness to fire someone who represents these constituents, you that have made it highly unlikely that someone with vision will want the job for fear of suffering the same fate. I know that it takes both wisdom and courage to reconsider your decision, but I very much believe you are on the wrong side of history and I can only hope that you can demonstrate scuh character. On a day where we are all giving thanks for our blessings, I am very sad to say that I feel thankful that I am no longer in the state that I have a deep affection for and that called home for 23 years.
Larry D. Singell
Professor of Economics
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences