While the State of Oregon is a lovely state, it probably suffers a bit of an inferiority complex, sandwiched in by the nations most populous and technologically advanced state to its South and a state with two of the nations five most valuable corporations located to the North. And while the University of Oregon (UO) is a respectable flagship university, its reputation pales compared with the University of California or the University of Washington. US News ranks UO 103, well below the University of Washingtons 58th ranking, or the top 25 standing of multiple University of California campuses. Yet recently Oregon higher education is getting some attention, but not for traditional academic achievements.
Writing during March Madness from a university that made the NCAA basketball tournament, I am abundantly aware of the importance of collegiate sports to many. Therefore, I was shocked and thrilled when the student government at UO said it wanted to stop using some student activity fees for the intercollegiate athletics programthere were better uses to be made of the money. At most schools, the students do not even have much real clout in allocating these funds, but Oregon is an exception. And UO not only made the NCAA tournament; like its in-state rival, Oregon State (OSU), it went farther, reaching the ultimate collegiate sporting nirvana, the Sweet Sixteen and even (for OSU) the Elite Eight. University of California schools may win Nobel Prizes, but Oregon schools win basketball games (although UCLA also reached the Elite Eight).
The student government at Oregon, the Associated Students of UO, previously agreed to pay the athletics department about $1.7 million annually from quarterly student fees of roughly $25-30 to allow students access to minor sports events and a chance to win football or basketball tickets via a lottery. It turns out nearly one-half of UO students never attend athletic events, so they thought they could make better use of funds. The UO president, of course, found another way for the athletic department, facing a horrendous coronavirus related deficit, to recoup funds.
UO has the ultimate athletic department Sugar Daddy in Phil Knight, the ultra rich founder of Nike, who has pour millions into athletic facilities and programs, although also lots into academic endeavors as well. Like many other schools, UO faces financial woes due to falling enrollment and covid-19 related expenses. The student call for reducing athletic-related fees is somewhat unusual, but could become a growing trend if financially strapped students become more assertive. However, recently approved federal bailout money for colleges probably often will help fund the growing burden of financing ball throwing contests.
Meanwhile, OSUs governing board did something truly unique recently: it put its president, King Alexander, on probation. I always thought being a university president was like pregnancy: you either are, or are not. OSUs board was furious with reports that Alexander had mishandled sexual assault allegations conducted by the football coach at his previous school, Louisiana State University (LSU). Alexander has been at OSU less than a year, so the board after a seven hour meeting decided it would warn (thereby greatly weakening) him by putting him on probation. Within a few days, however, as pressure rose and the absurdity of a president on probation became obvious, Alexander was ousted from the fourth school he has run in his career. On his way out, he thoroughly trashed LSU, whose governing board president had informed his OSU counterpart that Alexanders behavior there was far from exemplary.
Where Alexander goes next to peddle his wares is unknown. He is an interesting example of a small number of cases where families decide that running universities is the new family profession. His father, Kern, still an active college professor at the University of Illinois, was president at Kentuckys Murray State, where like the British monarchy, the son King was anointed as his successor. King personifies a common phenomenon today, the itinerant academic peddler, university presidents moving from school to school. Probably the most famous is Gordon Gee, who has not only been president of three state public universities and two distinguished private schools, but been president at two of those schools (West Virginia University and Ohio State) twice.