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A Clash of Views Over Education
-by Scott Rohter, December 2011

University of Oregon president Richard Lariviere had his supporters.  They were mostly alumni, faculty members, staff, and administrators whose salaries he had raised during an era of State budget tightening.  But Lariviere was not a man to be deterred by mere budget cuts, or by the State Board of Higher Education, or even by the Governor’s office,  all of whom he ignored!  He had a vision, and no one could ever accuse Mr. Lariviere of being pennywise or small minded.  But whether he was a lone visionary, or just the University’s prodigal son will be hard to ever know, because he was abruptly fired yesterday, November 28th 2011, after several warnings, and an unusual clause in his contract was exercised giving him just 30 days to pack his bags and vacate the University President’s office.

Lariviere also had his fans and supporters among the student body, although that is a little bit harder to understand why.  Maybe it is because while attending the U of O, these students never learned how to perform basic arithmetic, or to add  2 + 2 and come up with 4!  Perhaps that’s because they were under the overpaid tutelage of one of the University’s over paid math professors, Frank Anderson who recently retired with an annual PERS pension of $242,510 dollars!  Maybe his students at the U of O can’t understand simple math because he left his graduate students in charge of teaching his classes too many times.  (Do you think?)  It could be why they fail to comprehend the most basic mathematical skills of how to operate within a budget.  If the costs of operating the University increase, then the cost of tuition will also increase.  It’s just basic math, something that a math teacher earning $242,510 should be able to convey to his students.  But for whatever the reason is that these University students don’t understand it, and they support ousted U of O President Lariviere, the high salaries, and the high PERS pensions of their faculty is a big part of the reason that their tuition is so high! 

Thanks are in order to the Portland Oregonian, and the Statesman Journal for suing the U of O to obtain the information regarding faculty retirement pensions.  Under their public records requests, the U of O was ordered to release the requested information which they previously had sought to deny.  I wonder why the University under Mr. Lariviere’s fine leadership would have tried to deny a legitimate public records request, by two of the state’s major newspapers.   The last time I checked, the U of O was still a publicly funded University.  Oh, but I almost forgot, that wasn’t exactly what Mr. Lariviere had in mind for our State University, was it?  Mr. Lariviere might have done better if he had applied for a job as the President of a private university rather than to try to change the U of O into a private university without the support of the Governor, and the approval of the State Board of Higher Education.

Richard Lariviere was fired over his plans to create a private, self-sustaining source of funding for the University of Oregon that would have made it financially independent of Salem!  But the people of Oregon own the land that the University is built on, and they have paid for the construction of most of the buildings. The University belongs to all the people of Oregon and as such, the people through their elected representatives should be in control, not some select group of private donors!  He continued to push for his ‘New Partnership Plan’ in spite of the Board’s disapproval, and his promises not to do so, according to Matt Donegan who is the president of the State Board of Higher Education.  Governor Kitzhaber said that Richard Lariviere was not a team player!  After his ‘new partnership’ proposal was turned down by the State Board of Higher Education, Mr. Lariviere decided to go over their heads, and take his proposal directly to the Legislature.   That was viewed as a direct challenge to Governor Kitzhaber and to the Board of Higher Education.   Because he was trying to push his own agenda through the legislature without their support, they viewed him with suspicion.   Hence, the term they used to describe the reason for firing him, “an erosion of trust.”

The Governor and the State Board of Higher Education has their own vision for the University of Oregon’s future, and it obviously doesn’t include Mr. Lariviere as its President!  They might have thought he was a little insubordinate, or a little too independent when they voted unanimously to terminate his contract without cause Monday night, and invoked a special clause in his contract giving him only 30 days to pack up and get out.  Obviously their action was taken with Governor Kitzhaber’s whole hearted approval, since the Board serves at his discretion. Some of the comments that Board President Matt Donegan made were, that Mr. Lariviere disregarded the directives of the Board.  He didn’t attend the required Board meetings as his contract stipulated.  He side stepped the Governor’s use of mandatory furloughs to control costs, by allowing University employees to use their accumulated overtime to compensate them for their lost wages.  This was a direct challenge to the authority of the Governor, and to the State’s primary role of financial oversight of the University.  Later when the State Board of Higher Education refused to support his plan for a new source of funding for the U of O which would have made it largely independent of Salem, he took his proposal directly to the State Legislature, going over the Board’s heads.  Three months later in the face of mounting opposition he withdrew his proposal altogether.  Two months after that he approved more U of O pay hikes again, without the Boards consent!   When they renewed his contract in June 2011 they inserted a new condition that he attend the Board meetings, which he did not, and a specific clause that he could be terminated without cause by giving him a 30 day notice was inserted into his contract.    Three months later the Board learned again, about another round of pay raises, this time to faculty members and administrators! The University President obviously seemed out of control!

Richard Lariviere came here to create a new and independent status for the University of Oregon, with an increased roll for private funding.  He wanted to take the University out of the realm of State politics and State budgets, and put its future largely in the hands of its biggest private donors!  He wanted to take the State’s flagship University out of the jurisdiction of State government, at the same time that Governor Kitzhaber was seeking to consolidate his own control over State education in Oregon.  The Governor and U of O President Richard Lariviere have two different views for the future of the U of O.  When those views met this week in Portland the Governor’s view prevailed!

"The truth, the political truth, and nothing but the political truth.
A journalist has no better friend than the truth."
- Scott Rohter

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