There's been a lot of talk about the idea of dramatically changing the legal structure within which Oregon's universities operate. Several university presidents have raised the idea. But the state Board of Higher Education, meeting today at Portland, now seem to be taking work on the idea much further.
What the board flatly approved today has a dramatic ring to it: "the Board approved a legislative concept that changes the legal status of the OUS [Oregon University System] from that of a state agency to that of a public university system and provides the Board with the authority outlined in the legislative concepts; and that staff, working with the Governance and Policy Committee, develop and negotiate a compact with the state government with measurable outcomes for the level of appropriations that constitute state investment in 2011; and that the Board authorize an ongoing, participative public process with citizens, state officials and groups throughout Oregon regarding the education, research, and service activities and programs of the OUS and its institutions in order to ensure that the OUS is meeting state needs and can help ensure that Oregonians understand the value of its public university system."
This still doesn't sound super-specific, and probably wasn't meant to be. But some of the thinking behind it, and where it might be headed, seems clear enough. Here's some of what Chancellor George Pernsteiner said (this is in minutes-type form) as he outlined the idea:
He "introduced the OUS governance proposal by laying out the need for change based on demographic, economic, educational and other changes that have occurred in the 80 years since the OUS was created, and which is outlined in the Chancellor’s paper, “Considerations for Change.” He noted that the continued erosion of state support for higher education has not been accompanied by parallel reductions in state controls over university operations. The costs and inefficiencies inherent in the current legal status of the OUS as a state agency are many, and thus the OUS is seeking the flexibility to operate more effectively to enable the universities to be more successful in educating Oregonians. Pernsteiner noted that Oregon’s community colleges operate as special districts established by the legislature and do not work under the restrictions of a state agency as the OUS does."
Well, something needs to be done about the underfunding of Oregon higher education - there's a strong consensus about that much. Maybe this is it.