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INTERVIEW: Governor Kitzhaber Talks About Lariviere’s Termination

December 7, 2011

By Kate Renner

SALEM, Ore. — Governor Kitzhaber spoke exclusively to KEZI Wednesday about the firing of UO President Richard Lariviere.

I had four minutes to sit down with the governor.

Here is the full, unedited interview:

KATE RENNER: My first question is, ‘How much of the firing of Richard Lariviere was your idea and under your advisement?’

JOHN KITZHABER: Well this is a decision made my the Board, but we’re really moving forward here. Yesterday, I met with representatives of the faculty and students here in the conference room, also members of the foundation and the alumni board. They’re very interested in moving forward and very excited about the opportunity to be directly involved in the transition and in the long term search for the president, but more importantly, their efforts to move Oregon education forward across the board.

RENNER: So was much of the decision the Board’s or under your advisement?

KITZHABER: I’m not interested in revisiting the past. I’m interested in moving forward, and I think it’s important for the University of Oregon to engage in our pursuit of excellence across the system of education. As I said, I think we’ve got a good start after the meeting we had yesterday.

RENNER: Your job as Governor is to look out for the whole Oregon University System. But the job of the president of the university, isn’t it to look out for what’s best for the university, which is what Lariviere did?

KITZHABER: Well, I think it’s both. That’s why we have a system of higher education. We’re interested in pursuing excellence in education certainly in Lane County and at the University of Oregon, which is an incredibly important institution, but also in a big urban institution, Portland State, and our land grant colleges and the regionals as well.

RENNER: Some major University of Oregon donors, including Lorry Lokey and Phil Knight, have some harsh words to say, I’m sure you’ve read them. About a ‘death spiral and being mediocre at the University of Oregon.’ What do you have to say in response to that, and are you worried about donations?

KITZHABER: Well, what I have to say is it’s really time to move forward. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ve got a really ambitious plan here in the State to really excel from early childhood to post-secondary education. Our system of post-secondary education, our university system is a really important part of that. And what we need to do now is really lean in to that together and make sure that happens.

RENNER: Are you worried about donors and their hesitancy?

KITZHABER: I’m not worried about donors.

RENNER: Did you yourself not raise salaries of state workers back in 1995 even though there was a freeze in effect for state workers? Is this different from Lariviere increasing salaries even though there’s a freeze in effect at your demand?

KITZHABER: I think the issue in this biennium that we face is one of the largest per capita deficits in the country, larger than Southern California or Washington, and we were trying to come up with an equitable way to manage through the budget crisis.

RENNER: So you’re saying the budget was different in ’95 than it is now?

KITZHABER: Significantly different, we were in a boom economy in ’95.

RENNER: But weren’t you yourself a maverick and went rogue in that respect, so wouldn’t you have respect for Lariviere in doing that?

KITZHABER: I have respect for the instructors and professors at every one of our seven universities.

RENNER: What was the breaking point in Lariviere’s tenure where you and the state Board had had enough?

KITZHABER: I’m not going to revisit that. You can keep asking me of course but, I won’t answer.

RENNER: I do, but I told you this is what the interview was about.

RENNER: Your two most public actions involve this termination (Lariviere’s) and staying all executions while you are in office, neither of which is popular with people. Would you say you are becoming a heavy-handed governor?

KITZHABER: Well on the issue of Mr. Haugen it was a personal decision. I have that latitude in the constitution to make the decision I did.  And not everything you do, pleases everybody. But at the end of the day this was certainly a decision that was right for me and I think ultimately will stimulate a long overdue conversation about the death penalty in Oregon.

RENNER: Are you worried about not getting reelected because these are unpopular decisions?

KITZHABER: Not a bit.

RENNER: How did you and Lariviere see eye to eye on the future of education and the broken university system?

KITZHABER: Dr. Lariviere is a real visionary. I think he was a real advocate for policies that I think make a great deal of sense not just for the University of Oregon but for the larger university system, and I think the important lesson here is those policies need to be cast in the frame of ‘how do we create excellence in higher education in the state of Oregon, not just for the University of Oregon, but for all of the institutions of higher learning that are so important to our state?’

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