So what does the UO’s complicated restructuring plan really mean?
Nike billionaire Phil Knight, the UO mega donor who some critics have said has too much power over the public university, told the Oregonian Dec. 5 that it’s about going private and raising tuition.
Knight told the paper that he supports and was consulted on the restructuring plan the UO is lobbying for in the state legislature. “It’s to take a step – I hate to use the word because it’s an oversimplification – but to take a step toward becoming more of a private university.”
As more of a private university the UO president “can set his own tuition. He’s hamstrung in the sense he can’t charge more tuition than the Legislature will let him do for in-state kids.”
The UO had a plan for privatizing the university and raising tuition in response to dramatic budget cuts in the early 1990s, but the plan failed in the state legislature. The Register-Guard reported in 1993 on a study of UO privatization in a story headlined: “Making UO private would save little money; A legislative report says that higher tuition would drive away students and force cuts in faculty.”
The legislative report found that the plan would about quadruple in-state tuition. Such a dramatic increase would out-price about 60 percent of students causing a big reduction in enrollment, according to the study. The loss of students would force the UO to lay off large numbers of faculty and staff who would take their federal grants with them, the RG reported.
Privatization “would not only sharply reduce access to Oregonians but also have wrenching consequences for the economy of Lane County,” the RG quoted the report.
The UO has not said how much tuition would increase under its new restructuring plan. The UO has also changed significantly since 1993 with higher out of state tuition increasingly making up for reductions in state funding. Knight told the Oregonian: “It’s become the University of California at Eugene. That’s the result of the current Legislature’s policies.”
The state university of New York (SUNY) chancellor has proposed an autonomy/restructuring plan similar to the UO’s proposal. A hedge fund billionaire raised “hackles” this year when he made a big donation conditional to approval of the plan, the New York Times reported. But recent press reports have the SUNY plan failing in the legislature due to concerns from unions and fears that tuition increases will reduce access to higher education.
This week, the Oregonian reported that the Oregon State Board of Higher Education opposes the UO autonomy plan, instead favoring an autonomy plan of their own.