Critics slam ouster of UO president

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EUGENE, Ore. — Critics are heaping scorn on members of the State Board of Higher Education after they told University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere that he will not be returning next year.The UO's biggest donor, Nike Inc. Chairman Phil Knight, called it an "astonishingly bad decision." State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said he's "dumbfounded."

More than 400 emails supporting Lariviere flowed into the president's office. So many calls were made to the Oregon University System offices that the phone numbers for individual board members were removed from the website, The Register-Guard reported (http://bit.ly/t9IipT ). The OUS oversees seven public universities in Oregon.

Lariviere was told of the decision in a meeting Monday with Matt Donegan, the board president, and board member Allyn Ford. Gov. John Kitzhaber affirmed the decision in a meeting the next day, his spokesman, Tim Raphael, confirmed to The Associated Press.

The board said it will meet Monday in Portland to officially make a decision, but officials haven't formally scheduled the meeting or revealed a time.

Donegan stressed that the decision won't be official until the board meets, but he said he polled the members and consulted with Kitzhaber before informing Lariviere he would be leaving.

The action quickly opened — or widened — a rift between the university and the board that governs it. Lariviere has angered the board by advocating for the UO to break away from the other universities with its own governing board and funding structure. Donegan said the decision to oust Lariviere had nothing to do with his push for independence, but he and other OUS officials have declined to offer details of what they describe as a personnel matter.

Lariviere also frustrated his superiors by granting raises totaling almost $5 million to more than 1,100 faculty members and administrators, for not attending some state board meetings, and for allowing some staff members to use overtime to make up for furlough days.

Knight, a UO graduate who co-founded Nike and has steered millions of dollars to the school, said in an emailed statement that the higher education board wants a team player who "falls in line with their acceptance of mediocrity."

"Let us hope that the Oregon community can take this astonishingly bad decision and recognize that it does not have to define us. We still have the collective capacity to rise up and do great things," said Knight, who usually confines his influence to the athletic department and rarely weighs in on academic matters.

Lariviere hasn't spoken publicly but did send an e-mail to the university community Wednesday saying he was "heartened" by the outpouring of support and urging people to focus their efforts on continuing to improve the university.

Several faculty members said they were angry Lariviere was ousted without input from the campus community. Peter Keyes, a member of the UO Senate, said Lariviere had brought a renewed sense of morale to the campus since his arrival in 2009.

Keyes, like many other faculty members, said it appears Lariviere is being punished for taking bold positions and acting to raise the university's academic profile. He said the decision sends a clear message that innovation won't be tolerated and that the state wants followers, not leaders, at the helm of its universities.

"It's unbelievable," Keyes said. "It just sets us back so far that I don't know that we can recover."

Legislators also were puzzled and upset by the move, Prozanski said.

"Of all places, at an institution of higher education we can't have someone acting with some independence and being willing to challenge the status quo? That bothers me," Prozanski said.

Absent from the chorus of support for Lariviere were student leaders, who have clashed with the president and other administrators on a number of issues, including student involvement in decision-making. Student body President Ben Eckstein said he would not ask the state board to rescind its decision and instead will focus on making sure that students are heard as decisions are made about the university's future.

Eckstein said he was aware that some people had criticized Lariviere over his push for independence and their perception that it aided the UO at the expense of other universities. He said it's important for the university system to move forward together and said it was "sad" to be at state board meetings that Lariviere did not attend.