University President Richard Lariviere fired by Oregon University System, must step down in 30 days
By Colton Totland
PORTLAND — The Oregon State Board of Higher Education voted unanimously to terminate the contract of University President Richard Lariviere late Monday afternoon in a public meeting held at Portland State University. The vote confirmed that Lariviere will not be allowed to serve for the remainder of the academic year and will need to leave office by Dec. 28.
The Board presided in front of a room crowded to its capacity with members of the University community, all vocalizing their support for Lariviere and urging that the renewal of his contract be reconsidered. The Board’s decision to terminate the contract before its expiration in July 2012 — an announcement met by boos and several shouts of “Shame on you” from the audience — came from a recommendation by OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner.
President Lariviere — who announced last Wednesday that he intended to stay until the end of his contract — said afterward that he was not aware the meeting would result in his termination.
“I was told I had the option of resigning, which I didn’t choose, and that my contract wouldn’t be renewed. This wasn’t discussed,” Lariviere said. “It’s a big disappointment to me. I had hoped to serve the UO, and the wonderful people who support it, for a long time. And now I have 30 days.”
The Board maintained the main reason for Lariviere’s dismissal was a matter of personnel, not policy differences. However, Board members elaborated that the heart of the issue lay at Lariviere’s attempt to create a more autonomous University at the expense of the broader university system.
“We cannot enter into a new partnership with leaders who break trust, and who are not committed to the well-being of other institutions,” Board member James Francesconi said. “Each university demands a leader that challenges us to be great, but understands, in the end, that we are all in this together.”
Board member David Yaden conveyed the same message.
“This is not about old creative leadership or old visionary ideas. Those are still on the table,” he said. “This is about whether one person, no matter how talented or popular, gets to set his own rules or agenda without regard for the larger whole.” He later added, “It is not the departure of one person that will determine the excellence of the University of Oregon.”
Even so, the meeting was full of presentations from people claiming that Lariviere is an irreplaceable and essential part of the University. The buildup to the vote included input from prominent University officials, including a conference call from ASUO President Ben Eckstein and a presentation from University Senate President Robert Kyr.
Kyr, who handed Pernsteiner a petition with more than 6,300 names in support of Lariviere’s reinstatement, warned serious consequences would result if the OUS refused to renew the contract.
“The spontaneous and widespread outcry of support for Lariviere … demonstrates that he inspires a deep and passionate commitment,” Kyr said. “His departure will shatter morale at the University and will make it difficult to fulfill tasks. The damage will be both short and long term.”
In addition to these presentations, the Board devoted an hour to speakers in the audience — ranging from concerned citizens to University students and faculty — all of whom praised Lariviere for his contributions to the University. Many questioned outright the Board’s judgment in removing him.
University biology professor Nathan Tublitz, a former president of the Unviersity Senate, specifically argued that there was a lack of transparency in the decision-making process. He criticized a private executive meeting among Board members that preceded the public session, claiming that the Board had already reached a decision before meeting with the public.
“What message are you sending when you make decisions in the dark, when you have a public meeting after a private meeting?” Tublitz asked. “It should be the other way around. It seems like this decision has already been made.”
However, Board President Matthew Donegan reiterated several times throughout the evening that the decision is the result of several months of events, and that the decision to remove Lariviere came after countless efforts to maintain a workable relationship with the president.
“The acrimony has been so broadly advertised,” Donegan said. “This has been a long, dysfunctional ride, and it is heartbreaking to be here right now. We’re just at a loss.”
Donegan broke Board meeting protocol near the end of the meeting to allow for several additional minutes of input from the audience, who remained visibly and audibly distraught by Board member arguments. Ultimately, OUS voted unanimously to terminate Lariviere’s contract and concluded by stating it will begin looking for an interim president this week. The Board aims to have an interim president in place before the end of fall term.
Kyr announced the University Senate will convene with all statutory faculty Wednesday at 3 p.m. in McArthur Court to discuss plans for the University and all students are encouraged to attend. He stated that motions will be presented then that will determine the University’s future; although nothing is confirmed as of yet, he mentioned the University may decide to push for responses as drastic as the resignation of Board members, or even Pernsteiner himself.
As for Lariviere, he stated he will do what he can to help the administration in the transition to an interim president, reasserting his desire to help improve the University even if he is not a part of it.
“The incredible reaction (from the campus community) is a sense of frustration that the hopes that we can do better have been dashed,” Lariviere said. “I hope they haven’t been dashed.”