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.
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."