Governing their own

OUS universities should establishlocal governing boards

Change is bad. Or at least that’s what some think. But the Oregon University System may be providing a change for the better.

OUS universities should establishlocal governing boards

Change is bad. Or at least that’s what some think. But the Oregon University System may be providing a change for the better.

A bill passed last year granted the whole OUS more independence from state control. This paves the way for the establishment of a local governing board at each university. With how different the dynamics of each of Oregon’s universities are, this can only be an improvement.

The state legislature seeks to give any member of the OUS the option of establishing a local governing board, meaning that each of Oregon’s seven public universities could have a governing board for that individual university in addition to the OUS overlords.

The 2013 legislative plenary session will determine whether or not this comes to pass. It will then be decided how much power these proposed local governing boards will have. Regulation of tuition and fees, the hiring/firing of university presidents, management of finances and many other aspects of university government will be largely left up to the universities’ local governing boards, and the question is: How much power over these issues should they have?

Representatives of the Oregon universities have spoken against the proposed establishment of local governing boards, saying that it may add another level of complexity.

However, the establishment of local governing boards caters to a university’s individual goals and mission. Seeing as there are seven universities in the Oregon University System, it only makes sense that the OUS doesn’t try to juggle absolutely everything.

Some of the university presidents have said that a local governing board may ultimately be too focused on its own institution and not necessarily on what is best for the state.

But do the universities need statewide expectations? Do they have them in the first place? The graduation requirements of each of the universities are already vastly different from each other. If this is already the case, what is the harm in not having consistent expectations for education?

Though the State Board of Higher Education would continue to reign over all of the universities, there is some concern about a rift that the establishment of local governing boards could potentially cause in the OUS.

However, it seems more like the potential “problem” is not so much a rift but rather the inability to let go of the way that the system has always been set up.

Another potential disadvantage that has been pointed out is the cost of establishing a local governing board at each university. People would need to be hired for these governing boards. The universities hardly need additional costs, what with the budget cuts looming on the horizon.

But budget cuts are nothing new. There have always been and always will be cuts, and the universities would be smart to implement changes now, rather than later. For example, Southern Oregon University has even removed three majors from their curriculum in 2007.

This does not mean that the universities shouldn’t worry about the costs of establishing their own governing boards.

State support for the universities has declined dramatically over the years. In 1991, the state provided one third of the University of Oregon’s funding, but today provides a mere 12 percent.

Maybe seven universities managed by one system seems like a lot. But the California State University System has 23 universities and manages them all under a central board. A central governing board has worked so far, but is the OUS sure that it does not want to move on to bigger and better things?

Perhaps the simple fact that OUS has only seven universities is a reason why they should establish their own governing boards.

Because each university has run into problems while trying to be an extension of OUS, maybe they would perform much better with their own governing boards. Many public universities have their own governing boards, and a local board for each of Oregon’s universities would hardly indicate a withdrawal from OUS.

Instead of viewing the possibility of each university having its own governing board as an unwanted change, the university presidents should adopt a different point of view.

While some of the presidents remain opposed at present, the presidents of the University of Oregon and Portland State have identified the establishment of local governing boards as an advantage and as something that will truly meet the needs of the individual universities.

With the decline of state support for the universities, it only makes sense that each university establish its own governing board. Doing something different than what has been done so far may be the first step toward meeting the individual needs of each university.