Oregon Public Broadcasting

University of Oregon has lost its president. Members of the state board of higher education voted unanimously Monday to terminate Richard Lariviere's contract, six months early.

The vote came in spite of vocal support from the U of O community to keep him on.

112811_lariviere02_small.jpgBoard of Higher of Education meets about its decision to end Richard Lariviere's contract.

Richard Lariviere walked into the higher education board meeting to a standing ovation from a packed audience at the state board hearing.

A few minutes later, Oregon University System chancellor George Pernsteiner formally recommended that board members cut ties with Lariviere, well before June, when his contract is up.

"With the provision to Dr. Lariviere of the required 30 calendar days' written notice, should you agree with my recommendation, the employment agreement will terminate without cause, effective December 28, 2011," Pernsteiner said as a chorus of "Boos" came from Lariviere supporters in the room.

Then board members listened to faculty members, alumni, and students, like Laura Henley, who sat across from them to challenge the decision they were considering.

"I've sat on university senate, I've sat on student senate. I've sat in private meetings with Dr. Lariviere. Throughout all those encounters with my university, there's been transparency. So I ask this board to please be transparent about your decision today. Because as a student, I don't understand why this is happening," Henley said.

Other Lariviere supporters didn't limit themselves to three-minute testimony slots. They interrupted board members -- like board president Matt Donegan, who was challenged from the audience. 

"This university has great pride. I've seen it. I've felt it. And the fact that people are going to be outraged - absolutely, I expected that," Donegan said.

"Part of the problem here is the dynamic between President Lariviere and chancellor Pernsteiner. I would like to hear chancellor Pernsteiner and his point of view...." an audience member challenged.

"I'm being told that it's just not appropriate," was Donegan's reply.

Donegan summarized the problem with Lariviere in one phrase: "erosion of trust."

Donegan ticked off examples. Lariviere gave pay raises, even though the university system had agreed to austerity measures. Lariviere continued to advocate at the legislature for a bill to allow independent funding and governance for U of O, even though the bill didn't have support of the system as a whole.

Donegan says that advocacy threatened another bill that did.

Donegan told reporters after the hearing that Lariviere missed important state board meetings - including one on an issue important to U of O, involving the creation of campus-level oversight boards.

"This was where the board was reviewing the very 'local board' concepts that he'd been championing for two years. So again, it's not any one issue, it's just been a long, deepening divide," according to Donegan.

The word "frustration" came up a lot as board members prepared to vote. But that wasn't the only feeling.

Jim Francesconi became a higher ed board member after serving two terms on the Portland city council.

"This is one of the saddest days of my professional life, and the reason is that there are no winners today, at a time that we need to come together," Francesconi said.

In the end, board members agreed to terminate Lariviere on December 28th. They said it will help  the university system as a whole, and U of O.

That's not how faculty members, like economics professor, Bill Harbaugh, see it. 

"I think the faculty is going to pull together and do the best job it can do for the students, but it's going to fight like hell against the Oregon University System and the chancellor," Harbaugh said.

As for Richard Lariviere, he may be out as University of Oregon president, but he's not planning to go anywhere.

"I will probably go back to the faculty and join them as a colleague and teach classical India and Sanskrit," Lariviere said.

Lariviere will receive $245,000 -- the equivalent of one-year of salary. His contract also allows him to become a tenured professor after his termination - with a six-figure salary.

Board members plan to choose an interim president during Lariviere's last 30 days. After that, they'll have to look for another long-term leader - a job that Lariviere supporters say will be more difficult now.

Board members say it's still an attractive job.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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