Education

Register-Guard: UO Taps Interim Leader

The Register Guard | Aug. 7, 2014 8 p.m. | Updated: Aug. 8, 2014 3:50 p.m.

Contributed By:

Diane Dietz

Former University of Oregon President Michael Gottfredson is leaving the university entirely — giving up a tenured faculty position — in exchange for $940,000, according to an agreement finalized on Thursday.

A clean break with the two-year president is best, Chairman Chuck Lillis said at a campus board of trustees meeting, where UO Provost Scott Coltrane was appointed interim president.

“It was a fair amount,” Lillis said of Gottfredson’s severance pay. “He is resigning from president, and he’s resigning from a lifetime tenure track faculty position as well.”

Gottfredson’s severance will be paid out of donations, Lillis said. It will not come from state education revenue or tuition dollars.

Lillis gave little insight into why Gottfredson left so abruptly, except to say that it wasn’t caused by trustees’ dissatisfaction with the way he handled rape allegations involving UO basketball players in May.

“It was of his own volition. He resigned,” Lillis said.

Gottfredson left with one day’s formal notice, about 11/2 months before the start of the school year and a full year short of his initial three-year contract.

Lillis said Gottfredson broached the subject of his resignation in conversations beginning on Monday; his letter of resignation was dated two days later.

The board appointed Coltrane Thursday to run the university for the coming year while the trustees conduct a national search for a new president.

Both of the board’s decisions — on Gottfredson’s severance and Coltrane’s hiring — were passed with unanimous votes of the dozen trustees in attendance in person or by telephone. (Eight participated by telephone.) Board member Ann Curry and the student trustee were absent.

Lillis made it clear he was expecting a lot from Coltrane, who as provost took a hard — and public — look at the university’s academic performance and developed a comprehensive plan to improve the numbers.

“We have spectacularly unbounded opportunities,” Lillis said. “If we don’t convert those opportunities into something real, shame on us.”

Coltrane, as interim president, will be the fourth president at the helm of the university in six years. His successor, if Coltrane doesn’t seek or win the permanent job, will be the fifth — raising worries that the turnover at the top is hurting the university.

“It’s hard to build and sustain internal confidence and morale when leadership turns over so frequently — and we have a morale problem. This doesn’t help,” said Margie Paris, law school faculty member and immediate past president of the University Senate.

The turnover isn’t healthy, Lillis acknowledged.

“It just sort of happened. There was a series of coincident events and behaviors, but I don’t think it has harmed us,” he said. “Each of those presidents contributed in some very important way and in more than one important way in almost every case. While it isn’t ideal, we ended up in a much better place than where we started out.”

The board, instead of looking off campus, chose to appoint Coltrane, who has been an administrator at the university since 2008 and has been the second in command at the university for a year.

“Some continuity in management and leadership of this university by someone respected by the faculty — and (who) is a proven faculty person and scholar — is really important,” Lillis said.

Coltrane appears to be well-liked by UO faculty members.

“He’s pretty widely trusted,” Paris said. “He’s a straight shooter. He’s communicative. He’s easy to talk to and just kind of lays it out. He’s not an elite kind of egghead.”

Current University Senate President Robert Kyr, who is in Santa Fe delivering lectures, sent an emailed comment, saying that Coltrane has the confidence of the faculty and the Senate:

“We have had an ideal working relationship with him as provost, and earlier, as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. His appointment is a clear signal that the university is stable and strong, and committed to its long-standing tradition of shared governance between the president and the faculty,” Kyr wrote.

Coltrane said Thursday that he will continue initiatives such as cluster hiring, which is bringing in up to 40 new professors based on faculty bids in 10 specific areas of inquiry.

“We’re all in on that — even more so,” Coltrane said.

Business school administrator Jim Bean said, “Much of the funding for the cluster hires will come from fundraising, so the real question is the effect of these transitions on external relationships. My guess is that some of the more developed clusters with ongoing funding discussions will forge ahead, while some of the newer ideas may wait a bit for the reestablishment of relationships.”

In his career, Coltrane worked his way up the academic ranks at Yale University, the University of California-Santa Cruz, the University of California-Riverside and finally the UO.

He is a sociologist who has written four books and more than 100 articles. He studies families, with an emphasis on how mothers and fathers divide parenting and housework.

He is married to former elementary school teacher Wendy Wheeler-Coltrane. The couple has a son, Colin Coltrane, who lives in Sacramento, and a daughter, Shannon Coltrane, who lives in Eugene.

Coltrane said he expects to be paid the same as the former president, which was $540,000 a year in total compensation and “normal” employee benefits, which includes residence at the McMorran House near campus.

As for the future UO president, Lillis said he or she should have “very attractive academic credentials. It’s important that the president understands what it means to be a faculty member.

It has to be somebody who has been in the trenches, who is not easily fooled or misled by something that’s not right. It has to be somebody with truly superior communications skills.

“In addition to all those, it has to be somebody who handles external constituencies of the university more than internal constituencies. We are a public research university, but from a financial standpoint, we’re funding ourselves much more like a private university.

“We still get substantial funds from the Legislature so it has to be somebody who can represent us in government circles and somebody who can represent us with donors and somebody who can represent us with the alumni associations, as well.”

Paris, who was on the previous presidential search committee, said such committees go wrong when they write a comprehensive list of desired attributes they’re seeking in a candidate without prioritizing.

Nobody is that perfect, she said.

“We can say, `Yes, we want everything, but since we can’t have everything, these two or three things are the rock bottom we must have,’ ” she said.

Paris said open searches are tough because top candidates don’t want to be identified publicly until they’re hired, but closed searches have many downsides, too.

“People feel excluded, the community, the university community, the greater community, alums. They feel like, `We didn’t have a chance to participate because we didn’t know who’s in the pool. We can’t evaluate how well the search committee did because they can’t tell us who the candidates were.’ …

“I hope the trustees will set a clear course for being as communicative as they can and trying to involve voices from all over campus, including the Senate and the public and the alums, so people feel their input is sought and desired.

“How (trustees) communicate in these next few weeks is really going to be important for the upcoming search.”

Follow Diane on Twitter @diane_dietz . Email diane.dietz@registerguard.com .

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