Former Higher Education board member John von Schlegell has written Governor Kulongoski a letter “calling for an overhaul of the way the state manages and funds its seven universities.” I’ve not seen the full letter, but Oregonian reporter Suzanne Pardington’s article “Former higher education leaders say Oregon’s system needs overhaul” (here) reports on it and supporting comments from two additional former Board of Higher Education members, Kirby Dyess and Don Blair.
"If people just wait around for more money and don't change the system with pretty radical changes, we're just dying a slow death," von Schlegell, managing director of a Portland-based private equity firm, told The Oregonian.
Two former members of the 12-person board, who were also appointed in 2004 and stepped down this year, said they support von Schlegell's letter.
Kirby Dyess, a private investor and retired Intel executive, and Don Blair, vice president and chief financial officer of Nike, said they agree that the state needs to make fundamental changes to meet its higher education goals.
I have been advocating more Mandarin and study abroad programs to the Board of Higher Education since the summer of 2006. I have spoken with and written to most of the Board members. I have attended numerous Board meetings and read most of their meeting agendas and materials. I have not heard anywhere near this level of frustration with the higher ed status quo articulated before, certainly not in open meetings.
So I find this letter strange. I do not think these three board members exercised the power they had while on the Board. There is too much passing the buck, now trying to pass it back to the governor. This letter is another example. See my June 5th, 2009, post “Stopping By the Board of Higher Ed Meeting,” which reports (here):
In between meetings, I spoke with three board members. I just reminded one that Oregon needed more Mandarin fluent graduates. He remembered me. With the other two, I had a short discussion. Both, at first, tried to pass off responsibility for expanding Mandarin programs to the University presidents. I said I had spoken, written and emailed to most of them repeatedly. They had done nothing. Both said there was little they could do from the Board level. This is, of course, nonsense. At the least, the Board could show interest, could ask for a report on the number and Mandarin fluency level of graduates across the Oregon University System, and could ask for ideas on how to expand Mandarin programs and enrollment. I tried to remind these board members that they had the responsibility, and that just because Oregon was having economic and budget problems, the world did not stop changing.
I have no explanation as to why as Board members these three did not act, either doing what I suggested or following their own concerns.
Now, what do they suggest? The Oregonian article further reports:
Von Schlegell proposes setting up higher education as its own public corporation headed by a CEO and citizen board with more power to control its income and costs, such as tuition and health benefits.
And later in the article:
Von Schlegell proposes giving the system a lump sum instead of breaking it into 6,300 different line items in the state budget. The per-student funding should be no worse than 25th out of 50 states, he wrote.
Pretty tame suggestions. And they may be too late. Since beyond my advocacy of Mandarin and study abroad programs, I tend to think Oregon can no longer afford to support the traditional residential model of higher education. It has become too expensive. Online courses, and entire universities, are changing everything. Why should Oregon pay for the traditional residential universities when online degrees are nearly free. There needs to be a total rethink of higher ed with everything on the table including privatization, higher ed vouchers for students, reorganizing the research component, sending many more students to study abroad, and creating a four year (or more) online university. (See my January 27, 2009 post “Musings on Higher Ed” (here) for more background).
Finally, the Oregonian article says:
Kulongoski plans to give von Schlegell's ideas to the governor's "reset Cabinet," a panel of advisers on making big changes to state government.
What is this “reset Cabinet?” Where can I find out more?