Progress: Not on My Watch

John Costa, editor-in-chief of the Bend Bulletin, published an interesting column this past weekend dealing with the Oregon University System. I don’t know John Costa personally; however, based on the editorial policies of the Bend Bulletin, I doubt that anyone would mistake him as a conservative.

And yet there he was, decrying the decay of the government run university system and promoting the idea of competitive, private universities — including (gasp) those that have religious affiliations. His concluding paragraph told it all:

“Two very different estimations of higher education. One [state owned] based on obstacles, the other [private owned] on opportunities.” [Bracketed words inserted]

Costa’s frustrations spring from 1) the inability of the state university system, the governor or the legislature to provide a definitive answer as to whether the state should locate a unit of the higher education system in Central Oregon, and 2) the stunning lack of progress by Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s blue ribbon state higher education board to provide any meaningful reforms to reverse the university systems slide into academic mediocrity. The trigger, apparently, for Mr. Costa’s editorial was the resignation letter by former State Board of Higher Education member John von Schlegell in which von Schlegell castigated the university system in general and Gov. Kulongoski in particular for the stagnation we know as Oregon’s university system.

But the bigger question is why is anyone surprised?

First, when confronted with difficult problems or controversial programs, Gov. Kulongoski routinely appoints blue ribbon commissions and high profile boards and thereafter ignores both them and their reports. Politics dominates the Kulongoski administration and change rarely occurs if one of Oregon’s entrenched bureaucracies objects. While Gov. Kulongoski is hopeful that his legacy will be something to do with the “greening” of Oregon, the more likely scenario will be a legacy of doing nothing during a period of significant economic chaos. Given the governor’s lack of accomplishments, it is not surprising that he used feckless commissions to smother opportunities for change and reform.

And second, the lack of reform in the state’s university system can be laid almost singularly on the public employees who, in fact, run the institutions of the university system in Oregon. Like their comrades in state and local governments, the employees of the university system enjoy the rich benefits of a gold plated healthcare insurance program and a generous PERS or PERS-like retirement program. Like their comrades in state and local governments, they enjoy virtually lifetime guaranteed employment — made even more certain in the university system through tenure and academic seniority. Like their counterparts in state and local governments, their relative importance is judged primarily on the size of the budget and the number of employees they control rather than the quality or importance of their work.

But, unlike their counterparts in state and local government, the public employees who run the university system have raised the concept of inertia to a high form of art. Leave aside the members of the State Board of Higher Education, the university chancellor, and the presidents of the various university units — all mere figure heads when it comes to the actual running of the universities. In their place are academic departments, chaired by tenured professors who resist change through a series of committees, each in turn chaired by another tenured professor.

These academic departments are treated much like ancient fiefdoms whose recognition and independence are jealously guarded. Some departments are governed by tyrants who see change as a threat to their authority. The remaining departments are governed as if they were cells where unanimous agreement is a prerequisite to change and any fool can block an idea no matter how meritorious. These academic principalities come together in some form of university senate where petty jealousy, self-importance and political correctness trump budget, collective direction and reform each and every time.

In the end, the university system, like state government, is run for the benefit of its employees, not the students and, most certainly, not the taxpayers who fund its operations. Neither the governor nor the legislature has demonstrated the will power necessary to challenge this entrenched bureaucracy. Mr. Costa said it best,

“To call progress during his (Kulongoski’s) regime slow sucks the very meaning out of the word glacial.”

Mr. Costa then went on to contrast the state university system to private colleges by quoting from a letter from Dr. Gary Andeen, president of the Oregon Independent Colleges Association:

“[I came to Bend to] discuss why the Bend community would want to saddle itself with bureaucratic and funding dilemmas associated with a state institution when the Central Oregon community probably has the resources to launch a fine locally governed nonprofit independent institution offering upper division and graduate programs in tandem with COCC (Central Oregon Community College).” [Bracketed words inserted]

* * *

“I’m still convinced that such an undertaking is eminently doable in Central Oregon and only makes more and more sense as the state higher education budget continues to evaporate and years of experimentation with OUS (Oregon University System) tick by.”

