Transformed: How Oregon's Public Health University Won Independence and Healed Itself

By Abbott, Carl | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Transformed: How Oregon's Public Health University Won Independence and Healed Itself


Abbott, Carl, Oregon Historical Quarterly


TRANSFORMED: HOW OREGON'S PUBLIC HEALTH UNIVERSITY WON INDEPENDENCE AND HEALED ITSELF

by William Graves

Pacific University Press, Forest Grove, OR, 2017. Illustrations, tables, notes, index. 479 pages. $36.95, cloth. $24.95, paper.

William Graves, an experienced journalist, has brought a reporter's skills to document the evolution of Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) from a struggling and nationally marginal institution in the 1970s to a major healthcare provider and research powerhouse in the twenty-first century. Although Graves draws on numerous internal documents and newspaper reports for this well-documented account, the core of his information comes from extensive interviews with key actors. As he writes, "Peter Kohler... contacted me in the winter of 2014 to see if I might be interested in helping him and the five members of his former administrative team write a book... .He and his team initially set out to write this story themselves as a kind of collective memoir. When I joined them, it became clear I would need to write this remarkable story with them as the key players and primary sources" (p. xiii). The resulting book falls neatly into two parts.

The first half is a hero-team story that follows a plotline similar to The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy: In the face of an existential threat (a medical school and hospital in dire financial straits) a strong leader appears (university president Peter Kohler) who assembles a team of co-workers (Leslie Hallick, Janet Billups, Lois Davis, Timothy Goldfarb, James Walker) to join battle with the forces of inertia (the Oregon higher-education bureaucracy). They overcome jealousy of other universities, build alliances in the legislature, and win independence as a freestanding public corporation that unleashes entrepreneurial energy to transform their institution. Although committee hearings and speeches to civic groups are a tad less thrilling than action-hero derring-do, readers will appreciate the consistent vision and indefatigable effort of Kohler and his team.

If one were crafting a fictional drama, things would wind up quickly after the legislative climax, with marriages celebrated (in a comedy) or the bodies borne offstage (in a tragedy). In the real world, however, life goes on, meaning in this case that the newly independent health sciences university has to work hard to realize its promise. …

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