Five Years of UO Privatization

The Board of Trustees (BoT) currently serves as the top governing body at the University of Oregon, presiding over decisions that have brought the ire of many students and labor unions. The BoT, however, has been the governing body of the UO for less than six years.

A group of wealthy people created the Oregonians for Higher Education Excellence PAC and led the way in advocating for Senate Bill 270.The PAC donors supporting Senate Bill 270 included Nike co-founder Phil Knight, BoT chair Chuck Lillis, and Patrick Kilkenny. Phil Knight thought the UO was being held back by the state, and when proponent of Bill 270 and then-UO President Richard Lariviere was fired, Knight said it was “an application of Oregon’s Assisted Suicide law.”

The University of Oregon was previously governed by the state along with all of the other universities under the Oregon University System (OUS). With guidance and pressure starting in 2010 from state legislators, UO leaders, and corporate interests, the OUS was disbanded in favor of a model of more “self-governance” by the universities. In 2014, the University of Oregon Board of Trustees was created, with members appointed by the Governor.
Opponents of Senate Bill 270 included major university staff unions and the Oregon Student Association, a statewide student advocacy organization. Among the concerns cited were costs, lack of faculty representation, and less state oversight of tuition costs (the legislation allowed boards to increase tuition up to 4% without state approval). Ultimately Governor Kitzhaber signed the legislation creating boards at universities into law in 2014.

See The Rise of Unaccountable Power by Andrew Lubash for a robust honors thesis this topic.

-Matthew Osborn-Grosso is a community organizer and writes a weekly newsletter with a focus on labor that can be found at solidarity.substack.com

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