School mulling possible changes

By Dick Mason, The Observer August 21, 2013 10:42 am

Eastern could have its own board by early 2015   

Eastern Oregon University President Bob Davies will be grappling with a multiple choice question over the next 7-1/2 months.

What type of institutional board should Eastern propose that it be governed by? 

The choice is one in the hands of Davies.

“This is not a decision or recommendation I will take lightly,” Davies said.

No other Eastern president has had to make such decision. Eastern, since it opened in 1929, has been under the authority of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education. For better or worse, the state board, which has always overseen all schools in the Oregon University System since its creation eight decades ago, is about to be restructured significantly because of Senate Bill 270. 

The senate bill, approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber earlier this year, authorized the University of Oregon, Portland State University and Oregon State University to break from the Oregon State Board of Higher Education and operate independently while being governed by their own institutional boards.

SB 270 also opens the door to the possibility of EOU, Southern Oregon University, the Oregon Institute of Technology and Western Oregon University having their own institutional boards or being run by boards overseeing various combinations of the four universities. 

“There are a lot of variables, a lot of scenarios,” Davies said. 

Davies and the presidents of OIT, SOU and WOU are holding regular discussions regarding the issue. The presidents will make recommendations to the State Board of Higher Education in March. If requests for institutional boards are made and approved and other bureaucratic hurdles then cleared, the four directional schools could have their own boards or consortium boards as early as January 2015.

Davies will be gathering input from faculty, staff, students and community members from now through March on this issue.

“We will have a robust discussion of ideas and move forward,” the president said. “It is not a decision I will make in isolation.”

Davies will essentially be trying to determine if Eastern will be better off with its own board, which oversees only it and thus a greater understanding of his school, or one which oversees other universities and thus has more clout.

A consortium of EOU, WOU, SOU and OIT would have 25,000 to 30,000 students. Davies said that at the heart of his decision will be what is best for EOU.

“I want to position Eastern for the best chance of success and viability,” Davies said.

Institutional boards will be responsible for hiring, firing and evaluating university presidents, approving university programs and missions. 

Tim Seydel, vice president for university advancement at Eastern, said the feeling on campus now is that EOU should have its own institutional board. 

“Generally people feel like if other universities can have their own boards why can’t we have ours, so we can choose our own direction?” Seydel said.

All members of institutional boards would be nominated by the governor and then would have to be approved by the state Senate. DeAnna Timmermann, an associate professor of psychology and EOU’s faculty senate president, said that if Eastern does have its own board, it would be important that it have student and faculty representation. She noted that many committees at Eastern traditionally have had faculty and student representatives.

“We have a history of shared governance,” she said. 

Davies emphasizes that he believes Eastern has been treated well by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education. He does not believe that EOU’s needs have been overlooked by the board even though the La Grande school is the smallest in the OUS. Davies said he often talks to its members seeking their input.

“I have received some phenomenal advice,” he said.

Nobody knows what lies on the horizon for Eastern and the OUS but this much is certain, it will no longer be business as usual at EOU.

“In a very short time, there will be a phenomenal sea of change,” Davies said. “The way business has been done for 80 years is about to change tremendously.”

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