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Coffee with U. of Oregon President Lariviere

I had coffee recently with Richard Lariviere, president of the University of Oregon.

One of 60 members of the elite Association of American Universities, UO has one of the nation's premiere education schools, a cartoon character as its mascot and the glorious -- or perhaps dubious -- distinction of having loaned its campus to the makers of Animal House.

"My office is Dean Wormer's office," Lariviere said.

For the president's 60th birthday in January, his wife smuggled a life-size fiberglass horse into the office,

Oregon_Ducks.gif

"This is actually a really optimistic and hopeful moment for the University of Oregon," Lariviere said. The university is "hiring aggressively" -- How many state universities are doing that? -- and working with state government toward a new, more predictable funding model than annual appropriations from the state.

State funding has dipped from $80 million to $67 million in the downturn, and now represents 8 to 9 percent of total university funding, he said.

"We just learned two days ago, three days ago, the amount of funding we will receive for this academic year," he said, in a meeting last week.

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Richard Lariviere (Courtesy UO)


How to make it more predictable? The proposal, if I understood it correctly, is to convert state funding from annual outlays to a bond fund, which "would be managed as if it were an endowment," with consistent revenue going to the school each year. Attempting this "would probably result in trying to change the constitution of the state of Oregon," he said.

UO has weathered the recession well because its state funding was small to begin with, Lariviere said. The university's situation is similar to that of the University of Virginia, whose state support has dwindled from 26 percent to 7 percent of the school's budget over the past 20 years.

In its state of relative health, the university is "aggressively pursuing" the thousands of students who will not get in to the University of California system this year because of grevious cuts in the neighboring state.

Like Virginia, Oregon has increased tuition to replace lost student funds. Tuition is up 14 percent this year, to $7,428 for residents; students absorbed a $150 midyear increase last year.

"No one is happy about it," Lariviere said. "We simply sat down with students and showed them why it was necessary."

Through its Pathway Oregon program, in its second year, the university helps students from low-income families by picking up the difference between a federal Pell Grant and total tuition and fees.

UO relies heavily on nonresident tuition. Nonresidents pay $16,107, and they make up 43 percent of the student population, significantly higher than the nonresident ratio in any Maryland or Virginia school. Local politics dictate that U-Va. and the University of Maryland reserve at least two-thirds of their seats for locals, who don't like to compete with out-of-state students for admission.

Unlike U-Va. and U-Md., UO is able to admit all qualified applicants, who must bring a 3.0 grade-point average and a competitive SAT score. But in another two years, Lariviere fears the school will run out of space and start turning students away. Then, one supposes, local attitudes about out-of-state and foreign students may shift.

UO accepts ever-larger numbers of students from India and China, as well as California, Washington and Colorado.

"Our prices are still, in terms of international value, a huge value," he said.

Lariviere, a linguist by training with a doctorate in Sanskrit, came to UO last July. He had been provost at the University of Kansas and, before that, an administrator at the University of Texas in Austin.

I asked him whether he expects to see a decline in the great public flagship schools of California, whose deep budget cuts sparked a statewide student and faculty protest last week.

Yes, he said, but it will be "a longer-term phenomenon." Berkeley, for example, houses "a dozen or so departments that are as good as you will find anywhere in the world." Senior faculty aren't likely to leave those departments because of the economy, Lariviere said. But younger faculty -- the future leaders -- may take their careers elsewhere.

"If you talk to any young faculty at Berkeley, all you will hear is endless complaints about the quality of life itself," he said.

The university has hired about 50 new faculty this year, from California, the University of Michigan and other prestigious institutions.

"The department chairs and deans have big grins on their faces," he said.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  March 10, 2010; 5:32 AM ET
Categories:  Administration , Admissions , Aid , Finance , Public policy , Publics  | Tags: AAU, Berkeley, Richard Lariviere, University of Oregon  
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