Sunday, November 27, 2011

Higher education, corporations, power, and football

Our modern world is so complex and whatever sounds simple, when I first hear about it, likely won't end up that way. So the latest example again involves our Oregon governor who once again stepped in where angels fear to tread-- good thing he wears boots. This time it involves education, power, corporations, and football.

When we were driving up I-5 after the Thanksgiving holiday with our kids, I began spinning the radio dial trying to find talk radio. We came across a Eugene station. The program was called something like raging liberal and the two guests were university professors who were irate over their University of Oregon president being fired for which they were blaming Oregon's governor and the State Board of Higher Education. The host openly said he was also connected to the university, but I forget in what way.

At first it sounded like the president had just been summarily fired and final word would go down on Monday-- which means the people must rise up to demand the state keep this paragon of virtue. Since we had come in midway, we couldn't quite figure out why the abrupt firing, but our first thought was-- is Kitzhaber nuts given this is Civil War week-end with ducks and beavers swarming into Eugene for the big game?

For this being three supposedly very articulate people, the most we got from them  was the desire they had to have Oregonians put pressure out there to keep the president because of an important meeting regarding the firing on Monday. These people, and most of their callers, were furious and the governor was taking a lot of their rage; so it was hard to understand the reasons behind the firing. They did a satirical tape comparing it to firing a winning football coach right before the big game.

To them their president was innovative, stretching into the next century for his wonderful ideas, drawing in students from other nations, pulling in so much corporate money that in a time of difficult finances UofO was swimming in money, so much so that they had all unilaterally been given raises this spring. But as they said, this was perfectly fair that the other university systems had not been because everyone knew they were the best of the best, deserved the raises and the other two-bit state universities weren't able to compete with big universities back east like UofO could. On it went and pretty soon our sympathies were changing.

As we drove between Eugene and our turn toward Corvallis, the freeway was literally filled with cars going south to the game (those who weren't probably wondered what the heck was going on). For Oregon, college sports, even now with a few professional teams, is really the only game in town and the fans are rabid. UofO almost always gets into a bowl. OSU never does which means the outcome is normally preordained although there have been those Hail Mary years which infuriates the ducks who blame them for being spoilers.

So when I got home, I started looking for the reasons behind the firing, which turns out to not be a firing but a non-renewal of contract, over which he had been warned the year before that he would only have a one-year extension to improve his non-compliance with the goals the larger system in Oregon has for its university system.  He didn't see himself as part of any larger system as it was all about him and his university and he had the power.

I read more material about the complaints going far and wide over this firing [Voices of outrage in Gabon] and  [UofO community and students outraged over firing] -- of course, this is a firing that isn't a firing but a non-renewal of a contract where warning was given as to why-- never mind facts when people get their emotions aroused. Perhaps there will now be an Occupy UofO movement to take over the university for those dissatisfied.

So I began thinking about this and what Kitzhaber is saying. In a time where our other state universities are in trouble, UofO can draw in the big corporate bucks. This president is going overseas to draw students who can pay full tuition. Yes, I see the value of multiculturalism, but isn't the first concern supposed to be to our own students and country? No?

And those corporate dollars, they have a right to donate where they want; but when they go only one place, what about the rest of the students in the state? Maybe this president and his students had no concern for the other students but isn't it the job of the governor to care for more than the elites? What Kitzhaber said is when UofO sucks up all the dollars, Oregon's university system is ending up only being about it. His concern is to make all the universities able to give good educations that can get their students jobs. How plebeian a notion.

Listening to these three people talk on the radio was a good example of how they see the other universities-- pffft. Reading about the details of the reasons later, and having listened to these the three people discussing this on the radio are enough to convince me that the State Board of Higher Education wants to do the right thing (if they aren't scared out from doing it) and Kitzhaber is once again right on-- even though he's about to be bombarded by the corporate threats of withdrawing of funds and the elites putting him down for daring to not consider their needs primarily.

The elite (by their own definition) professors said if they didn't get these raises, they would go elsewhere. Hey go for it. And if Phil Knight (Nike) wants to run our state, I suggest he run for office. I am tired of business dictating everything and when it's also our universities, turning one of them into a king and the rest serfs, I think they don't get it that we are about more than elites and the peasants. Oh wait-- that is exactly how they think it is!

No comments: