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Register Guard Editorial: A step toward autonomy. Panel approves independent boards for UO, PSU.
Author: The Register Guard
Posted: October 10, 2012

Read the original story in The Register Guard here.

The University of Oregon and Portland State University have taken a big step toward gaining greater control over their own affairs. On Thursday the Legislature’s Special Committee on University Governance approved the draft of a bill that would allow the universities to form their own boards. The committee’s unanimous vote is a sign that previously skeptical lawmakers are starting to see the advantages of giving more autonomy to universities that want it.

An appreciation of those advantages can be gained by talking to Joseph Robertson, president of Oregon Health & Science University. OHSU has been governed by its own board since 1995. An academic medical center differs in many ways from a public university, but their interest in autonomy is parallel. Self-governance has fostered “a culture of self-determination,” Robertson says, allowing OHSU to act more quickly, form partnerships and achieve efficiencies that would otherwise be beyond reach.

Those are the benefits the UO seeks. While some details in the governance committee’s draft legislaton remain unsettled, such as the size and precise composition of the university boards, the bill would allow the UO and PSU boards to issue revenue bonds, approve labor agreements and set tuition rates within limits. The boards would have the authority to hire university presidents, subject to approval by the state Board of Higher Education.

The draft bill is explicit in insisting that accountability be preserved, and that universities remain faithful to their missions as public institutions. The experiment in autonomy will even have a control: Oregon State University has not asked for an independent board and under the bill would continue to be governed by the state Board of Higher Education.

The UO and PSU have been forced to become increasingly self-reliant in their financing, and their governance systems need to catch up. The draft bill brings them closer to that goal.