Board votes to fire UO president effective Dec. 28 - KPTV - FOX 12

Board votes to fire UO president effective Dec. 28

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PORTLAND, OR (AP) -

The Board of Higher Education fired University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere on Monday, saying the school's 16th president has fought to advance UO at the expense of the state's other universities.

Under the terms of his contract, Lariviere's last day as president will be Dec. 28. The board's unanimous vote came after passionate pleas from faculty, students and other supporters who begged board members to delay a decision during a sometimes testy meeting.

"I'd rather be fired as president of the university for seizing actions to promote higher education in Oregon than kept on as we watched ourselves glide into mediocrity," he said Monday.

Wearing a green tie, Lariviere listened quietly and did not show emotion as board members read statements explaining their decision.

Afterward, he said he'll return to Eugene and teach.

"I have never understood the argument that a strong University of Oregon was bad for the university system," he said.

Lariviere had hoped to stay on until his contract expires at the end of June, but Oregon University System Chancellor George Pernsteiner recommended that he be terminated sooner and the board agreed.

"We cannot allow an important team member to undermine the goals and success of the whole institution," said board member Allyn Ford.

Lariviere stunned supporters in Eugene when he announced last week that his job was in peril. Dozens of people, some wearing yellow and green shirts saying "we support our prez," packed the board room at Portland State University in support of the president.

More than a dozen Lariviere supporters told board members that the president has improved the university tremendously in his 2 1/2-year tenure and his ouster would halt progress, resigning the university to mediocrity.

"We're on fire," said Jan Monti, a trustee of the University of Oregon Foundation. "He has us motivated. We are a team, and we don't want a divorce. We have a very happy marriage and we don't want a divorce."

Lariviere has said he's being targeted because of a difference of opinion over the future of what he views as Oregon's flagship university. He's butted heads with the board and the governor this year over his fight to give the school more independence.

Several of Lariviere's supporters complained he's being rebuked for being innovative.

"Strong leadership needs to be rewarded and not punished," said Tom Feely, of Gladstone.

The leaders of the university Senate -- which represents faculty, students, researchers and support staff -- opposed his ouster. The student body president, Ben Eckstein, did not oppose it, saying he wants to focus on the replacement process.

Board members said Lariviere was not being fired for his ideas but for his methods. They said he has repeatedly defied their instructions, causing them to lose faith and confidence in him.

Board President Matt Donegan said he's spent hours with Lariviere trying to mend fences but the president's behavior hasn't improved.

"This has been a long, dysfunctional ride, and it is heartbreaking to be here right now," he said.

Lariviere angered board members by lobbying the Legislature this year to give the UO more independence from six other schools overseen by the Oregon University System, despite a vote by the board opposing his proposal.

He suggested that the university have its own governing board and that the state sell $800 million worth of bonds that would be matched by private donations to fund the university through an endowment.

The president also frustrated his superiors by giving pay raises to more than 1,300 UO employees despite an order from Gov. John Kitzhaber to limit salary increases. The governor said the pay hikes undermined his authority and have complicated labor negotiations with faculty at the other universities.

Board members said Lariviere's advocacy of the UO's independence almost doomed the University System's hard-fought attempt to get more autonomy for the whole system. The Legislature approved the board's proposal this year and Kitzhaber signed it.

Lariviere's contract was renewed in June with added conditions intended to reign him in, including a requirement that he stop advocating for the UO's independence and attend board meetings.

Donegan said he still missed board meetings, including a crucial session covering the governance issues at the root of his dispute with the board.

Kitzhaber said in a statement over the weekend that he would support the Board in firing Lariviere.

Before the board voted Monday, Lariviere said the salary increases he approved helped retain the best faculty and were necessary to avoid becoming "mired in mediocrity."

"Oregonians deserve better than struggling to avoid mediocrity," he said.

Pernsteiner said the board would name an interim president soon.

Lariviere was hired in 2009 after serving as provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas. He makes $540,000 in annual compensation, including a state-funded salary of $245,700 plus supplements from the UO Foundation and deferred compensation.

He was fired without cause and will be paid a lump sum equivalent to his state-funded annual salary. He'll be considered a professor on sabbatical during the second half of the school year and can return next year as a tenured faculty member for life at a salary equivalent to that of the highest-paid UO professor. The salary was not immediately available Monday night.

Under his watch, Lariviere has said, enrollment is at an all-time high, and the freshman class is more diverse and comes in with a higher grade-point average than ever before. He said the university has carefully managed its money during difficult times and has raised millions in private giving and research grants.

While board members said they were trying to uphold the integrity of the university system as a whole, Lariviere's supporters chastised them for a decision critics believe was made without input from the UO community.

"What you're tinkering with here is a world class organization," said Brian Obie, former Eugene mayor and a former president of the University of Oregon Foundation. "This is not an average deal. You are going to screw it up if you follow this course, big time."

Copyright 2011 KPTV. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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