Kulongoski steps in

With former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt resigning as president of theState board of Higher Education last week amid a cloud ofcontroversy last week, current Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski hasstepped in to fill the void.

Kulongoski, who has already made attempts to prove hisdedication to postsecondary education after revamping the boardback in November, will cover the empty post left behind byGoldschmidt until a permanent replacement can be found.

“Because this is one of my most important initiatives,” thegovernor said in a statement Friday, “I will take over theleadership of the Board of Higher Education.”

Former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt had informed the State Board ofHigher Education that he would be resigning from the board and hisposition as chair prior to his public confession of a sexualrelationship he had with a 14-year-old girl while mayor of Portlandin the 1970s.

At the time, he cited health reasons – his heart – as the primereason for his resignation. But when a Willamette Week storydetailing the illegal sexual relationship was leaked last Thursday,Goldschmidt granted The Oregonian an exclusive interview in whichhe disclosed the secret he’d been keeping for nearly 30 years.

While Goldschmidt’s news shocked Oregonians, it also left thehigher ed board without its leader, right as members were in themidst of handling cuts from Measure 30 and plowing ahead with adrastic new financial aid program.

Kulongoski will act as an ex-officio, non-voting member of theboard. Mary Ellen Glynn, a spokesperson in the Governor’s office,said she expects a new member for the board will be named “in thenext couple of months.”

The prime reason Kulongoski stepped in, Glynn added, was toprevent any loss of momentum for the board.

“He didn’t want this to flounder,” she said in an interview.

Di Saunders, communications director for the Oregon UniversitySystem, said that the board already had a great deal of momentum.Kulongoski taking over “keeps that momentum at a high level,” shesaid.

John Von Schlegell, a board member, said that at their May 7meeting a few names were “tossed around” as potential replacementsfor Goldschmidt. Neither he nor Glynn would mention any specificnames, but Glynn said that Goldschmidt’s resignation “came to ourattention in the last couple of weeks,” so Kulongoski was alreadypoised to step in as interim chair.

The board is looking at people with backgrounds in both theeducational field and the business field, with an interest inhigher ed, according to Glynn. Von Schlegell added that the boardneeds someone who has credibility both with the state legislatureand with the public.

In the meantime, board members are excited to have Kulongoski onboard.

“He understands these issues in his heart,” Geri Richmond,another board member and a University of Oregon faculty member,said. She, as well as other board members, anticipates no slowingdown despite the loss of Goldschmidt.

“We’ve got Governor Kulongoski,” Richmond said. “This is hisbaby.”

Von Schlegell said that the board’s goals for higher ed – namelyaccess, affordability and continuing investment in the universities- haven’t changed.

He added that board members were in La Grande for their meetingThursday when they heard of Goldschmidt’s resignation, and later ofwhat may have been the true reason behind it.

Despite this, “nobody wanted to quit,” Von Schlegell said.”Everybody wants to keep going. That was heartening.”

Members of the board are continuing to work on furtherdeveloping the ASSET program, a trust fund-like financial aidprogram that is intended to be written into the stateconstitution.

The next board meeting is at the beginning of June at SouthernOregon University in Ashland. There, board members and Kulongoskiwill be finalizing tuitions for the seven public stateuniversities.