Hiring Robert Berdahl would be a show of strength for the OUS Chancellor and Board

My university’s president, Richard Lariviere, was fired last week. I sent this letter to Chancellor George Pernsteiner and the members of the State Board of Higher Education on Friday, December 2, 2011. Links have been added for the blog post.

Dear Chancellor and Members of the Board:

I am writing to you to urge you to hire Robert Berdahl as interim President of the University of Oregon. I agree with the UO Senate Executive Committee’s recommendation that Berdahl and Berdahl alone is suited for this position. I will not restate their reasoning here (all of which I concur with), but I want to add something.

Earlier this week, Dr. Berdahl wrote an op-ed in the Register-Guard criticizing you for firing Richard Lariviere. In conversations, some of my colleagues have suggested that the op-ed would make it difficult for you to credibly hire Dr. Berdahl. I believe the opposite is true: hiring Berdahl would be a showing of credibility and strength on your part. Here is why:

About Dr. Lariviere’s termination, you have stated that it “has nothing to do with policy positions or conflicting visions for the future of the University of Oregon.” Rather, “This was an issue of lack of communication and eroded trust.” (OUS Press Release of Nov 28, 2011). Right now, rightly or wrongly, many people in the University of Oregon community, around the state, and beyond doubt those words. They believe that you could not tolerate dissent, that you acted because your authority was threatened, and that you were afraid of change.

This, now, is your opportunity to back up your words with actions and show your critics, the state, and the world that you mean what you say. Dr. Berdahl has a long and distinguished history of establishing trust and communication with people he disagrees with and working effectively with state governance bodies. And he shares much of Dr. Lariviere’s broad vision. By selecting Dr. Berdahl, you would show that your idea of teamwork does not mean lock-step submission, that this is not about ego, and that you are willing to have a change agent on your team who will work with you for the good of higher education in all of Oregon. Thus, not only would Dr. Berdahl be an outstanding president, his selection would also go a long way toward restoring confidence in your governance and repairing badly damaged communication.

For the good of the university, its students, and the state that it serves, I urge you to select Dr. Berdahl.

Sanjay Srivastava