Board options tackled at forum

By Dick Mason, The Observer November 13, 2013 01:09 pm

Branch campus option has no vocal supporters

Nobody knows what type of governance model Eastern Oregon University will have 1-1/2 years from now.

What is known is there appears to be little local public support of a governance model that would make Eastern a branch campus of one of Oregon’s three largest universities. No support and only opposition to this possibility was expressed at a public forum on Eastern’s governance options Tuesday at the Stage Door Theater.

Former EOU President Dixie Lund said she opposes the branch campus option because of the big differences between how Eastern and the state’s three largest universities, Oregon State University, the University of Oregon and Portland State University, operate. Lund said this would make it hard for Eastern and one of the big three to work together.

“They have very good people, but they think differently than we do in the way they serve students,” Lund said.

If Eastern became a branch campus of one of Oregon’s three largest universities, it likely would be OSU, since the two schools already have cooperative programs. It was pointed out during the forum that Eastern’s faculty are part of a union but OSU’s faculty are not. 

“That would be a huge dynamic,” said Lund who served as EOU president from 2003 to 2004 and from 2007 to 2009. 

EOU President Bob Davies, who led the forum, agreed that there would be serious drawbacks to becoming a branch campus of one of the three largest universities. He noted that much would be dependent on the working relationship between Eastern and the president of the affiliated university. Davies said Eastern has good working relationships with the presidents of the three universities now, but this could change in the future as the top leaders at the institutions change.

Davies also pointed out 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. Davies said at least one of the three presidents of the larger universities has made this point clear.

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

The branch campus option is one of four on the table for Eastern. Among those also being discussed, according to Davies, are the school being governed by its own board, a consortium board overseeing between two and four other universities or a hybrid of these two options. 

Davies said he will make a preliminary decision in late December or early January regarding which option he will propose. 

“It is a big decision. It is scary and threatening but at the same time it’s exhilarating. There’s no road map,” 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 presents, set tuition, approve budgets and approve new programs.