Panel advances bill for university independence

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A legislative panel voted Thursday to send the full Legislature a bill allowing some Oregon universities to create their own governing boards and increase their independence from the statewide university system.

The draft legislation was adopted unanimously by the Special Committee on University Governance, a panel created earlier this year following a strong push by the University of Oregon and Portland State University.

Administrators at UO and PSU say independent boards would help them raise more money and better manage their affairs in an era of diminished state funding. The presidents of other universities have been more skeptical.

The full Legislature will take up the draft legislation next year and could adopt it, change it or throw it out.

"I'm very, very optimistic this will pass," said Sen. Mark Hass, a Beaverton Democrat who was co-chairman of the legislative panel.

The draft legislation allows UO and PSU to create their own boards and allows other universities to do so if they can show they're capable and have support of the university community.

The panel couldn't agree on the makeup of the board, which will be left to the Legislature to figure out. The panel did agree that the university president would serve as a non-voting member and that the board would include one member of the statewide Board of Higher Education.

Independent boards would have authority to hire and fire university presidents and to extend their contracts, although the appointment of a new president would have to be approved by a majority of the statewide board. The board also would have limited authority to set tuition and take on debt in the form of revenue bonds.

"I think we accomplished what we hoped to when we set out on this path," said Rep. Mark Johnson, a Hood River Republican who served on the special committee.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.