I have no idea whether a new university (state or private) is a viable proposition in Central Oregon or not. But that is not the point. In Oregon, the university system is simply another example of a government institution being run for the benefit of its employees rather than its citizens. And as Mr. Costa noted:

“Two very different estimations of higher education. One [state owned] based on obstacles, the other [private owned] on opportunities.” [Bracketed words inserted]

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 11 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Malcolm Grundig

    The Oregon system of higher ed is a fine, fine system. I went there and my kids went there. We are doing OK. We feel that we got a good education. Sure, the classes were a little crowded, the equipment a little dated, the buildings a little decayed, but we all got good higher educations. You can’t blame the professors for wanting PERS and good benefits. Look at how hard they work! They often have two or even three classes to teach in one semester, sometimes meeting 2 or ven 3 times each week. This year classes begin September 28th and go all the way to December 11! Then, it starts all over again January 4th. That is only 23 days off between fall and winter teaching. Nobody would want such a work schedule. And, don’t forget, some of these classes meet 2 or 3 times each week.

    Plus, in addition, these professors are expected to write papers, get published, give talks, engage in real-world research, and more.

    If you ask me, these people are the unsung heroes of today. Without college degrees most of us would be wait persons or bus drivers. I say pay them what they are worth. They need a living wage, too.

    At OSU here is what they get for benefits. Not much if you ask me:

    Oregon State University offers a generous employee benefit package that includes medical, vision, dental, life, and disability coverage for employees working 1/2 time or more. Also provided is a choice of retirement plans after 6 full months of employment in a qualifying position.

    The average salary at Oregon State is only $65,052.00 and the average amount spent on benefits is only about $20,000.00. This hardly seems extreme for talented people willing to work hard to secure our future, although, I will admit, this means over half of all professors make more each year than 80% of all working Americans.

    Enough with the bashing. Let’s honor these selfless academics for the great work they do each and every day.

  • retired science prof UO

    As noted recently, really amusing to see Larry Huss here bashing benefits, salaries, mediocrity. This is the guy who ran the thoroughly mediocre US West in Oregon. What was your health insurance package like, Mr. Huss? Your salary? What is your pension? What does your CEO make? (Hint: Easy to find, 7 figures and not low 7 either.)

    Were you a professor? You talk like you know a lot about how departments, committees, etc. work. It sounds like a bunch of hot air to me.

    I would like to see Mr. Huss get a tenure-track position at UO or OSU, let alone succeed in getting tenure.

  • Bob Clark

    Kulongowski is a slow-motion California-style train wreck. Going green really means sucking taxpayer dollars away from Oregonians and sending them to China for expensive solar panels and electric cars. It means jacking up the price of electricity so as to subsidize some out-of-state multinational corporation sporting the green label. It means seeing the east end of the Columbia Gorge blighted with these ugly looking man-made blender like machines called wind turbines. Personally, I think the silhuoettes of the pumping oil wells in Los Angeles county are more appealing, and they actually produce a lot more energy per acre of land on a more reliable basis. Furthermore, going green means shifting millions of dollars away from educating young folks and the big returns that can result from such investment, and redirecting them down the “green venture-let-it-ride” hole.

    Yeah, Kulongowski’s going to have a legacy alright but I doubt if its anything like Tom McCalls. He’ll be lucky if he isn’t given the Know-Nothing Party award posthumously.

  • Harry

    Were you a professor? You talk like you know a lot about how departments, committees, etc. work. It sounds like a bunch of hot air to me.

    I would like to see Mr. Huss get a tenure-track position at UO or OSU, let alone succeed in getting tenure.
    #2 retired science prof UO on 2009-09-09 14:20 (Reply)

    retread UO prof…. getting tenure is done by a vote of existing profs with their own bias. It is an election based upon sucking up to people who want to promote more of the same, hence the lack of diversity in universities nationwide. That is why loser rejects like Ward Churchil can get tenured in UColorado in Boulder, because he claimed to have 1/64th native american indian blood, and because he hates Bush, hates capitalism, hates America, and hates regular people (he only has love for other socialist radicals). Success in academia is judged based only on politics. Google Kissinger’s quote regarding same to more fulling educate yourself.

