EUGENE -- Nike founder Phil Knight lashed out at Oregon's higher education hierarchy over the Monday firing of University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere.

The Oregon Board of Higher Education told Lariviere his contract which expires June 1 will not be renewed, and offered him the option of resigning sooner. He said Wednesday he will stay until June.

Knight dashed off the following statement after news of the ouster became public.

It deeply saddens me that some people in power in our state continue to drive Oregon into a death spiral with their embrace of mediocrity. It s yet another application of Oregon s Assisted Suicide law.

For the Chancellor and the State Board of Higher Education, a 'team player' is someone who falls in line with their acceptance of mediocrity, and the one who strives for excellence does not fit in. Let us hope that the Oregon community can take this astonishingly bad decision and recognize that it does not have to define us. We still have the collective capacity to rise up and do great things.

In a letter to faculty, students and staff, Lariviere said this turn of events is a result of the ongoing difference of opinion over the future of the UO. But meaningful change often turns on uncomfortable moments, and it is my hope that I will be leaving the university well-positioned to take advantage of ongoing reforms to our state s system of public universities.

The board president Matt Donegan said Lariviere was being dismissed for personnel reasons. The board meets on Monday in Portland to vote on his contract in a public meeting.

Donegan issued a statement but did not describe the personnel matters.

It is in no way motivated by a difference of opinion about the future of the University of Oregon, Donegan said. The board's priority is an effective transition in leadership for the benefit of the University of Oregon and the Oregon University System.

State lawmakers this year gave the Oregon University System, which oversees the seven universities and is governed by higher education board, more freedom from legislative oversight. As statewide administrators lobbied for the change, backed by Kitzhaber, Lariviere angered them by advocating that the UO to be governed and funded independently of the other schools.

The higher education board rejected his proposal last year and Kitzhaber shot it down in March.

Lariviere also frustrated his superiors by giving pay raises to some administrators and faculty members despite constraints in the state budget. They came to light as the Oregon University System was locked in tough contract negotiations with a union representing clerical and support staff. Lariviere defended the raises, saying they were justified and the university could afford them.

In June, the higher education board extended Lariviere's contract by one year but attached new conditions that indicated the board wanted him to be more of a team player. He was told to attend board meetings and the university presidents' council and to stop advocating for the UO's independence.

One of my proudest accomplishments is the concerted advocacy for public policy, governance and funding changes to strengthen the university and the entire state, he wrote in his letter, I remain hopeful that honest debate and the exploration of new ideas whether academic or political will be celebrated and encouraged.

Knight's financial contributions to the school, both in academics and athletics, are well known.

In a candid interview last December with the Oregonian, Knight answered the following questions.

Q: What conversations have you had with Lariviere about next steps to improve the university?

Oh, I talk to him on a regular basis. I spoke with him a couple of days ago. He was mostly talking about -- his view is the next step to upgrade the academic side of the university is to get the Legislature to go along with his plan, which is a little bit complicated, but it's to take a step -- I hate to use the word because it's an oversimplification -- but to take a step toward becoming more of a private university. I think the state provides about 7 percent of the funding now, so basically it is a private university that's hamstrung by public policy.

Q: What kinds of things could he be able to do if that plan is implemented?

A: Well, the simplest one is that he can set his own tuition. He's hamstrung in the sense he can't charge more tuition than the Legislature will let him do for in-state kids. So he loses money on every state kid that enrolls in the University of Oregon and he makes money on every kid that comes from out of state. So, increasingly, it's become the University of California at Eugene. That's the result of the current Legislature's policies.

Lariviere's sacking stunned UO faculty. Professor Bruce Blonigen, head of the economics department, gathered signatures from nearly 40 department heads in the College of Arts and Sciences expressing support for Lariviere and concern that the UO community wasn't consulted before he was canned.

Regardless of what people may think or feel about President Lariviere, this is not how one goes about making these decisions, Blonigen told The Associated Press. I highly doubt that any decent person would want to lead the university under that type of oversight by the OUS board.

Lariviere elevated the university's commitment to teaching and research, said Geraldine Richmond, a senior chemistry professor who was on the search committee that selected Lariviere as the UO's 16th president. She called his ouster a setback to the university's future.

He has shown the leadership and guts that any of the best institutions in our country should want, Richmond said.

Student body president Ben Eckstein said he was surprised to hear the news and was committed to ensuring a positive outcome for students. He said he would not ask the state board to rescind its decision.

Lariviere makes $540,000 in annual compensation, including a state-funded salary of $245,700 a year plus supplements from the UO Foundation and deferred compensation.

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