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Restructuring Higher Education

Pete Springer/OPB

Oregon’s public universities want to change their relationship with the state and they’re hoping the legislature can make it happen in the 2011 session. Presidents of the seven public universities and the state board of education agreed earlier this year that an overhaul should give the schools the power to make key decisions like setting tuition, negotiating benefits for faculty members and allocating funds for capital expenditures. Portland State University president Wim Wiewel has written in favor of these changes, arguing that if the state relinquishes control over the Oregon University System, the schools will be more financially sound.

Chair of the Oregon Senate education committee Mark Haas announced with his appointment that he’s prioritizing higher ed reform for this legislative session. He co-chaired a task force that came up with a series of ideas to offer public universities “more authority and independence to manage affairs, operations and obligations,” according to one bill summary.

But not everyone agrees on what an overhaul of Oregon’s university system should look like. Some students have expressed concern that making the schools into public corporations could cause tuition to go up*. Oregonian education columnist David Sarasohn says restructuring simply isn’t enough to solve the schools’ financial troubles. And University of Oregon president Richard Lariviere has a bit of a different idea for funding the U of O into the future. His plan, which one editorial board called “bold,” basically asks the state to make initial contributions to an endowment for the university, which would be matched by private money and gradually depend less and less on state dollars.

Reform has been a long time coming for the Oregon University System. We first addressed this topic in September of 2009.

Are you a student, faculty member or alumni of a public university in Oregon? What do you think about the ideas for restructuring the schools’ relationship with the state? How would changes to the system affect you? 

*Editor’s note: After the show aired, the Oregon University System chancellor’s office contacted us to say that the universities are not seeking public corporation status. The issue of tuition was discussed in detail on the show. You can read the most recent version of the OUS plan here (pdf).


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