July 23, 2001 11:00 pm

Being a university system chancellor is like being a tightrope walker.

Walking on that thin line, balancing the needs of thousands of students, faculty, administrators, legislators, board members and taxpayers, while at times swaying in the winds of change can offer the high-wire walker plenty of stress. After seven years at the helm of Oregons university system, Chancellor of Higher Education Joe Cox has served notice that he is about to descend from the high wire.

Trying to create some balance within the seven-member university system has not been easy considering some of the high-profile university presidents Cox has had to deal with.

Also the rivalry between the University of Oregon and Oregon State University has increased as both universities have pushed for more and more funding within the systems budget. Couple this with the need to help the smaller universities like Eastern Oregon in La Grande and the emergence of the new multi-million dollar branch campus in Bend and you can understand the kind of toll this can take on a university system chancellor.

Prior to being named the systems chancellor, Cox was president of Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

During his seven years as the head of the university system, Cox is credited with boosting awareness about higher education across the state. He also revamped funding methods for the campuses, which now links state money with student enrollment. And he has received high marks for his efforts to work with the states business community. Oregon political leaders have praised Coxs efforts in working with legislators.

Through the years Cox has been a friend of Eastern Oregon University. It was his roots in Ashland that helped him understand the financial and staffing needs of a smaller school like Eastern. The La Grande school has benefited from Coxs support and leadership as it has pursued its mission to meet the higher education needs of the 10-county Eastern Oregon region.

Who will succeed Cox as Oregons next chancellor? Some are suggesting University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer. We question whether Frohnmayer would be the right choice. Frohnmayers career has included stints in the political arena that have left many unhappy with him. Political enemies are hard to shake and could hurt the university system during a time when it is critical to keep communications moving forward. Frohnmayer so far has not indicated an interest in pursuing the chancellor post.

The State Board of Higher Education should conduct a national search to find the best candidate. The final choice might very well end up being someone from Oregon, but it might be best for our universities to get some new ideas from outside the box. Whoever replaces Cox will have to get back on the tight rope, and follow in his very capable steps.