Friday, July 16, 2010

Stories from the Clippings

Marion County Gets New University of Oregon Dental School!

No, not really. Just a little Friday humor. But it could have been true if a law instituted in 1907 was upheld in a Supreme Court decision. The law held forth that all state facilities built after 1907 must be established within Marion County. In 1954, the construction of the University of Oregon Dental School, on the Marquam Hill campus, was halted while a legal battle ensued regarding whether the dental school was a state facility and if it was, could it legally be located on Marquam Hill; or would it have to, by law, be located somewhere within Marion County.

The Oregon State Board of Higher Education had approved plans for the $2,200,000 facility on Marquam Hill, and bids had been agreed upon when everything came to a complete stop. Two issues were at stake, location and autonomy. The suit came from the State Dental Association against the State Board of Higher Education. The Dental School Advisory Council, made up of members of the State Dental Association, was adamant that the school not be administered under the control of the University of Oregon. Construction could not move forward until the Supreme Court granted continued autonomy to the Dental School; this would give the board complete freedom to go forward with the new building project in Portland and not in Salem, Aurora, Eugene or any other number of cities in Marion County.

Why all the falderal over location? What information was offered in the defense of the school's continued operation in Portland and continued autonomy?

Well, first of all, dental education in Oregon began before the 1907 law was instated. It began in 1899 when the North Pacific Dental College was established in Portland in an ornate structure on 15th and Couch Street. In 1912, the school moved to a modern facility at SE 6th Avenue and Oregon Street; but by 1954 the equipment had become outmoded and the building dangerous. It was feared that the building would go up in smoke, as had the first University of Oregon Medical School building in NW Portland in 1919. Many of the faculty were loathe to teach or practice in the building and many thought that if it were necessary to wait, perhaps another four years, until a decision was made as to where the new facility would be located, there might not be a dental school left at all. It was this specific institution that was proposed to be rehoused in the new facility on Marquam Hill.

In the mean time, in 1945, the state legislature passed an act allowing them to take over the North Pacific Dental College. They did so and added it to Oregon's system of higher education under these terms: "There is created a new department in the higher educational system of the state of Oregon, to be known as the dental school of the University of Oregon, and said dental school shall be a distinct and separate department of said educational system, but shall be under the jurisdiction, management and control of the board of higher education and it's successors." Nothing said here as to the school being a state facility.

Besides the above stated terms, the major defense for autonomy was that the NPDC had always been an autonomous institution before the school was gifted to the legislature, therefore, was not a "new institution" and was not considered a state facility, therefore was not required to abide by the 1907 law. If we remember, the law stated that, as of 1907 no new state institution would be allowed to be established outside of Marion County.

But then there was another rub, the name of the school: the NPDC had agreed to carry the name of the University of Oregon. Judge Walter Tooze, officiating in this case, agreed that the school was under the direct jurisdiction of the State Board of Higher Education and deemed that the school's name was only a nominal issue. The Dental School Advisory council wanted to carry the name but wanted complete autonomy just as the medical school was operating as the University of Oregon Medical School, with autonomous jurisdiction over staff, administration and degrees.

The decision was finally made. Judge Tooze declared the the language of the 1945 act was "definite, certain, understandable, and free from ambiguity" and that the dental school was a new department of the State Board of Higher Education and not a new department of the University of Oregon.

So, we know the rest of the story. The year 1956 saw the inauguration of the new building of the University of Oregon Dental School on the Marquam Hill Campus, and here it remains. We know it now as the OHSU School of Dentisty.

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