Davies mulling potential changes

By Dick Mason, The Observer October 25, 2013 09:49 am

Three potential governance options on the table for Eastern Oregon 

How should the only university on the eastern side of Oregon be governed two years from now?

Three basic, but intriguing, options are on the table for Eastern Oregon University, according to university president Bob Davies, who discussed the options Thursday with EOU students at an informational meeting at the Hoke Union Building. 

Among the options being discussed, according to Davies, are the school being governed by its own board, or a consortium board overseeing between two and four other universities, or Eastern could become a branch campus of Oregon State University, the University of Oregon or Portland State University.

Davies told EOU students he is seeking input because a decision will ultimately be made by the president in March.

“This is a chance to take a new look at governance,” Davies said. 

Davies is faced with a difficult choice following the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 270 earlier this year. It authorized OSU, UO and PSU to break from the Oregon State Board of Higher Education and operate independently, while being governed by their own institutional boards. These boards have the authority to hire and fire university presidents, set tuition, approve budgets and approve new programs.

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

“We have an opportunity to reshape the governance structure of the university,” Davies said.

The president said that a consortium board with up to four institutions working together, would give Eastern the most leverage when negotiating with state leaders because “… our combined enrollment is nearly equal to the enrollment of one of the three larger universities.”

Davies also said a consortium board would likely allow Eastern to maintain its existing policies and procedures. He also said that a consortium of EOU, SOU, OIT and WOU might better serve the needs of Oregon’s rural and underserved populations.

One disadvantage of a consortium board is that decisions would be based “on the collective good for all four universities,” which might make it harder for a school like Eastern to get specific issues affecting it addressed, Davies said.

This would not be a problem with an institutional board since Eastern would be its lone concern. 

“It would be an advocate for the institution,” Davies said. “Its sole focus would be Eastern’s success.”

An institutional board would also give Eastern a big measure of autonomy, allowing it to have control of its mission and vision, Davies said.

A major drawback of having an institutional board is that Eastern would not have much leverage when competing against any of the three largest universities for funding or program support from the state.

“We might go head to head with the University of Oregon. It would be a David versus Goliath situation. We could win sometimes but not all the time,” Davies said.

Another drawback is that an institutional board might be very involved in the day-to-day operations of Eastern. 

“That could be a challenge (for Eastern),” Davies said.

The governance option which would have the biggest impact on Eastern would be the one making Eastern a branch campus of OSU, PSU or UO. Three variations of the branch campus model are on the table — semi-autonomous, integrated and extended campus. 

Under the semi-autonomous option the changes would be relatively minor.

“Eastern would remain very independent,” Davies said. 

He said this would enable Eastern to maintain its mission and policies as long as they did not contradict those of the main campus. Eastern’s name would be changed, however, to reflect its branch campus status. For example, if Eastern was affiliated with OSU its name might become Oregon State University-La Grande.

Davies said that if Eastern were to become a branch campus, it likely would be with OSU because it already has cooperative programs with the Corvallis school. 

Under the integrated campus variation, Eastern would be more closely linked to a large university. Under the extended campus variation, Eastern would not have its own policies and procedures. 

“Eastern would be a subsidiary campus. Everything changes,” Davies said. “There would be a very different culture on campus.”

The president said Eastern would likely no longer have intercollegiate athletics under the extended campus option but would under the semi-autonomous and integrated branch campus options. 

Davies said the biggest advantage to becoming a branch campus would be having a “brand name.” He explained that Eastern and its students might benefit from being a part of a university that has more name recognition throughout the West and the United States.

Davies said that there would be no monetary advantage to being part of a branch campus. Eastern would not receive any of the larger university’s greater financial resources.

“Financially we would be on our own,” he said.

Davies asked the approximately 20 students present Thursday which of the three options they would prefer. Not one supported the branch campus model, and they were almost equally divided between the institutional and the consortium board models. The president said this reflects how faculty, alumni and many others he has talked to feel. Davies said that the presidents of OIT, SOU and WOU are reporting the same overall opinion on their campuses. 

“The public sentiment is leaning toward the institutional board and consortium board models,” Davies said.

The public will have an opportunity to share its views on this issue with Davies at an EOU town hall Davies will conduct in November. The date, time and place of the town hall will be announced later. The governance model Davies selects in March would have to be approved by the state. Eastern will begin operating under a new governance model 12 to 18 months after a decision is approved by the state.

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