Local boards under state legislative review
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 01:03
Universities rely on strong central leadership to make investments and prioritize projects. Currently, the prospect of institutional boards has a spot on the Oregon State Legislature’s agenda and, if passed, could reshape the structure of major Oregon universities.
“These boards of directors could change the leadership and receive regional buy-in,” said Jock Mills, OSU government relations director.
Right now, Oregon State Senate Bill 270 proposes institutional boards for Portland State University and the University of Oregon. The boards would effectively localize responsibilities now delegated to the State Board of Higher Education. Universities currently make recommendations to the Higher Education Coordinating Committee tied to the Oregon Education Investment Board.
The language remains unclear in spots of the bill.
“When all is said and done, we want the option to determine whether it is in our interest, and the interest of the people of Oregon, to have a board at OSU,” Mills said. “We will not be able to make this determination until the bills have been passed and we have engaged in conversations with the campus community.”
The proposed 11 to 15 member boards, ideally comprised of members looking out for the best interests of the university, would play a role in decisions regarding capital projects for the university, missions for the institutions, and appoint or remove university presidents.
A few obstacles stand in the way of deciding on institutional boards, including expected turnover of board members, specifications on who will make up the board and how the autonomy provided by the boards will affect the Oregon University System goals. One example of interference with OUS involves Senate Bill 253 establishing a “40-40-20” goal for the universities.
The bill’s goal is for 40 percent of Oregon students to receive a high school diploma, 40 percent to earn a community college degree and 20 percent to obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher. The separation of university control into local boards would potentially negate the system’s goal. The establishment of institutional boards could create more competition between the schools.
“The boards will bloat needs on students,” said Associated Students of Oregon State University President Amelia Harris. “These boards would not be in the best interest for students, because they bring in another level of management and could sway how the university runs. Our 40-40-20 goal won’t be possible if we have boards governing institutions with complete authority.”
Instead of having projects prioritized by the State Board of Higher Education and OUS, the institutions would vie for their own needs before the legislature.
“Establishing institutional boards at multiple universities presents potential for increased competition among and between universities for scarce resources in Salem,” Mills said.
On Tuesday, the Oregon State Senate Education and Workforce Committee held a public hearing for the bill and heard from Joe Robertson, president of Oregon Health and Science University. Robinson commented on OHSU’s institutional board, created 18 years ago. He said the boards should have access to capital, clarity of mission and nimbleness to adapt to the institutions’ needs. The boards will control the dispersal of money from revenue bonds, given to the school from the state.
“It’s essential for us to have the ability to do what we want with revenue bonds,” Robertson said in his presentation to the committee. “The legislation was crafted specifically for OHSU.”
Robertson emphasized the importance of unbiased board members who put the institution first and have no special interests or ulterior motives.
“There should not be designated positions or factions on the board,” Robertson said in the meeting. “The members are there to represent all of the citizens of the state.”
Though Robertson voiced his approval for the boards, his experience draws from a healthcare university and not a general state university like UO, PSU or OSU. Details on the jurisdiction and make-up of the boards will come as the legislation develops over the coming months. The bill will likely leave space for OSU to request a board as well, said OSU President Ed Ray.
“The way things are teeing up, we’ll have the flexibility to determine whether or not we want a board,” Ray said. “You have to look at the hand you’re being dealt and decide what’s in the best interest of the university. We do care about what’s in the best interest of the state.”
Jack Lammers, news editor