Richard W. Lariviere was fired last month as the University of Oregon's president after two years in office. To his supporters, Mr. Lariviere is the architect of a bold and thoughtful plan that would have split the flagship campus from the state system and weaned the university off public funds over three decades. To his detractors, Mr. Lariviere is a defiant rogue whose parochial ambitions for his campus came at the expense of statewide interests and ultimately brought about an ugly and bitter end to his presidency.

Mr. Lariviere spoke by phone this week with The Chronicle from the university president's office, which he has to clear out of by December 28. Robert M. Berdahl, a veteran higher-education leader whom Mr. Lariviere hired as a consultant in October, will replace the departing president on an interim basis.

Here's an edited version of the interview.

Q. Even before your firing, there was a tremendous outpouring of support for you from students and faculty. What has your reaction been to that?

A. Both my wife, Jan, and I were deeply touched and moved then and now, because the outpouring continues. But we also know very well that the real passion and the depth of feeling that's being shown is not really about me. Really it's about passion for the future of the University of Oregon.

Q. Did you see any irony in having someone whom you recently brought on as a consultant replace you so quickly? Moreover, Mr. Berdahl is a person who has been very critical of the way the board treated you. In a recent opinion piece for the Eugene Register-Guard, he said, Oregon's next president should "be prepared to knuckle under the chancellor." Is this a person you thought the board would turn to?

A. I don't think they turned to him instinctively. When the faculty unanimously demanded that Bob Berdahl be the interim president, it really became necessary for the board, in spite of what they may have felt, to choose him.

Q. Mr. Berdahl has said he'd like to carry out a lot of the agenda you set forward.

A. Yes.

Q. So did this cause need a martyr, and are you it?

A. [Laughter]. I'm not very good at identifying martyrdom or martyrs, so that's not for me to say.

Q. I'll just cover a couple of the instances that have been described by your critics as examples of your going rogue. In October 2010, you apparently told the State Board of Education that you would not directly lobby for the New Partnership that would have split off the flagship from the rest of the system, but would allow the University of Oregon Foundation to do that. The next month, you wrote a Wall Street Journal column that appears to engage in the same direct advocacy you'd said you would not engage in. Early this year, it was reported that you agreed with Gov. John A. Kitzhaber to keep pay raises modest in the down economy, but then you surprised him by giving raises to faculty in the millions of dollars. Are they instances of your saying one thing and doing another?

A. I really don't want to make this conversation about me. I don't think those characterizations are accurate, but making this a conversation about me misses the most important point here. The most important point is that flagship institutions throughout the country have to be given greater autonomy, and have to be given the freedom to fulfill the obligations to the states in which they are located. In many instances, and Oregon is among the most serious, the administrative structure, the bureaucratic structure, is grounded in 50-, 60-, 70-year-old administrative designs that inhibit the ability of those institutions to deliver the services to the state that they have to, and that was the case here.

Q. But does your story imply that someone who comes in and tries to challenge that antiquated system does so at the risk of losing his or her job?

A. We could say with some certainty that at least in Oregon that was the case.

My first obligation was the welfare and the future of the most important public higher-education institution in the state, the only one with membership in the Association of American Universities, the flagship institution. The repeated concern here [from critics of my agenda] has been that if it's good for the University of Oregon but not good for all the other institutions, it can't be good for the entire state, and no one has ever been able to put meat on the bones of that argument.

Q. You describe the University of Oregon as the most important institution in the state, partly because of its membership in the Association of American Universities, which includes the nation's most-prestigious research institutions. Does a statement like that invite criticism that you don't see the other institutions as equally important?

A. Yes, that has been one of the criticisms.

Q. But is the University of Oregon, by virtue of its research enterprise and AAU status, more important to the welfare of the state than perhaps the community-college system?

A. In a very different way—because of its mission, because of its research agenda, because of its wealth-creation model—yes, it is more important than any given community college. But that's not to say that community colleges are unimportant. It's simply to say that they have a very different mission.

Q. The last few weeks of your presidency brought about some bitter exchanges. Matthew W. Donegan, president of the State Board of Education, called your tenure a "long dysfunctional ride." The governor said you'd damaged the system and even the university. How do you assess the fallout?

A. One of the things my firing did was highlight the nature of the dysfunctional structure that we've got here and gave a sense of urgency to remedying it.

Q. Phil Knight, the Nike co-founder and a longtime major donor to the university, was very critical of your firing. Do you think donors will be discouraged by what has taken place?

A. It's no secret that when something like this happens that significant donors and even relatively modest donors feel they have only one tool or weapon at their hands, and that is to withhold their donations to demonstrate their disapproval. I've spent nearly all of my time since this happened talking to donors large and small, urging them not to do that. I've had some considerable success, I'm glad to report.

Q. Are you interested in another presidency?

A. I don't feel any diminution in energy or enthusiasm or excitement. We'll see what the future holds.

Q. Have you been directly approached about a job?

A. A lot of people have my phone number.

Q. While people may not know how to pronounce your name [La-riv-ee-air], they know you as the guy in the fedora. Post-presidency, are we still going to see the hat?

A. Of course. That's not an affectation. That's to keep the rain and the sun off the top of my incredibly bald head.

Read the original article at: The Chronicle of Higher Education.