Gov. Brown makes statement regarding OSU board, Alexander, new Senate bill seeks to ‘rebuild and strengthen trust’ within university communities

Oregon Governor Kate Brown poses for a photo on March 9, 2017, in Bend, Ore.

Kelsy Valentine, News Contributor

Editor’s Note: Content warning—story contains mention of sexual harassment and assault.

The Office of Governor Kate Brown released a statement supporting the Oregon State University Board of Trustees’ investigation into President F. King Alexander, and a new Senate bill has been introduced, which will require OSU board members’ emails become publicly available.

On March 17, OSU’s board voted to place Alexander on probation until June 1 while they investigate claims from a Husch Blackwell report that say Alexander had allegedly mishandled Title IX allegations while president at Louisiana State University.

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Gov. Brown, who appoints the members of OSU’s board, expressed her support for the board’s investigation in a statement released on March 18.

The governor’s statement said, “The Oregon State University Board had established an independent investigatory and disciplinary process for president Alexander to review the facts and assess the next steps for action… I support the Board’s independent review process.”

The governor’s office also emphasized that it is the “expectation that a university president take action when students come forward with allegations of sexual assault, stalking, or other serious criminal acts.”

While the board still needs to investigate the situation and no final decision has yet been made about how to discipline Alexander, the governor’s office supports disciplinary action if Alexander is found to have ignored sexual assault allegations.

 “If [the investigation] confirms that president Alexander did not uphold his ethical and legal responsibilities to protect the safety of the students at LSU, I expect the board to take decisive action to remove him,” the Governor’s statement said.

 Gov. Brown’s office was unable to comment further on this statement.

On Friday, March 19, Senate Bill 854 was then introduced and sponsored by Senator Lew Frederick and Representatives Susan McLain and Paul Evans that, among other things, will require each member of the governing board to have a publicly-available official email address.

It will also require that all faculty, non-faculty staff and enrolled students be included in the search committee for a public university president. Another requirement states that a comprehensive evaluation of a public university president will be conducted every two years.

Some of these new requirements relate to the recently-expressed lack of trust from faculty, staff and students in both Alexander and the OSU Board of Trustees for hiring him despite such sensitive allegations being tied with his career.

In the board of trustees meeting on March 17, Tali Ilkovitch, an ASOSU senator, said, “It’s a fear to the point how you failed survivors on campus… How dare you have overlooked F. King’s record… if you’re not up to the job, we demand you get the hell out of here.”

At a meeting on March 18, the Faculty Senate then voted to express that they “had no confidence in president Alexander’s ability to lead OSU” and called for his resignation. They also wanted to demand a “truly open and transparent” hiring process for the OSU president. 

However, Senator Frederick’s Chief of Staff Nathan Soltz said these new requirements in the SB854 have been in consideration for some time but that “recent happenings of various natures from Oregon’s universities just go to highlight the urgent need for these reforms.”

While the community’s distrust in president Alexander and the OSU Board of Trustees may not have directly caused these new requirements to be created by the three legislative members, the situation also might have been avoided had the requirements been in place before Alexander was hired. 

Since the news of Alexander’s alleged involvement in the failure to act on Title IX misconduct, there has been a lot of frustration from faculty, staff and students due to lack of action to support survivors of gendered violence, as well as a lack of accountability and transparency from the board, but this bill may help to bridge that gap and begin to rebuild trust once again.  

 Soltz added that, “the bill, in part, seeks to rebuild and strengthen trust within universities’ campus communities and with the communities they serve.”  

The Oregon State University Board of Trustees will be meeting again on March 23 from 8:30-11:30 a.m. in public session to further discuss and consider action regarding Alexander’s leadership. As part of the agenda, the board may hold an executive session to consider the dismissal or disciplining of the OSU president.