UPDATE • U of O president's future decided as education reforms take effect

The State Board of Higher Education unanimously voted to terminate University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere's contract Monday evening.

Meeting in Portland, the board agreed Lariviere will only remain U of O president through December. The board will meet in the near future to choose an interim replacement.

The vote followed hours of testimony from Lariviere supporters who argued he had the best interests of the U of O at heart.

The decision came at a time of change and uncertainty in the management of the state system of higher education. The controversy is unfolding as a series of education reform bills supported by Kitzhaber and passed by the 2011 Oregon Legislature are taking effect. One would seem to support Lariviere's backers. Senate Bill 242 removes the Oregon University System from state agency status to allow greater flexibility in policy and budgetary decision-making.

But another bill creates a new board intended to create a unified and coordinated education system from preschool through higher education. The Oregon Senate confirmed Kitzhaber's appointments to the Oregon Education Investment Board on Nov. 19. It is now authorized to hire a Chief Education Officer for the state and prepare education reform recommendations for the 2012 Legislature.

The exact relationship between the two boards is unclear. A member of each one spoke during a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Portland Business Alliance on Nov. 16. Asked about the relationship, Julia Brim-Edwards, now a member of the investment board, said the two were important partners. But Jill Eiland, the vice president of the higher education board, described the relationship as a little foggy.

Both Brim-Edwards and Eiland agreed the goal of the reforms is to guarantee that more Oregon students graduate from high school and college.

Lariviere became U of O president in July 2009. His management of the school became controversial before and after the reform bills were approved. In May 2010, Lariviere introduced a New Partnership Initiative intended to establish a local governing board for the school and create a public endowment to stabilize rising tuition costs. He agreed to stop advocating for the initiate and support the reform bills during the session.

But after the session ended, many legislators were shocked to learn Lariviere had authorized $2.8 million in raises for over 1,300 professors and other employees, despite a statewide spending freeze intended to save money during the recession.

In an email sent to university alumni Nov. 23, Lariviere wrote that he encouraged the school's faculty, staff and supporters to channel your energy into advancing the momentum we have built together. He said one of his proudest accomplishments was the concerted advocacy for public policy, governance and funding changes to strengthen the university and the entire state.

In a Saturday statement, Kitzhaber said such actions show Lariviere is not a team player, saying his 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 the U of O.

Many U of O faculty members and school boosters have rallied to Lariviere's side since it was reported his contract will not be renewed. Nearly 60 faculty members have signed a complaint to the State Ethics Commission saying the board made its decision without a public hearing. Nike co-founder Phil Nike, a major U of O sports contributor, expressed dismay at the decision.

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