Editorial: Public deserves explanation for UO president’s departure

Published Aug 8, 2014 at 12:14AM

The University of Oregon’s new Board of Trustees gained authority to hire and fire the university’s president just five weeks before Wednesday’s abrupt resignation by UO President Michael Gottfredson.

He’d been in the job only two years, he gave one day’s notice, and he mentioned no new job. It’s six weeks before the new school year, and he said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Yet despite all those indications that something’s wrong, we are treated to a statement from Board Chair Chuck Lillis that compliments Gottfredson, 63, on his successes and offers no explanation for his departure.

We deserve better.

Each community in this state has myriad threads of connection to this prominent public institution. Although taxpayer support has diminished in recent years, the public built the university and supports it through tax dollars and tuition payments and donations.

Gottfredson’s predecessor, Richard Lariviere, was popular among students and faculty but was run out of town in part because he insisted on lobbying for the independence now embodied by the new Board of Trustees. Ironically, Lillis’ statement gives Gottfredson credit for helping to bring the new governance structure into existence.

Public response to the resignation suggests a lack of enthusiasm for Gottfredson’s leadership.

• Ben Cannon, head of the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, told The Oregonian the departure creates “an exciting opportunity for the University of Oregon.”

• UO student Gordon Friedman told The (Eugene) Register-Guard this “might be a good thing” and would open the way for someone who would connect with students and faculty the way Lariviere did.

• UO economics professor Bill Harbaugh wrote in an email to The Register-Guard that “While Lariviere and (former President Dave) Frohnmayer loved the job, Gottfredson seemed to hate it, and he was really bad at it, too.” Harbaugh also said donations were down during Gottfredson’s tenure, despite expectations they would soar with the advent of independent governance.

It’s time for UO’s new board to break with the secrecy of the university’s recent past. Tell us what happened with Gottfredson. Make the process of finding his replacement public. Engage the institution’s many supporters instead of shutting them out.