The sudden departure of yet another University of Oregon president leaves more questions hanging than answered about why the state's premiere university can't keep a leader.

Michael Gottfredson quit yesterday after only two years on the job, and one year short off the end of his three-year contract to run the UO. The change comes as the new University of Oregon Board of Trustees begins to take a firmer hold on the direction of the university.

In his resignation letter, Gottfredson—hired two years ago from the University of California, Irvine—said he got done what he sought to do at UO and he wanted to return to his scholarly work. "My scholarly interests beckon, and (wife) Karol and I are eager to spend more time with our family,” he said. 

UO Board of Trustee members aren't talking, aside from a canned, cautious statement from Chairman Chuck Lillis.

Gottfredson replaced the controversial but popular (in university circles, anyway) Richard Lariviere, who proposed sweeping changes in the way UO was governed. Gov. John Kitzhaber and his State Board of Higher Education fired the independent-minded Lariviere in November 2011.

The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond fairly sums up some of the major pressures on Gottfredson:

A seasoned university administrator in his first presidency,

Gottfredson led the university as it negotiated its first contract with its new

faculty union, prepared for a $1 billion-plus fundraising campaign that never formally launched, and was ensnared

in scandal over its handling of sexual assault allegations against three basketball


As Hammond points out, the "wanting to spend more time with family" trope is a clear sign he was shown the door.

Certainly the sex scandal involving allegations of rape against three UO basketball players—and the UO's unsuccessful efforts to keep it quiet in its massive mishandling of the case—didn't help.

The irony here is that Gottfredson is by training a criminologist, who developed a theory as to why criminals act the way they do—called the self-control theory of crime. The publisher of Gottfredson's landmark book on the topic (written with Travis Hirschi) says, according to Gottfredson  "the essential element of criminality is the absence of self-control. Persons with high self-control consider the long-term consequences of their behavior; those with low self-control do not. Such control is learned, usually early in life, and once learned, is highly resistant to change."

What's the real reason Gottfredson—who made $440,000 a year as UO president—is leaving?

The same thing driving most things at UO and high ed: big donors and big money.

The Register-Guard's Diane Dietz may have gotten closest to the truth about Gottfredson's departure. She interviewed Bill Harbaugh—a UO professor, persistent critic and author of the blog UOMatters—to weigh in.

Here's what Harbaugh told the R-G:

“There were the botched administrative hires,”

[Harbaugh said], “the pointlessly contentious relations with the faculty over

academic freedom and the union contract, and the secrecy about the basketball

rape allegations.

“But I’m guessing the final straw for the Board

of Trustees was that the donors didn’t seem to think much of his leadership,

either. Instead of the expected UO independence surge, donations actually fell,

from $200 million last year to $100 million.”


UPDATED: The Oregonian's Hammond this morning came back at the question of Gottfredson's fund-raising prowess. Her conclusion: He wasn't all that different from presidents who came before him:

“[T]he $115 million the UO raised during Gottfredson's second

year, 2013-14, is solidly in line with past years' totals. And the $200 million

that UO raised during his first year as president was the second-best in UO

history, due in large part, of course, to donor relations built before

Gottfredson set foot in Eugene in summer 2012….University of Oregon officials say 2012-13, with its

$200 million in private donations, was an unusual year due to money pouring in

for one-time capital projects. The biggest was the very large gift from Phil

and Penny Knight to build the dazzling football complex,

said to have cost $68 million or possibly much more, that opened last summer.During the most recent year, fundraising totals fell

back to a routine level of $115.2 million." 

UPDATED: The UO's board of trustees on Thursday night appointed former dean Scott Coltrane as the university's new interim president. He's expected to serve for at least a year while the board searches for a replacement. 

In an email to campus, board president Chuck Lillis hailed Coltrane's accomplishments: 

"The Board has great confidence that Scott is the right person to guide the University forward at this pivotal moment in UO history. He has a proven track record of creating positive change, working with the great talent in our faculty, celebrating the accomplishments of the past, and setting ambitious goals for the future.

Scott is also instrumental to our new strategic plan that will pave the path in competitive excellence that is essential for the UO to excel on every stage we compete. His dedication to the University’s mission, and enthusiasm for the future, including our new campaign, position him well to lead our campus as we develop a process and execute a comprehensive search for our next President."

They also agreed to write Gottfredson a severance check of $940,000 The Emerald's Troy Brynelson reports.