The Oregon State University Board of Trustees met Friday, voting to raise undergraduate tuition across the board by as much as 4%.
The virtual meeting, which ran from 8:30 a.m. until nearly 3 p.m., covered a wide array of topics, including an update on appointing an interim university president and a continued evaluation of the 2019 presidential search that landed former President F. King Alexander.
The resolution for a tuition increase from acting President Edward Feser was passed to the Finance and Administration Committee and recommended to the Board of Trustees Friday. It includes a 2.5% increase for continuing undergraduates and a 4% increase for new undergrads.
“This is a very, very difficult decision, and not something that’s easy on anybody, for that matter,” Chair Rani Borkar said prior to the vote.
Student trustee Khawater Hussein was the only member to vote against the measure, though several trustees expressed concerns about the continued increase in the costs of tuition.
“In the midst of a pandemic, people are not getting the services they need. It’s so much harder for (students) to maintain their motivation. … People are getting exhausted,” Hussein said. “I commend the effort of professors and instructors to adjust and continue to find new ways of teaching, regardless of the struggles they have because of the pandemic. It feels like at this point, us raising tuition again — I understand that it comes down to inflation, but I do think that it’s necessary at this point to find different ways, and for the state to step up. Because we need that money right now.”
Conversely, at-large member Mike Thorne said the increases could serve as an incentive for students to attend OSU for all four years.
“I think the Budget Committee has done an excellent job in trying to be as conservative as possible,” Thorne said of the tuition increase. “With specific regard to a 4% increase for new students, there’s an effort to try to recognize where the major cost is for the university and therefore incentivizes students to stay for the four years and the cost proportionately would not potentially increase as much.”
Sherman Bloomer, Oregon State’s vice president of budget and resource planning, gave a presentation to the trustees that provided details of how the various committees that met in the previous year arrived at the recommended tuition increases.
“One of the uncertainties we have this year is how much we expect to spend,” Bloomer said. “The reason for that is we’ve gone through a huge discontinuity; if we just spent at pre-pandemic rates, what we were doing before the pandemic, we would be at about $632 million. Revenues will not be sufficient to sustain that. In (fiscal year 2021) we’re spending significantly less than we normally would — about $604 million. That will be too low a rate of spending, likely, to sustain operations as we move back to more traditional activities in the fall.”
With regard to the interim president search, the trustees discussed a number of considerations, including a timeline for the appointment, duration of the appointment and whether the board will consider appointing someone from outside of the university. At-large member Patricia Bedient, the trustee tasked with leading the interim search, said much of the dialogue regarding specific candidates has revolved around internal prospects.
Bedient said she expects the interim president will serve for approximately one year.
Bedient presented the board with a rundown of input thus far, highlighting a number of focuses expressed in feedback on the search. The focuses included trust, commitment to university values, knowledge of the university and an ability to “maintain momentum” for initiatives like sexual violence prevention and survivor support, and legislative funding.
Notably, Bedient said she spoke with former President Ed Ray about his interest in the interim job. Bedient said Ray felt like it might be better to pursue other candidates. She also said acting President Ed Feser will not pursue stepping into the position on a permanent basis, and will resume duties as OSU’s provost as soon as an interim is appointed.
The meeting was not without fireworks surrounding displeasure with the board itself. Isabel Nuñez Pérez, OSU's student government president, blasted the board over its initial decision to put Alexander on probation on March 17 before he eventually offered his resignation. Nuñez Pérez said the board showed a clear disregard for students and survivors with its actions.
“Your decision was a slap in the face to the students that you supposedly act in the best interest of,” Nuñez Pérez said. “The fact that I had to request to be seen while providing testimony (during the March 17 meeting) speaks volumes. The fact that you did not have the courage to let those testifying to you look into your eyes with the rage and passion, only to betray them, is cowardice.”
Additionally, Borkar directly acknowledged the Faculty Senate resolution calling for the board’s resignations for the first time since the vote was approved March 18.
Also of note, there was continued discussion but no action taken on the evaluation of due diligence done by both the OSU search committee and Witt/Kiefer, the executive recruiting firm that led the 2019 search process resulting in the hiring of Alexander.
Alexander resigned from the job effective Thursday in the face of an emerging scandal regarding Louisiana State University's handling of sexual misconduct and other Title IX issues when he served as president there.
Jarrid Denney can be reached at 541-521-3214 or via email at Jarrid.Denney@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @jarrid_denney. K. Rambo can be contacted at 541-812-6091 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter via @k_rambo_.