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Higher Ed Board committee moves forward on establishment of university boards at some campuses

Contact: Di Saunders, Office: 503-725-5714; Cell: 971-219-6869

PORTLAND, November 18, 2011 – The State Board of Higher Education’s Governance and Policy Committee took a step forward yesterday on consideration of local boards for some of the Oregon University System (OUS) institutions.

The committee met to discuss whether individual OUS institutions should be granted the authority to add separate university-level governing boards, what delegated authorities and obligations these boards would have if created, and next steps in considering governance changes that would advance to the Oregon legislature.

In a November 16 letter to committee co-chairs, Governor Kitzhaber encouraged the committee to consider advancing proposals for local boards “with clearly demarcated powers” for institutions that feel they would benefit from them.  “For some campuses, this may spur the kind of innovation and superior performance we need in order to raise the bar for educational achievement in Oregon,” the letter said.  “But a university that does not see such a need at this time should not be required to be governed by an institutional board.”

The University of Oregon and Portland State University presidents have both asked for the ability to establish university-level boards that would assume some of the governing authorities currently vested in the State Board of Higher Education. The five other OUS institutions – Eastern Oregon University, Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Southern Oregon University, and Western Oregon University – have expressed their wishes to maintain the current governance structure

The Board committee has heard presentations by national higher education experts on this topic over the past several months, along with research on governance structures and their effects in all 50 states.

After much discussion, the decision was made to consider some type of institutional board option for the campuses wishing to establish one.  The committee will explore options under which the State Board of Higher Education could delegate portions of its governance authority to university-level boards, as opposed to options where university-level boards are wholly independent from the Oregon University System.  This feature, Board members felt, was critical to capturing the collective advantages from Oregon’s seven-university system, which now serves a record enrollment of over 100,000 students.

Chancellor of the OUS, George Pernsteiner, outlined for Board committee members the steps completed so far to help the Board prepare its recommendation on institutional boards, including the authorities these boards would carry and how they would relate to other education reforms taking place in Oregon such as the Oregon Education Investment Board. Governor Kitzhaber said in his letter to the committee co-chairs, “As the Investment Board begins its work, I believe it is important that the achievement compact for our universities be between the Investment Board and the Oregon State Board of Higher Education—the body with direct responsibility for all seven universities and for meeting our higher education mission statewide.”

Next steps for the committee outlined by co-chairs Paul Kelly and Allyn Ford are to develop what delegated authorities could be granted to university-level boards; determine what statutory changes would need to be made to implement these; and to prepare a draft legislative concept that would be presented in spring 2012.

“The Higher Ed Board expects to develop a recommendation for what implementation of university-level boards could look like well in advance of the 2013 legislative session,” said Board of Higher Education president Matt Donegan.  “Our plan is to keep the board’s restructuring work on pace and coordinated with the other education reform work underway in Salem.”

A copy of the Governor’s letter to the Committee co-chairs is available here.

The Oregon University System comprises seven distinguished public universities and one branch campus, reaching more than one million people each year through on-campus classes, statewide public services and lifelong learning. The Oregon State Board of Higher Education, the statutory governing board of OUS, is composed of twelve members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Oregon State Senate. For additional information, go to www.ous.edu; and for today’s Board Docket materials go to: www.ous.edu/state_board/meeting/dockets