Interim President Coltrane calls for improved Senate relationship

In a call for mutual respect and cooperation, interim UO President Scott Coltrane has asked the University Senate to join him in an effort to repair a relationship that he said has become both confrontational and unproductive.

Coltrane said the increasingly fractious partnership between the Senate and administration is hurting the university’s ability to address problems and move forward. He opened Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate with a blunt assessment of the current state of that relationship.

“Right now, our Senate-administration relationship is not working for our mutual benefit,” the president said. “The exchange has become increasingly combative and accusatory and reflects a lack of trust and respect. We all bear responsibility for this situation, and we are all suffering because of it.”

In a later discussion, some senators agreed with portions of Coltrane’s remarks but disagreed with others. They said that communication is a two-way street and asked him to do as much to improve the relationship as he is asking of them.

Senate President Robert Kyr, professor of music, called on Coltrane to do more to acknowledge the hard work of faculty members in all the roles in which they serve.

“All sides have a spiritual disconnect right now,” he said. “I think we have to start with an acknowledgment from each other of what we are doing well.”

Coltrane acknowledged that the administration shares responsibility for the situation and pledged to work harder to find common ground and restore open and respectful engagement. But he also called on the Senate to focus its energy on the UO’s academic mission and programs, which he said are the proper areas of Senate oversight, and to refrain from trying to legislate matters of university administration.

In particular, the president called on the Senate to stop trying to exercise control over the athletic department. Saying that the issue “consumes the Senate in a way that is neither productive nor appropriate,” he said he’s welcome to advice about the education of student-athletes, but said the athletics department is an administrative function governed by well-established rules at the university, league, NCAA and state and federal levels and is not a matter for Senate oversight. However, he said he is open to hearing faculty concerns about athletes’ education and welfare.

Coltrane cited a motion that was scheduled to be addressed at Wednesday’s meeting, one that seeks to give the Senate authority over any athletic department decisions regarding the addition or elimination of sports programs.

“Let me be clear,” he said. “If this hits my desk, I will veto it.”

The motion and another that addressed the athletic department came up for consideration later in the meeting, and with time running out senators voted to postpone consideration of both and in the meantime to reach out to Coltrane for further discussion.

Coltrane noted other areas where he believes the Senate has tried to insert itself into matters of personnel, finances, organizational redesign and operational management. He said he sees such intrusions as an effort to divide the university, which he said only “undermines the important role that the Senate has to play in the governance of academic issues at the university.”

In his call for change, Coltrane said he is committed to repairing the relationship and pledged to be a champion for shared governance with the Senate both as interim president and when he returns to his position as provost. He also called for greater involvement by faculty in the Senate to provide better representation across campus and across disciplines.

Coltrane also pledged an open-door policy. He said he and acting Provost Frances Bronet have started a series of meetings with the Senate, union and faculty on ways to “repair and rebuild our relationship” and said he is committed to making that repair happen.

“I stand here today to also ask for that same commitment and for your ideas,” he said, “ideas for how to move forward together constructively, a commitment to move past adversarial attacks and practice true shared governance with civility and respect. Too much is at risk for us to continue down this path.”

―By Greg Bolt, Public Affairs Communications