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Guest commentary
  OIT governance will affect college’s future course
  Local control may be the best option in preserving the ‘brand’ and direction of smaller colleges

   Guest Writer

     Recently I was appointed to the Special Legislative Committee on University Governance by House Speaker, Tina Kotek, D-Portland, as one of seven bipartisan House and Senate members.

   We, along with three gubernatorial appointees, are charged with recommending a course of action to the full Legislature regarding the future of Oregon’s University System.

   The Oregon Legislature agreed to the governor’s request to restructure our system of higher education during the last legislative session. Significant disagreement exists on how the new structure should function.  

   The three largest universities, PSU, OSU and U of O have each asked for individual stand-alone systems to govern themselves.

   The three regional universities, EOU, SOU and WOU, as well as Oregon Tech as Oregon’s only technical university, are also requesting individual governing boards.  

   At this time, a subcommittee for the Board of Higher Education is instead suggesting that the four smaller schools be governed by a single president and essentially be centrally controlled outside of their regions, perhaps even as “satellites” of the big three.

   Governing boards have already been created for the big three universities. The Legislature will be asked to make a final decision whether standalone governing boards should be created for the three regional universities and Oregon Tech or whether a more central governing structure should be created. That decision could come as soon as next February.  

   This will not be a partisan decision. Many legislators from both parties who represent Oregon Tech and the other three regional universities strongly favor autonomous boards to govern each university. Local communities appear to be in strong support of retaining control over their own schools and academic programs.

   Oregon Tech provides the following reasons why it seeks   to retain autonomy over its programs:

   Oregon Tech is the Northwest’s only polytechnic university. It is heavily focused on providing graduates who excel in medical technology, engineering and sciences who can rapidly enter the high paying tech fields upon graduation.

   OIT’s graduates are helping to meet Oregon’s workforce needs for high demand occupations with an average postgraduation starting salary of $56,000 per year.

   Just a few of Oregon Tech’s nationwide rankings and accomplishments show the path, this university has blazed include:

   Top 10 college in the Western U.S. (U.S. News and   World Report);

   Top 45 non-PhD engineering in the U.S. (USNWR);

   No. 3 Public University in Oregon (Forbes);

   First Renewable Energy Engineering Degree in U.S. (ABET);

   Top 10 percent of 2014 Best for Vets (Military Times);

   And finally, the most important reason, an unprecedented 96 percent of Oregon Tech graduates are employed in their field of study or have been accepted into graduate programs within six months of graduation.

   This is an amazing statistic and one which every university should strive to attain. In my opinion.  

   In my position as a committee member, I have requested that the legislative members be involved early on in the decision making because it so profoundly affects our communities and our student populations.

   Each of the smaller universities offers unique opportunities and economic stability to their respective regions. Many students   do not wish to travel and live in larger environments: they want to reside in the more rural areas of the state, thus saving a great deal of money while completing their degree programs. These universities are noted for their curriculum specialties and wish to retain their competitive “brand.”  

   All of the universities must share in costs, which are too great to individualize. They must retain a common university banking system for borrowing for capital construction and share the costs of risk management as well as collective bargaining among other things.

   We have been told that the cost to create and maintain individual boards will not be prohibitive and appears to be the best solution for the task of restructuring the system.

   The legislators’ job is to convince the governor and the remaining members of the Board of Higher Education that the course the universities wish and the citizens of this state want is the best course of action.  



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