We’ll know in the next few weeks whether Oregon State University will follow the lead of two other state universities and form its own independent governing board.
But we’ve heard nothing this summer to change our earlier assessment that OSU officials, feeling that they have little choice, reluctantly will move ahead to establish a board.
OSU’s main fear, as explained by President Ed Ray, is that the university will lose a considerable measure of budgetary control and flexibility if it doesn’t establish its own governing board at about the same time as Portland State University and the University of Oregon.
Senate Bill 270, which passed the Legislature in the session’s final hours, allows those schools the ability to set up their governing boards, which would oversee university affairs and supervise the president. Universities with governing boards would have greater flexibility to set tuition, could issue revenue bonds and manage their own real estate.
The bill gives OSU the option to set up a board of its own. Ray (no fan of independent boards) and other OSU officials have been pondering the matter and soliciting opinions from a variety of sources.
In a last-minute compromise meant to win support from Oregon’s smaller universities, the bill was amended to allow those schools – Southern Oregon, Western Oregon, Eastern Oregon and Oregon Tech – the ability to decide if they also want their own governing boards. They can make that decision between March 2014 and June 2015.
The regional schools may want to delay their final decisions as long as possible, to give them a chance to take a long look at how the board idea plays out for the state’s three largest universities.
This is, after all, a fundamental shift in how the state’s universities are governed. We frankly are skeptical that Oregonians will be better served by a system in which each public university essentially is free to pursue its own agenda.
Who will speak for the broader aims and goals of the state’s system of higher education? A gutted Oregon University System and Board of Higher Education? The relatively new Higher Education Coordinating Commission, the duties and scopes of which still are unclear?
It’s a recipe for a mess. And the whole idea has a certain faddish feel to it: Everyone on the block needs to have one of these newfangled governing boards just to keep up with the neighbors.
We’ll see how OSU proceeds – and if the school decides to move ahead, as seems likely, we’ll soon be able to take a look at the people Gov. John Kitzhaber (presumably with plenty of input from OSU) nominates to the board.
Let’s hope those nominees come with a high tolerance for ambiguity. There will be plenty of that to go around during the next few years in Oregon’s system of higher education.