At the University of Oregon, there is a man who typically wears a fedora and a smile as he saunters through campus. He looks you in the eye and says hello, even though you have never met. Although he is one of the most important men at the university, he leaves his door open so that you can come and talk to him, no matter if you are a student or a million dollar donor. He is a visionary; a voice that speaks for change. He is a kind-spirited, good-hearted person that I truly respect. This man is Richard Lariviere, president of the University of Oregon.
On Tuesday, November 22, I received an email from the president’s office, along with the entire UO community. The Oregon State Board of Higher Education decided that Lariviere’s contract would not be renewed at the end of the academic year. He was forced to either accept his termination or resign. According to a news article in the Register guard, “It’s widely known Lariviere clashed with the Oregon University System, as he tried to make each university autonomous”. In Lariviere’s words,
This turn of events is a result of the ongoing difference of opinion over the future of the UO. But meaningful change often turns on uncomfortable moments, and it is my hope that I will be leaving the university well-positioned to take advantage of ongoing reforms to our state’s system of public universities.
I was devastated when I heard the news. Lariviere gave underrepresented students a voice, and diversified our campus. I always admired his progressive outlook and philanthropic efforts. I’m not the only one who feels this way — the campus seems to be in an uproar of outrage over this decision.
At a meeting Wednesday morning, the department heads at the College of Arts and Science voted unanimously in support of Lariviere. The UO Senate sent out a petition for reinstatement for students, faculty and staff to sign. The School of Journalism and Communication started a blog called “We Love Our Pres” that gives real-time updates and organizes rallies. Banners hang from various buildings on campus that say “I Stand With The Hat” in full support of our president.
Even Nike founder and UO alum Phil Knight made a statement about the situation:
“It deeply saddens me that some people in power in our state continue to drive Oregon into a death spiral with their embrace of mediocrity. It’s yet another application of Oregon’s Assisted Suicide law.
For the chancellor and the State Board of Higher Education, a ‘team player’ is someone who falls in line with their acceptance of mediocrity, and the one who strives for excellence does not fit in. Let us hope that the Oregon community can take this astonishingly bad decision and recognize that it does not have to define us. We still have the collective capacity to rise up and do great things.”
As one of my professors asked in an email,
What is the University of Oregon brand if one who many feel to be a visionary leader is summarily dismissed? What happens to the culture of the place when momentum stops or when faculty leave? How should partners or donors or perspective students or perspective faculty members to feel?