Click here for the full article.
George Pernsteiner, Oregon's chancellor of higher education since 2004, announced his resignation Friday in advance of a legislative session that could bring broad restructuring of university oversight through a plan being pushed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.
The abrupt resignation, characterized by Pernsteiner and higher education leaders as "mutual," ends the third-longest tenure of a chancellor in Oregon history and paves the way for a new regime under Kitzhaber's proposed Department of Post-Secondary Education.
"I'm very proud of what we have been able to achieve," Pernsteiner, 64, said Friday from the East Coast, where he is visiting family. "And I am very optimistic that Oregon will continue to make great strides for student success."
Pernsteiner's resignation comes amid Kitzhaber's sweeping education shakeup, which included selecting Rob Saxton as the state's schools chief and Rudy Crew as the chief education officer. Next on Kitzhaber's agenda: a new higher education department, where the position of chancellor may not exist.
"This is the right time for a leadership change," said Matt Donegan, president of the State Board of Higher Education. "It's a real turning point for the state in terms of education policy. We wanted to really look to the future to make sure we had the leadership to get us there."
Shifts within the Oregon University System weren't the only tumultuous part of Pernsteiner's tenure. Aside from massive staff reductions in his own office, Pernsteiner also found himself in the middle of a polarizing decision in 2011 to fire University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere, a man who had managed to capture the imagination of the college community and key support from influential alumni such as Nike founder Phil Knight.
Some, such as UO economics professor Bill Harbaugh, characterized Pernsteiner's departure as "great news."
"He hasn't done much, and the quality of the system has slipped during his reign," said Harbaugh, who frequently criticizes university administration on his blog (uomatters.com).
Others praised Pernsteiner, while also commending him for stepping down amid the looming changes.
"He is very good," said Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, who chairs the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee that will shepherd Kitzhaber's plan.
"Things have been uncertain now for a number of months," Dembrow said. "It's to his credit that he's stuck with it for as long as he has. We need him over the next couple of months. I think he's going to be helping us as we're coming up with this new system."
Kitzhaber's proposal, included as part of his 2013-15 budget released in November, is expected to transfer some level of authority from the chancellor's office to the new department.
Right now, Oregon's seven public universities all report to the higher education board and the chancellor's office. Although legislation is still being drafted, the new plan is expected to offer more autonomy to the UO and Portland State University by creating institutional governing boards for each.
Oregon's five other public institutions would still reside under some version of the higher ed board and the chancellor's office. Both branches would report to the new Department of Post-Secondary Education.
On Monday, the higher education board will hold a special meeting to discuss Pernsteiner's departure. He has agreed to remain chancellor through March 1 and will take a special assignment until March 31.
Donegan said the board will probably select an interim chancellor while Kitzhaber's broader proposal heads through the Legislature for approval.
As part of a proposed severance package, Pernsteiner would receive his monthly salary for up to a year if he doesn't find another job, Donegan said. The state would pick up the difference if his new gig pays less than he currently makes.
The board in March voted to extend Pernsteiner's contract through June 2014. In November, the board increased his annual salary to $289,332, a 3 percent raise.
While talking on his cell phone Friday from Washington, D.C., as he prepared to visit a grown son in New York, Pernsteiner spoke highly of Kitzhaber's proposal and said it didn't directly affect his decision to resign.
Pernsteiner said he hopes he's remembered for building connections with community colleges and drawing a record number of transfers into four-year institutions. And looking forward, he said he's not going to rush searching for work and instead enjoy family time with another son, a 2-year-old.
"If something sounds really interesting, that's certainly a possibility," he said of future employment. "But I figure I need to spend a little time with my family. And people always say that. The interesting thing is, I've never really done it. And I would like to be able to."
-- Ryan Kost contributed to this report