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MailTribune.com
  • In higher ed, less may be more

    Departure of chancellor gives state opportunity to streamline education
  • The resignation of George Pernsteiner from his post as Oregon's chancellor of higher education is probably good news and is certainly a good opportunity for the state to chart a new direction.
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  • The resignation of George Pernsteiner from his post as Oregon's chancellor of higher education is probably good news and is certainly a good opportunity for the state to chart a new direction.
    Pernsteiner announced his resignation Friday in what was described as a mutual agreement. We doubt that's entirely accurate, but the important thing is not the how but the what.
    The what was the end of the tenure of a chancellor who apparently was viewed as a likely impediment to Gov. John Kitzhaber's plans to create a new education structure, plans that may not — and probably should not — include a chancellor of higher education.
    Pernsteiner departed with compliments from various corners, but also notable silence from many corners, including, as far as we can tell, the governor's corner. Matt Donegan, president of the Board of Higher Education, politely made it clear that it was time for Pernsteiner to depart.
    "It's something that a lot of board members have been discussing," Donegan said.
    Pernsteiner has had his detractors, many of them justified in their concerns. Some of those concerns focused on his compensation: A $295,000 salary, plus another $100,000 or so that covered a car, two homes, meals when he was at one of those two homes and, oh yes, maid service.
    He was credited with overseeing a system that increased enrollment even as tuition skyrocketed. We wouldn't put that in the credit column: enrollment rose because people couldn't get jobs; the skyrocketing tuition was a failure on all fronts, including the chancellor's office.
    We had our own issues with the chancellor. He questioned Southern Oregon University's relationship with Jefferson Public Radio and JPR's community involvement outside its radio stations. Those questions ultimately damaged both SOU and JPR, but Pernsteiner stayed above the fray, even as valuable assets were diminished in Ashland and Medford.
    More recently, Pernsteiner directed discussions about the future of public higher education in Oregon and then declined to reveal to that very same public what those conversations entailed.
    One of our problems with the post of chancellor is the very name itself, chancellor. It smacks of arrogance and elitism, and Pernsteiner has done little to remove that impression.
    No doubt Pernsteiner — who will stay on in the office until March 1 — deserves credits for accomplishments along the way. But his departure comes at a convenient time for Kitzhaber and his education lieutenants as they prepare a new blueprint for all state-supported schools.
    Kitzhaber has proposed a Department of Post-Secondary Education that would distribute state funds to public universities and community colleges, including to the University of Oregon. It would coordinate all college-level programs and, in theory, ensure state dollars are spent where they will do the most good.
    The remaking of higher education may very well — and probably should — eliminate the chancellor's position, as more power is ceded to a new education czar and a system that is intended to break down the silos between preschools, K-12, community colleges and universities.
    Higher education needs an advocate, as do all the education layers. But higher education now often finds itself a distant second to K-12 in funding priorities and may have the most to gain from more direct ties to the rest of the school system.
    If Kitzhaber's idea for a more seamless education system is to have any chance of working, it needs everyone rowing in the same direction. The state Board of Higher Education seemed to understand that and has helped make the crossing smoother by parting company with its chancellor.
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