PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The state's higher education board fired University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere on Monday, saying the school's 16th president has fought to advance the UO to the harm of the state's other universities.
Under the terms of his contract, Lariviere's last day as president will be Dec. 28. The board's unanimous vote came despite passionate pleas from pleas from faculty, students and other supporters who begged board members to delay a decision during a sometimes testy meeting of the State Board of Higher Education.
Lariviere listened quietly and did not show emotion as board members read statements explaining their decision. Afterward, he said he'll return to Eugene and teach.
"I have never understood the argument that a strong University of Oregon was bad for the university system," he said.
Read Lariviere's full statement
Lariviere had hoped to stay on until his contract expires at the end of June, but Oregon University System Chancellor George Pernsteiner recommended that he be terminated sooner.
"We cannot allow an important team member to undermine the goals and success of the whole institution," said board member Allyn Ford.
Lariviere has said he's being targeted because of a difference of opinion over the future of what he views as Oregon's flagship university, and he's butted heads with the board over his fight to give the school more independence. Dozens of Lariviere supporters, some of them wearing yellow and green shirts saying "we support our prez," packed the board room at Portland State University.
More than a dozen Lariviere supporters told board members that the president has improved the university tremendously in his 2 1/2-year tenure and his ouster would halt progress, resigning the university to mediocrity.
"We're on fire," said Jan Monti, a trustee of the University of Oregon Foundation. "He has us motivated. We are a team, and we don't want a divorce. We have a very happy marriage and we don't want a divorce."
Some complained he's being punished for being innovative.
"Strong leadership needs to be rewarded and not punished," said Tom Feely, of Gladstone.
Lariviere angered board members by lobbying the Legislature this year to give the University of Oregon more independence from the other universities overseen by the Oregon University System, despite a vote by the board opposing his proposal. Lariviere has proposed that the University of Oregon have its own governing board and that the state sell $800 million worth of bonds that would be matched by private donations to fund the university through an endowment.
"The conflicts that resulted in my termination are a symptom of the broken system of governance and funding in Oregon higher education that desperately needs changing if the state of Oregon is going to achieve the greatness we all aspire to," Lariviere wrote in an email to students, faculty and staff Sunday night.
The president also frustrated his superiors by giving pay raises to more than 1,300 University of Oregon employees despite an order from Kitzhaber to limit salary increases. Lariviere has said the university could afford the raises and they were necessary to keep salaries competitive. But the governor said the pay hikes undermined his authority and have complicated labor negotiations with faculty at the other universities.
"His actions show little regard for the needs of the rest of the university system, other campuses, and the state," Kitzhaber said in a statement released by his office Saturday.
Lariviere was hired in 2009 after serving as provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas. He makes $540,000 in annual compensation, including a state-funded salary of $245,700 plus supplements from the UO Foundation and deferred compensation.
Under his watch, Lariviere has said, enrollment is at an all-time high, and the freshman class is more diverse and comes in with a higher grade-point average than ever before. He said the university has carefully managed its money during difficult times and has raised millions in private giving and research grants.
"This past week has been extraordinary. I have been humbled and am grateful for the support from the faculty, students, and friends of the University of Oregon over the last week, indeed over the last two and half years. The purpose of today’s meeting is to resolve the question of my employment, but ultimately that matter is of little consequence. I want to use this opportunity to talk about Oregon’s higher education future.
"Over the past thirty years, public higher education in Oregon has experienced a continual decline in state funding and a continual increase in costs to students. For thirty years, the University of Oregon has lost many of its fine faculty members to other institutions and has found it increasingly difficult to recruit talented new faculty. The recent salary increases strengthened our fragile hold on our best faculty but more such efforts are necessary if the university is to avoid becoming mired in mediocrity.
"Oregonians deserve better than struggling to avoid mediocrity. If we hope to find a way out of this march to mediocrity in public higher education, Oregonians deserve our best thinking about new approaches. They deserve our willingness to engage in uncomfortable conversations that may challenge long-standing practices.
"It should not surprise us—nor should it dismay us—that we disagree about how best to achieve these goals for higher education in Oregon. It is a daunting task. The governor’s call for education reform and innovation is a good first step. But this effort will not be measured by good intentions—it will be measured by outcomes. Clinging to old structures and ways of doing business will not deliver the outcomes we all want.
"The demand for fresh thinking and new models has never been more urgent. It is this sense of urgency that has fueled my efforts over the past two and a half years. And I expect that that sense of urgency will continue to fuel debate going forward.
"The changes we advocate are not for the University of Oregon. They are for the people of Oregon. Thirty years of disinvestment in higher education have left the university and all of its sister institutions impoverished. The structures now in place for financing and governing our universities offer no hope for moving us out of this poverty. If we cannot rise from our current predicament, we will never achieve the goals for educational attainment, knowledge creation, and innovation that are critical for Oregon’s future. If we fail to take every action possible to lift ourselves up, we fail Oregon and we betray the future of our children.
"I strongly believe that the proposals advanced by the University of Oregon—for a strong, independent institutional governing board and a new approach to stabilizing our funding—provide our best chance of securing an affordable, high-quality university education for Oregonians. This is not an attempt to “privatize” one of the state’s public universities. Rather, it is an attempt to preserve the public mission of a great university. That public mission is a sacred trust.
"I recognize that the board faces an extremely difficult—maybe even impossible—task trying to govern such a diverse set of institutions with widely varying needs and capacities. I am confident there are good solutions yet to be developed that could help each public university. Pursuing solutions is what we must do.
"The response of the University of Oregon community to the news that I am to be terminated is unlike anything I have seen. As much as I would like to think that this response is about me, I know better. It is an expression of disappointment and long-standing frustration over hindrances to the University of Oregon’s future. These people who so love the university, who have such confidence in its potential, who know what it must do for future generations had hoped that there was change in the air. They see today’s board move as a denial of that change.
"I hope that you will prove them wrong. I hope that you will understand their passion, their frustration, their pent-up need as the hopeful signs they are. These are people who want a university that will flourish, a university that will stand with the world’s best, a university that will bring the wealth of discovery to Oregon.
"We desperately need to rebuild our broken system of governance and funding in Oregon higher education. Oregonians deserve no less than our deepest commitment to this. Now is the time for all those who care about the future of higher education—and I count this board in that number—to ensure that outcomes make for progress and positive change. You have had my commitment to this goal for the past two and a half years. If I am not to continue as president of the University of Oregon, I know that others will carry the effort forward. I hope they will have your support."