OUS restructuring plan gaining attention

There have been several proposed plans for restructuring the Oregon University System. Image courtesy of mckinstry.com

Public universities facing a potential $100 million dollar cut from next year’s budget are scrambling to restructure the way they financially operate.

Several potential plans for restructure have been proposed by the Oregon University System and individual universities, and one plan in particular is gaining support from the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University.

“We are leaning towards Senate Bill 242, but we want to make sure it’s good for the students,” said Curtis Bartlett, ASSOU vice president.

Oregon Senate Bill 242, if passed, will cede the state legislature’s control of university budgets, tuition policies, and programs to Oregon’s public universities.

The bill, which proposes a new 15-member Higher Education Coordinating Commission, has recently gained great support from legislators and business groups alike due to the expected long-term benefit for the state’s economy and higher education standards.

Supported by OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner, SB 242 would grant autonomy to the university system, which is currently treated like a state agency, and is thus subject to thousands of regulations.

The bill is firmly supported by business organizations, including the Portland Business Alliance, Oregon Business Council, and the Oregon Business Association, who tout the proposal’s potential for increased entrepreneurialism, per capita income, and effectively pulling Oregon out of the recession.

Associated Oregon Industries Vice President Betsy Earls believes that granting more micro-managing discretion to each university’s administration will eventually lead to a more skilled applicant pool for businesses.

“This lack of autonomy limits the university’s ability to innovate, reduce costs, and find alternative forms of revenue,” Earls said.

The Oregon Student Association, which represents over 100,000 students throughout the state, has not yet declared a position on SB 242.

Emma Kallaway, Oregon Student Association representative and former Associated Students of the University of Oregon president, is understandably skeptical.

“There are great ideas around the table, but a change of this magnitude deserves a lot of debate in this session,” Kallaway said.

Bartlett pointed out that ASSOU remains vehemently opposed to SB 559, a separate proposal by U of O President Richard Lariviere. The bill would establish a $1.6 billion endowment for U of O – half funded by private donations, and half by state-issued bonds.

Pernsteiner sees this plan as a burden to all other public schools. “I can understand how the University of Oregon benefits,” he said. “What I don’t understand is how it will benefit Oregon.”

A forum hosted at Portland State University saw many education officials echoing the need for less state regulation on Tuesday. The panel discussed past legislation that has since crippled the quality of higher education in Oregon. Measure 5, which limited property tax and Measure 11, which mandated new prison construction, displayed a severe lack of support for education, aside from taking its funding.

In the past two decades, OUS’ share of the general fund has decreased from 16.9 percent to a mere 5.8 percent, making today’s students pay twice as much for their education than the state does.

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