  • retired science prof UO

    Some ridiculous stuff being tossed around here. $65K a big salary for a professor, say a science professor? Look at what comparable people make in industry! Beginning Ph.D. students in science make over $80K in industry, where the demands are a lot less. Don’t take my word for it, ask my former students. Academic salaries are half or less what people could make outside. Don’t take my word for it, ask my former colleagues who have left for industry.

    It’s interesting that Harry knows so much about what goes on in tenure decisions.

    Having participated in literally dozens of hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions, I can say that the number of times political views have played a factor is exactly zero. I don’t know what goes on in the ethnic studies department; nobody knows or cares about them. Ward Churchill is about as typical as Bernard Madoff.

    Harry, you just don’t know what you’re talking about. Get a Ph.D., do a postdoc, get a tenure-track job if you can, get tenure, then you can find out.

    Kissinger’s quote was about academic politics (aka office politics), it had nothing to do with real politics.

    By the way, it’s interesting how often the federal government has turned to academics for high-level positions. Think about secretaries of state, defense, treasury, federal reserve …..

    What’s really crazy is the talk here about Oregon’s academic mediocrity. You guys starve the public universities here, then wonder why they’re not top-notch. Buffoons like Larry Huss and Jerry talking about stuff of which they know nothing.

    No wonder the Republicans are now losing the college-educated vote.

    • capor

      “No wonder the Republicans are now losing the college-educated vote.”

      So you believe that most college educated people are Democrats? Likely if they come from UO I guess.

      I believe some of the reason Repubs might lose SOME of the “college educated” vote is the venom spewed by left wing professors like you. Lets be real here. Most of those students never had to be responsible for anything more than homework. When they are forced to listen to leftist trash in a lecture that they aren’t allowed to debate without being chastized in front of the entire group they might eventually buy it. Lot’s of us have listened to characters like you while we were in college. I have never been more Republican than those moments.

      • v person

        “So you believe that most college educated people are Democrats? ”

        Obama got 53% of the vote from folks with a college degree, which is most, not some. All the trends show that the more education one has (from college on up,) the more Democratic the voter. And this is a huge change from the 70s and 80s , before Republicans went on their science trashing campaign and started dittoing the likes of poorly educated Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck.

        Ask yourself, why are college professors liberal to begin with? It wasn’t always the case. And most professors are not teaching politics, they are teaching engineering, medicine, archtecture, English, languages, and science.

        I would say it is posts like Mr Huss’s that are driving educated people farther and farther away from the Republican party.

        • Anonymous

          Ostensibly educated by what’s left of US, v person.

        • capor

          “I would say it is posts like Mr Huss’s that are driving educated people farther and farther away from the Republican party.”

          There you go again. Same old liberal behavior. Name calling, trash talking. Claiming Republican mentality, thus conservative thinking must not be highly educated. Well you are wrong. I would match wits, experience, ambition, professionalism, and overall intelligent capability with you and your hero’s any day. I would also match my hero’s against yours any day as well.

          Come to a Tea Party function on Saturday and see how many “educated” people are standing out there ready to intelligently debate you over tax and spend mentality and the lack of credible performance measures we all see in the higher education system in Oregon and the USA. That is really what Mr. Huss’ post is about.

          • v person

            Name calling? Trash talking? You have an interesting imagination.

            I didn’t make any claim about Republican “mentality”. But now that you mention it, yes. A party that nominates a Sara Palin to be a heartbeat away from the presidency is a party (and a “movement”) that has devalued intellect and education. And that same party and movement that takes its cues from a handful of college dropout radio jocks.

            A Tea Party function? Thanks for the invititation, but no thanks. I’ve seen tea party debate tactics already. Shouting, wild accusations and exagerations, phony patriotism. I’ll take a pass.

      • retired science prof UO

        It’s a fact that the Democrats beat the Republicans handily among college educated voters in the last election. Very handily among voters with a postgraduate degree.

        You can blame that on places like UO or people like me — I voted for McCain, it turns out. But maybe you should take a look in the mirror.

        Or read the article again. Vicious and stupid, and factually ignorant, all at once. Good going!

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