Oregon Senate OKs nominees for boards of largest universities

PORTLAND — The state Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gov. John Kitzhaber's appointees to the governing boards of Oregon's three largest universities.

Lawmakers during the most recent legislative session approved the creation of independent panels to give Oregon, Oregon State and Portland State more autonomy from the State Board of Higher Education. The new boards will hire and fire presidents, set tuition and fees and oversee university operations.

The governor submitted 14 names for each board. Many of the nominees have backgrounds in fields outside higher education. For example, the University of Oregon board of trustees includes former "Today" show co-host Ann Curry.

Confirmation was postponed in September because of Republican opposition. Each board includes a faculty member and a staff member, and the Republicans said nobody on the board should have voting authority over their own pay.

Republicans reiterated their opposition Thursday but were outvoted by the Democratic majority.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said the board members who are faculty members will be put in a "terribly awkward position" because they will be hearing issues related to their own wages, hours and benefits. "We, the Legislature, have allowed them to be put in a situation where they will be facing continuous conflicts of interest," he said.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, said a "drafting error" kept language barring faculty members from voting on anything related to their working conditions from the bill establishing the boards.

"Our intention is to fix that in February in a larger bill addressing technical changes," Dembrow said. "I agree with you totally that it's unfair to expect people to vote on their own contracts."

The delayed appointments had no effect on the boards because they don't get full power until July 1. Before then, board members will establish bylaws and pick chairs and vice-chairs.

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