Leadership & Governance

2-Day-a-Week Job at U. of Oregon Nets $96,000 for Former AAU Chief

October 07, 2011

Richard W. Lariviere, who as president of the University of Oregon has railed against diminishing state support, will pay a prominent higher-education leader nearly six figures to serve as his adviser two days a week.

Robert M. Berdahl, who stepped down as president of the Association of American Universities in June, will become Mr. Lariviere's special assistant on October 17. He will be paid $96,000 for his efforts, which will conclude with the academic year, university officials said.

"There's always pushback around any salary for any purpose, particularly in this environment," Mr. Lariviere said on Friday. "But we've got a pretty valuable state asset here" in the university, he said. "What we're doing is our very best to maintain the quality and enhance its public mission, and we think making this investment in someone with Bob Berdahl's experience, perspective, and stature in higher education is going to help us."

Mr. Berdahl's position is still loosely defined, but he will serve as an adviser on a number of issues, including efforts to restructure higher education in the state and to develop a more stable financing model for the university.

Mr. Berdahl's pay at Oregon will be a fraction of the salary and benefits he accrued as full-time president of the Association of American Universities, where his total compensation was $589,937 in 2008-9, according to the association's Form 990, a federal tax form for nonprofit organizations.

Mr. Berdahl's compensation at Oregon will be covered by university funds, which include tuition and state dollars, rather than money from the university's foundation, Mr. Lariviere said.

"I think we're getting a pretty good deal," he said.

Mr. Berdahl said he thought the compensation was "reasonable," adding that "if I feel I'm overpaid, at some point I'll just give the money back."

'Not Paying Attention'

The hiring of Mr. Berdahl followed recent pay raises the university gave to more than 1,300 professors and administrators. The $2.8-million in increases amounted to an average raise of $4,845, The Oregonian reported.

Sen. Mark D. Hass, the Democratic chair of Oregon's Senate Education Committee, said the pay for Mr. Berdahl sent the wrong message and demonstrated an insensitivity to students and families who are struggling to keep up with tuition increases during a severe economic downturn.

"I don't question whether the guy is worth it, but if I had $100,000 laying around, I would spread it across some scholarships and try to put every possible dime I can into tuition reduction or training to get some kids into college who might not otherwise get there," Mr. Hass said. "When you have guys up there handing out 30-percent raises and hiring consultants, it does suggest to ordinary Oregonians or Americans that they're not paying attention."

Mr. Berdahl's experience among major research institutions spans decades. In 2006 he took the helm at the Association of American Universities, a group of elite research institutions of which Oregon is a member. Before that, he held positions as chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley and president of the University of Texas at Austin.

Mr. Berdahl has longstanding ties to Oregon, where he advanced from history professor to dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1981. He lives in Portland, Ore., which is more than 100 miles from Eugene, where the university is located.

Fundamental Change

Mr. Berdahl will join the university at a time of fundamental change in the state's higher-education system. The legislature recently approved the creation of the Oregon Education Investment Board, which is designed to foster an integrated educational system, from early childhood through college. Perhaps more significant for the university, Mr. Lariviere is continuing to push for a governance restructuring that would give the University of Oregon its own board of trustees, splitting off the flagship from the rest of the system.

Mr. Berdahl will help the senior administration in re-examining its organizational structure, while also engaging in academic and strategic planning and advising on governance issues, according to a description of the position provided to The Chronicle.

"I was thinking to myself, Who in the United States knows more about the issues we're facing than he does? And I couldn't come up with anybody," Mr. Lariviere said. "So I gave him a call and said, 'Why don't you come up and give us the benefit of your experience for the next year or so?'"

Mr. Berdahl's appointment coincides with a yearlong sabbatical of James C. Bean, the university's senior vice president and provost. An acting provost has been appointed to handle the duties of Mr. Bean, who is recovering from a pulmonary embolism.

No employees will report directly to Mr. Berdahl, but "we'll staff him adequately," Mr. Lariviere said.

"I have said that I didn't want line authority," Mr. Berdahl said. "I see myself much more as an adviser and to some extent troubleshooter."