Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 12.1.11

A Clear Violation

Kitzhaber outlines case against Lariviere

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gov. John Kitzhaber released the following public statement Nov. 26. It has been quoted widely and published online, but we have not yet seen it in print.

First, let me say that the situation involving the Oregon State Board of Higher Education and Dr. Richard Lariviere has nothing to do with an “ongoing difference of opinion over the future of the University of Oregon,” as Lariviere suggested in an email sent out to faculty and students last Tuesday.

My education strategy includes building a world-class, innovative system of higher education that delivers better results for students and serves as an engine for our state’s economic recovery. Achieving these goals requires all of our university campuses, the Oregon University System and the State Board of Higher Education to be pulling in the same direction.

While the timing of the board’s action on Lariviere’s employment contract may come as a surprise to some, the possible decision to terminate his contract should not, given his record.

There have been a number of well-publicized incidents involving Lariviere that have eroded trust and confidence with the Board of Higher Education. He disregarded board direction on more than one occasion. His decision to bypass the board and lobby for increased independence for UO was a clear violation of policy and made our larger, collective efforts to advance system-wide reform much more difficult. Consequently, Lariviere’s employment contract was limited to one year and included specific performance standards in an attempt both to alert Lariviere to the seriousness of these issues and to create an opportunity to rebuild trust.

But his conduct has not changed.

Most recently, after agreeing face-to-face with the other presidents to limit compensation increases given the state budget’s severe revenue constraints, Lariviere unilaterally granted substantial salary increases to his administrators and faculty. Unlike every other university president in the state, he disregarded my specific direction on holding tight and delaying discussion about retention and equity pay increases until the next biennium to allow for a consistent, systemwide policy on salaries.

His decision not only undermined the board, it undermined my own directive and the credibility of my administration with the other campuses that complied with the agreement. I am not saying that retention increases are not warranted — they are — but the faculty retention problem is not unique to UO. By acting alone, Lariviere has created significant difficulty for other schools.  At Portland State University, the increased pressure on the administration continues to prevent successful conclusion of contract negotiations with its faculty. His actions show little regard for the needs of the rest of the university system, other campuses, and the state.

Lariviere’s popularity in the UO community speaks for itself.  But evaluating his performance requires more. His responsibility to the Board of Higher Education and his contribution to the larger issues and success of the entire system fall short. Indeed, Lariviere’s actions have done damage to our vision for higher education and other institutions of higher learning; and, ironically, have served to undercut his own aspirations for UO.

His vision for the UO ultimately needs the support of the governor, the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate and a majority in both chambers of the Legislature. That does not exist today. I am personally committed to the concept of local governing boards and seeking new funding sources for Oregon’s universities, including consideration of an endowment funding model, but  Lariviere has made the path to reform much steeper. Indeed, the orchestrated media blitz over the past few days has made some of those who are not warm to his ideas even more resistant.

In my opinion, should the Board of Higher Education decide to terminate Lariviere’s contract on this basis, it would be fully justified from an executive management standpoint. Any private sector CEO faced with a division manager who was totally dedicated to his or her specific department but willfully and repeatedly undermined the needs and goals of the overall company would, I expect, fire the manager — and probably after the first instance of such behavior; not the second. And few would be sympathetic to a call for special treatment.

The Board of Higher Education is a group of thoughtful and dedicated Oregonians — many of whom have executive management experience themselves — and I am confident that their decision will not be arrived at lightly but only after much deliberation. I intend to fully support them as we pursue excellence in higher education across the state of Oregon.

John Kitzhaber, M.D., is a graduate of South Eugene High School and Oregon Health & Science University. He was an emergency room physician in Roseburg, was elected to the Oregon Senate and authored the Oregon Health Plan. This is his third term as governor of Oregon.





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