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Bernie Foster of The Skanner News
Published: 29 November 2011

Richard Lariviere, the former UO president

University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere has been fired over alleged "insubordination." We're not surprised. We see it every day in Oregon -- anybody who has a good idea is labeled an outcast. We can identify with that.

But what's especially disturbing is how unprofessional the State Board of Higher Education has been over this situation. They agree Lariviere has been an effective and charismatic leader but when it comes to explaining exactly why they're booting him out before the end of his contract the language gets fuzzy: "style differences" seem to be the final verdict.

What it all boils down to is that Lariviere wouldn't stay on his leash. Not only that, he called state officials on the fact that only a fraction of UO's funding comes from the state anymore anyway – but the state still wants full control over the university's business.

That would be fine except the state has for generations obviously lacked any good ideas for running the university system, otherwise the community college system wouldn't have surpassed it in size and scope, as it has.

While the Oregon Board of Higher Education fumes over whether or not Lariviere has damaged their weak excuses for future planning, other state officials are ranting about the nerve of the administrator who came up with his own ideas – rather than going along to get along like the other college presidents are apparently expected to do.

Did the UO president rock the boat? Good. Because in a state that spends more money on incarcerating offenders than nurturing college students, someone should be hollering at the top of their lungs about it. And that's exactly what Lariviere did, even as he steadily built positive relationships with communities of color around the state.

Saturday morning we received a long email from Gov. John Kitzhaber detailing all the ways that Lariviere failed to do as he was told.

But is that his job? It appears that the governor wanted a Yes Man rather than a strategic leader dedicated to pulling the University of Oregon out of the flames of our state's economy.

"Dr. Lariviere's popularity in the University of Oregon community speaks for itself.  But evaluating his performance requires more," Kitzhaber wrote. "His responsibility to the Board of Higher Education and his contribution to the larger issues and success of the entire system fall short."

In other words – he didn't do as he was told.

Late Monday Lariviere sent out his own comments to the media:

"Oregonians deserve better than struggling to avoid mediocrity. If we hope to find a way out of this march to mediocrity in public higher education, Oregonians deserve our best thinking about new approaches," he wrote. "They deserve our willingness to engage in uncomfortable conversations that may challenge long-standing practices."

Earlier this year Lariviere traveled all the way from Eugene to North Portland, where he and former State Sen. Margaret Carter – who hosted his trip – spoke with our staff about the idea of creating an automatic admission system at UO for students at Jefferson High School.

"I strongly believe that students of color have a significant contribution to make within the University community – and it's a contribution that we are sorely lacking," he said. "What if we could find a way to ensure that students of color had an opportunity to obtain an education the University of Oregon?"

Months later, the "middle campus" program at Jefferson High School was officially announced, fulfilling the question he posed—with the partnership of nearly half a dozen educational and governmental institutions stretched halfway across the state.

That's the kind of leadership we can believe in, not a governor ranting about why his orders are being ignored.

Read Lariviere's statement to the Oregon Board of Higher Education here
Read more about UO's Middle College program here

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