OHSU Nears Last Stage in Search for Next President

The university plans to announce three top candidates to replace Joe Robertson by later this month, as the end nears to his 12 years as president of OHSU.

The search to replace Oregon Health & Science University President Joe Robertson is picking up steam, and the search committee expects to name its finalists by the week of April 17. Robertson, who plans to fully retire at the end of this academic year, may leave the campus behind, but he learned Thursday that his name will live on, following a vote by the OHSU board to rename the Collaborative Life Sciences Building in his honor.

Already the presidential search committee has winnowed its applicant pool significantly, from more than 25 initial applicants, to 11 people interviewed via video, and seven semi-finalists who are being interviewed in greater depth this week, David Yaden, chairman of the search team, said on Thursday.

“We have an enormously talented pool of candidates,” Yaden told the OHSU board, which he served on until earlier this year. But the names of those candidates have been a closely held secret so far.

That will change later this month when three finalists are named publicly and invited to make three-day visits with OHSU staff and faculty before the university’s board makes its final decision.

The search process began late last year, shortly after Robertson announced that a recent multiple sclerosis was prompting him to retire sooner than he had anticipated. Robertson is not taking a salary from OHSU this year, instead opting to begin collecting his state Public Employees Retirement Benefit of over $913,000 per year.

Robertson, a retinal surgeon who joined the OHSU faculty in 1985, became president in 2006. Under his tenure, the university expanded along Portland’s south waterfront, added an aerial tram between the waterfront and its Marquam Hill campus, raised $1.2 billion under its Knight Cancer Challenge, and established numerous partnerships with educators and healthcare institutions across the state. Though employment is up by 4,500 since Robertson’s hiring, OHSU has also weathered tight budgets at times, and has seen faculty express disgruntlement during his tenure.

At the end of Thursday’s OHSU board meeting, Chairman Wayne Monfries announced  a vote that had not been placed on the agenda, to rename the Collaborative Life Sciences Building to the “Joseph E. Robertson Jr. Collaborative Life Sciences Building” – or the Robertson Life Sciences Building for short.

Completed in 2014 at a cost of $295 million, the building was funded in part by a $40 million anonymous gift to OHSU.

The OHSU president appeared to fight back tears after a nearly unanimous vote to rename the building – Robertson himself abstained, with all other board members voting “aye.”

“I want to acknowledge that the building really should have been named after those who made it possible,” he said. “They are innumerable, but chief among them certainly was the anonymous donor. That individual, who will remain nameless, but who I feel compelled to honor, has such vision and insight and confidence in us.”

Robertson said he could not imagine a better legacy than to have a structure named for him that connects academic programs to the community from a south waterfront campus that sits at the nexus of street car, Max and bus lines. “We are not a citadel on the hill – we are linked to the community,” he said.

“Of all the buildings we could name after Dr. Robertson, this one seems to be the most appropriate,” said OHSU board member Amy Tykeson, noting that collaboration was a hallmark of his time at the university.

“From my perspective as board chair, the emphasis on collaboration through Dr. Robertson’s tenure has had a profound impact on this institution,” Monfries concurred. “It’s difficult to imagine a greater legacy than the one Dr. Robertson has created.”

Reach Courtney Sherwood at [email protected].


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