The Rise of Unaccountable Power: The Fight for Self-Determination at the University of Oregon
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The creation of the new Board of Trustees at the University of Oregon in 2014, through SB 270, catalyzed a power struggle between University administrators and campus stakeholders that had simmered beneath the political surface for decades. While past literature on university governance has generally focused on its structural implications, this paper explores not only the impact of the structure of the UO Board, but also the political narratives that revealed themselves through open political conflict during the first year of its existence. Drawing on interviews with stakeholders, media accounts, primary documents, and the author’s firsthand experience working in the University Senate and in Salem during the 2013 legislative session, this paper reveals the conflicts created between stakeholders with two distinct visions of what excellence looks like at the University of Oregon (UO). Starting with a historical account of major issues facing the UO, this paper first explains the motivations behind the intense lobbying effort to remove UO from the Oregon University System (OUS). It then analyzes the political landscape that existed in Salem during the 2013 legislative session that produced, after significant compromise, SB 270. Next, this paper delves into the political conflicts (e.g. the “Policy on the Retention and Delegation of Authority” and the “Policy on University Policies”) that have occurred since the Board came to power, and the resulting implications of the Board’s decisions for the future of the University. This paper concludes with a look to the future, commenting on observed patterns, and offering suggestions as to how the Board can avoid future conflict while moving forward.