By Jonathan J. Cooper Associated Press
EUGENE, Ore. — The University of Oregon’s governing board on Thursday appointed Provost Scott Coltrane as the school’s interim leader after the president’s abrupt departure.
The board unanimously approved a negotiated separation agreement with former President Michael Gottfredson, who will get a $940,000 severance and leave the university immediately.
Thursday’s meeting was the first since the university’s new governing board gained the power to hire and fire the president last month. That authority was previously with the statewide Board of Higher Education, which hired Gottfredson two years ago and, earlier this year, extended his contract until 2016.
Chuck Lillis, chairman of the university’s new board of trustees, avoided saying whether Gottfredson was asked to step down or to give a reason for his departure. But the size of Gottfredson’s severance and the abruptness suggest board members wanted him gone.
“He resigned … on mutually acceptable terms,” Lillis told reporters after the board meeting. “And I think he’s been very gracious about it.”
In his resignation letter dated Wednesday, Gottfredson said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
As part of his agreement with the board, Gottfredson gave up his right to remain a tenured sociology professor at an annual salary of $360,000.
Coltrane took over a year ago as the university’s chief academic officer. He was previously the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and before that an associate dean at the University of California, Riverside. He’s a sociologist with research focused on families and parenting.
Coltrane becomes the university’s fourth president in six years.
“We’re poised for really great things,” Coltrane told reporters. “We’ve never had more students applying. We have a great record now of recruiting excellent faculty in targeted areas. We’re growing new programs.”
Lillis said it will take about a year to recruit and hire a new president. He said he’d like an administrator with strong academic credentials who also can also build relationships with donors and state lawmakers.
“I think it has to be somebody that handles external constituencies of the university, more than internal constituencies,” Lillis said. “We are a public research university, but from a financial standpoint, we are funding ourselves much more like private university.”
For years, state funding has made up a diminishing share of the budget for Oregon’s public universities.
Lillis said Gottfredson’s severance money came from private donors, not tuition or tax dollars. It was a fair and appropriate settlement given Gottfredson’s agreement to give up his permanent faculty position, Lillis said.
Gottfredson faced criticism over the university’s handling of sexual assault allegations against three basketball players, but Lillis backed up Gottfredson’s actions in the case.
“I don’t think the board was dissatisfied with the way Mike and his staff handled that,” Lillis said.