Editorial: Faculty vote question delays approval of nominees

Should faculty members on new university governing boards have a vote in board decisions? That’s the issue that hung up Senate confirmation of all board nominees last week.

Republicans say the result could be faculty members voting on their own compensation. The absence of several Democrats allowed the GOP to block confirmation.

The new boards, approved by the 2013 Legislature, will govern the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Portland State University. The boards include alumni and business leaders, in addition to faculty, staff and student representatives. The law left the governor to decide if faculty would have the vote, and he ruled in favor.

The delay last week in confirming the nominees is unfortunate. The boards have much to do in getting organized, writing bylaws, learning about their new responsibilities.

But the voting issue is not trivial.

Faculty input and involvement is critical to the boards’ ability to get a full perspective on many complex issues. However, some faculty are unionized, making them adversaries of the administration in contract negotiations. That status argues for an advisory role for faculty on the institutional boards, not a voting role.

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, told us state law prohibits union members from sitting on boards that negotiate union contracts for school districts, and the GOP sees the same issue for the new university institutional boards. Still, he said the Republicans are willing to go along with nonvoting seats for faculty.

During last week’s Senate discussion, Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said he had no objection to the individuals nominated, and he preferred to approve the nonfaculty members so the boards could move forward. Instead, once it became clear the full slate could not be approved, the Senate voted to refer the issue to committee and reconsider it at its next voting opportunity in November.

It would have been better to approve most board nominees and then work on resolving the faculty voting conflict. Instead, organizational work is on hold until legislators can find a compromise that doesn’t ignore the fact that the union’s interests aren’t always the same as those of the institution as a whole.