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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 31 August 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Former members of the State Board of Higher Education say Oregon's public university system needs a major overhaul.

John von Schlegell, who resigned from the board recently, sent Gov. Ted Kulongoski a letter this week calling for fundamental changes in the way the state manages and funds its seven universities.

"If people just wait around for more money and don't change the system with pretty radical changes, we're just dying a slow death," von Schlegell, managing director of a Portland-based private equity firm, told The Oregonian.

Von Schlegell was among the group of business leaders Kulongoski recruited five years ago to serve on the higher education board and help change the public university system.

But this summer, the last of those appointees stepped down, saying they felt disappointed and frustrated over the structural and political roadblocks to make big changes they say are needed.

At least two former members of the 12-person board, who were also appointed in 2004, said they support von Schlegell's letter.

Kirby Dyess, a private investor and retired Intel executive, and Don Blair, vice president and chief financial officer of Nike, also told The Oregonian major changes are required.

"The reality is, we are not going to have money to throw at this and write blank checks," Blair said. "Now is the time to push hard and step up and take some risks."

All three former members stopped short of personally criticizing the governor. But they said Kulongoski had recruited them to makes changes the structure of the existing system prevented them from doing.

"The reality is that there were a lot of things that were not on the table, and it was very frustrating," Dyess said.

Kulongoski is equally frustrated with the slow progress, said Anna Richter Taylor, his spokeswoman.

"It is not easy to tackle a system that is decades in the making, and change is really hard," she said. "But the governor agrees that we have got to find a way to provide more stability to our schools and students."

Von Schlegell proposed setting up higher education as its own public corporation headed by a CEO and citizen board with more power to control its income and costs, such as tuition and health benefits.

The new system would be more efficient and the board would be held accountable for its results, he said.

Wim Wiewel, president of Portland State University, said that getting rid of additional layers of paperwork alone would save money.

The state system serves 86,500 students in seven universities. Oregon's per-student spending on its university system, $5,624, was ranked 45th in the nation last year, according to a report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

State lawmakers boosted university funding significantly, to $893.2 million in 2007-09 but cut it back by about 8 percent to $820.9 million for 2009-11.



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