UO president Michael Gottfredson’s plans for a local governing board, transparency

Presidential finalist Michael Gottfredson met with the press and took a tour of campus on June 15, 2012. (Michael Arellano/Emerald archives)

Presidential finalist Michael Gottfredson met with the press and took a tour of campus on June 15, 2012. (Michael Arellano/Emerald archives)

Posted by Dashiell Paulson on Monday, Jan. 28 at 8:50 am.

University of Oregon President Michael Gottfredson’s office has that just-moved-in feel. He has raised his office desk so he can stand while working on memos or emails. The bookshelves include large pictures of his family, and a small picture of his grandchildren sits on the desk next to the computer.

There are binders and folders on the shelves, and between two bookends sit his own books, including “A General Theory of Crime.” He has the original and translated editions in Japanese, Chinese and Ukrainian. He still does a majority of his writing and paperwork at home. 

The president hasn’t spent much time in his office. Since taking office on August 1, Gottfredson has been handling a full schedule of meetings with faculty leaders, administrators, state politicians and Oregon University System officials. Most of his attention has been focused on winning Oregon its own local governing board. “I’ve been working on that since I got here.”

On June 15 of last year, Gottfredson’s direct predecessor, interim president Robert Berdahl, said he hoped acquiring a local governing board for the UO would be Gottfredson’s first priority — and it certainly has been. The president has rarely been seen around campus in the last five months, with much of his time spent traveling to Salem and Portland to lobby for the UO.

“I think we’re making progress,” Gottfredson said about the project that ended up ousting his predecessor, Richard Lariviere. “There’s a bill circulating right now that would give us and Portland State University institutional boards.”

However, as a consequence of his busy schedule and time away, some faculty members have never met Gottfredson in person and some students don’t even know he exists. Where Lariviere was known for his immediate presence on campus and in university affairs, Gottfredson is more of a distant concept to many in the community.

Ever since he was a college student at UC Davis in the early 1970s, Gottfredson has been busy.

Gottfredson was educated in the days when tuition at UC Davis and most other UC schools was free, and the only expenses were incidental.

But in his last year of undergraduate study, Gottfredson took an interest in crime statistics. Professor of Law Floyd Feeney met him and set him to work gathering crime data and crunching it through titanic IBM computers.

Feeney remembers Gottfredson as unusually talented and “mathematically skilled.”

“He did have a step-up,” Feeney said. “His father, Don Gottfredson, was a famous criminal psychologist.” Feeney allowed Gottfredson to pursue his own interests and Gottfredson attributed his work under Feeney to kick-starting his career in criminology.

Gottfredson had gone east with his wife, Karol, in 1973. The two had grown up together in Davis and married in college. They wanted to “see the world” and get their graduate degrees, but they always intended to return west. They fulfilled that goal over the next twenty years, studying, teaching and researching at State University at Albany, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Claremont Graduate School and winding up at University of Arizona in 1985.

During his time at Arizona, Gottfredson co-wrote “A General Theory of Crime,” published in 1990. The book sought to explain all occurrences of crime can be attributed to low self-control in individuals.

Gottfredson keeps tabs on the world of criminology, but he doesn’t believe the field has influenced his views as an administrator.

“I would say what I take from it is an understanding of how important research is at a university,” he said. “Professors need to be engaged in research and it makes them better teachers. When you have to explain something, you have to really understand it.”

Gottfredson has been following that philosophy closely in his work on the governing board.

“We want the ability to borrow money ourselves under proper state authority,” he said. “We would need our own board to approve us.”

Gottfredson said this power would make the process of funding capital projects a whole lot simpler, because now the UO needs the state to put up at least half the necessary funds for any capital improvement projects before it can begin construction. A local board would mean UO construction projects wouldn’t be up in the legislature.

Local governing boards would also allow the UO to take on many of the administrative services the OUS currently does for the public university system. This might mean additional expenses to the UO, but Gottfredson feels the costs would be minimal, “since we now do many of those tasks ourselves.” He said the associated costs of a governing board for Oregon would be around “several hundred thousand dollars.”

“Our whole objective is to keep fees down,” Gottfredson said. On the question of whether he would focus more on keeping fees down or increasing access to financial aid, Gottfredson declared, “Absolutely both. We can watch state support continue to decline and raise our prices for students or we can look for private support.”

“We’re never, ever, ever going to give up on the state,” he said. “But we’re realistic about helping our students so we keep looking to philanthropic donations.”

Gottfredson is already planning a major development campaign to raise money for the UO Endowment. The last drive was under President Frohnmayer and raised over $858 million, more than ever in University history. The ballooning endowment was one reason Oregon continued growing during the recession and Gottfredson wants to pursue the strategy further; however, “We want to get the institutional board settled first.”

Gottfredson emphasized that a local governing board would not push the UO towards privatization.

“It’s actually impossible,” he said. “It’s a public board. Since the public sector isn’t providing the necessary resources, we’re trying to protect the public interest with private support. It will be up to the governor to appoint the members, but we’ll have a group that can develop an expertise about us.”

After local governing boards and endowment expansion, one of Gottfredson’s concerns might be issues around transparency at UO. Many professors have protested for years about opaque hiring practices in the administration and spending academic resources on athletic programs. The faculty went as far as unionizing last January, shortly after Lariviere was deposed, and are now in sometimes-tense negotiations with University officials over a union contract.

When asked about transparency at UO, Gottfredson said, “I absolutely support it.” However, he didn’t dive into details. When asked about making public record requests less expensive (or free, as they are at his previous university) Gottfredson said, “That’s something we’ll look into.”

Shortly after taking office, Gottfredson formed an advisory group to investigate institutional transparency at UO which would be convened by Dave Hubin, senior assistant to the president. The group was given no instruction to keep a written record of their proceedings. When asked why they don’t keep a written record, Gottfredson smiled and said they don’t have to write everything down. But why shouldn’t an administrative group convened at a public institution, write down their proceedings? Gottfredson suggested Hubin would be the person to speak with.

Gottfredson’s accomplishments as the second most powerful administrator at University of California, Irvine suggest he has the chops to accomplish his ambitious goals as UO’s president.

Gottfredson made the transition from criminologist to administrator at Arizona and in 2000 he left Tucson to become the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of California, Irvine. During his 12 years as provost there, the young UC school saw historic growth.

“He oversaw the hiring of about half the current faculty,” Irvine professor C. Ronald Huff said. Huff is another criminologist and served as a dean at Irvine with Gottfredson.

“From my 39 years in academia, he was the best provost I’ve ever worked with,” Huff said.

Huff had only praise for Gottfredson as a colleague and university official, “There’s really no line between Mike as a person and Mike as an administrator.”

At Irvine, according to Huff, Gottfredson always wanted both staff and faculty to give him input on any major decision. He had respect from the faculty and was particularly well liked by the staff.

“He was creative in how he moved us forward,” Huff said. “Some people tend to waffle on big decisions, but not Mike.”