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Other Views: Make meetings public

The presidents of Oregon's seven public universities — Portland State, Oregon State and University of Oregon, plus four smaller schools in Ashland, Klamath Falls, La Grande and Monmouth — meet together regularly behind closed doors.

That may, or may not, be legal. It's unclear whether the group is subject to the state's open meetings law — the Legislature's lawyers say probably not, though they believe minutes of the meetings are subject to public disclosure. So far Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has not weighed in on the subject.

Oregon's higher education system has undergone dramatic changes in the last few years. Lawmakers replaced the state's old Board of Higher Education with a Higher Education Coordinating Commission in 2011, and the individual universities were given more autonomy, including the right to create their own boards of governors.

HECC exercises considerable control over the universities despite the changes. It decides how much money to ask lawmakers for every two years for higher education. It approves new degrees and academic programs. And, its power extends to community colleges; state-supplied, needs-based financial aid to students; trade schools; programs aimed at veterans; and more.

Given that reach, it's easy to understand why the universities want to ensure they approach the commission with a single voice and message.

Yet that message should not be determined in secret. The schools receive millions in taxpayer dollars, and collectively they are the largest supplier of post-secondary education in Oregon.

The university leaders should make their meetings public.