Gov. John Kitzhaber on Monday submitted his list of nominees for Oregon State University’s new governing board to the Oregon Senate and – while you never can tell for sure with the Legislature – it would be a surprise if the Senate didn’t confirm the slate.
OSU officials submitted 18 names to the governor. Kitzhaber couldn’t choose all of them, because the state law that sets up these governing boards for OSU, the University of Oregon and Portland State University limits the size of the boards, a limitation that probably is wise. (Oregon, for example, submitted more than 40 names to the governor; if you can hold a full-scale football scrimmage with your board – and still have substitutes on both sides – your board is too big.)
The names that made Kitzhaber’s cut will give OSU a governing board that’s heavy on real-world business and educational experience, from Pat Reser of Reser’s Fine Foods, a longtime OSU benefactor, to Elson Floyd, the president of Washington State University. (For the full list of nominees, check out the online version of this editorial.) The board, which will have a statewide and Pacific Northwest flavor, should serve OSU well.
In addition to the names submitted by OSU officials, the list includes four mid-valley nominees, meant to represent different constituencies at the university: Mark Baldwin, an analyst and programmer at OSU’s Information Services Division, will represent the staff. Brenda McComb, dean of the OSU Graduate School, will represent faculty.
Taylor Sarmon, a sophomore majoring in political science at OSU, and executive director of government affairs for the university’s student government, will represent students.
OSU President Ed Ray will hold an ex-officio position with the board.
These governing boards will hold substantial power over university affairs. The legislation that made them possible, Senate Bill 270, represents a major shift in how Oregon governs its public universities.
For example, each board will assume responsibility for setting business policies, establishing tuition and fees, overseeing academic programs, submitting a budget directly to the Legislature and supervising the university president.
Those are matters of obvious and great public interest. Which means this is as good a time as any to point out that these boards – and their universities – need to be committed to carrying out their duties in the open.
Frankly, this might be a relatively new experience for some of the board members – and look no further than the city of Corvallis’ Economic Development Commission and the board governing the mid-valley's coordinated care organization to find examples of boards that have needed some time for their eyes to adjust to the public glare.
Which is why OSU needs to go the extra mile to make sure that its governing board operates in the most public way possible.
OSU officials have vowed to do that. The board will be governed by Oregon open-meeting laws, they say. It might be worthwhile to give board members a primer in that law. OSU says it’ll use every tool at its disposal to promote meeting times, agendas and pending decisions.
Considering that the board likely will meet at various locations around the state, the university says it’ll consider providing streaming video from each meeting – a good goal.
Especially considering what’s at stake as these boards find their bearings, it’s essential that this grand experiment in university governance be carried out in the sunlight.