Skip Navigation

Southern Oregon University

President's State of the University Speech

Winter Term Update

Mary Cullinan, President, SOU

January 15, 2009

 

Happy New Year and welcome to Winter Term.

 

I received suggestions last fall to start each term with a brief update and a reception. Several people have written to thank me for the receptions. No one has thanked me so far for the updates—but I understand completely the priorities here.

 

I'll start with some of the many things we have to celebrate . . . then move on to the more disturbing news we all know awaits us.

 

Our enrollment continues to exceed our expectations.  As of last week, we have exceeded the 2008 headcount for winter enrollment. We currently have 5,354 students enrolled at SOU.  This enrollment surpasses our Fall headcount and continues the upward trend in the number of students we serve at SOU.  And our student retention continues to improve.

 

Once again, I can't thank everyone enough. I know the whole campus works every day to support and retain our students. It's making a huge difference for SOU.

 

The Higher Education Center continues to exceed SOU enrollment expectation.  At the end of the 2nd Week, we had 4,198 SCH at the HEC.  This represents a 25% increase over Fall term and a 48.2% increase over 2nd Week enrollment in Medford last winter.  The Medford Campus enrollment includes students who are also enrolled in Ashland classes, so this isn't purely new enrollment—but it does show the great work folks are doing to interest students in studying at the HEC. 

 

The campus is mobilizing effectively, also, for fall 2009 enrollments. One vision I've had is for high school senior students who meet criteria to actually finish high school with most of their freshman year in college completed. Not only would this eliminate a lot of wasted time in students' lives (hardly anyone ever speaks about the incredible value of their senior year in high school) and help families with the cost of college—but it could also help more local students see the benefits of coming to SOU.

 

I am delighted that planning efforts with Ashland High School will enable us to enroll an Early Entry Cohort of students in Advanced Southern Credit programs next fall. This program will enroll high school students in college credit classes together with admitted SOU students at class times that align with AHS students' needs and schedules.

 

I'm also delighted that Dean Dave Harris and others have been making excellent connections in China that will boost our international enrollments, hopefully, in the near future.  Dave says we will have the first of these students this spring 2009.

 

SOU and our region continue to receive excellent publicity. I know you heard that Ashland is on the top ten list of places for "geotourism"—a term the National Geographic Society defines as "tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place. It's a destination where you can have an authentic travel experience without harming the place." It's pretty amazing that we're on this list—along with the fjords of Norway and the Isle of Skye-and the city of Guanajuato.

 

We're often on lists for great places to retire—and for great places to participate in outdoor activities, but it's wonderful to show up on a list so closely connected to our values for sustainability and the bioregion.

 

As you also have heard, Southern Oregon University was named to the Top 20 list of Green Colleges and Universities by the Environmental Protection Agency.

 

This morning I joined 50 city, county, and other community organizations for a live broadcast entitled "Seeking Sustainability for Your Community." This is the first in a series of "Southern Oregon Town Hall" programs produced by Southern Oregon Public Television, and RVTV, in partnership with SOU.  It's a great example of the types of new programs and opportunities we envision for SOU at the Higher Education Center—and a great example where SOU can work as a community catalyst, bringing people together to exchange ideas and solve problems.

 

It was great also to have the Town Hall meeting at the HEC, which is already a major hub of activity.

 

Another focus of recent activity has been planning for our 40th Anniversary with our Sister University, the University of Guanajuato.

 

We will host a delegation from Guanajuato for numerous celebrations during the third week in April. April 16 will be a day of academic and cultural exchange. That will lead into the Doing Business with Mexico event on April 17. The Governors of Guanajuato and Oregon have been invited to participate as well as officials from academia, government and business.

 

Dr. Josie Wilson, Meredith Reynolds, Dennis Slattery, and others have been working on this significant event. 

 

Another hub of activity on campus has been grant and sponsored program activity. This year we have had 31 new awards and $5.6 million in new awards and future allocations.  I am delighted that faculty are working across disciplines to create learning opportunities both in and outside the classroom.

 

And of course we have this year's SOAR event coming up. Our second annual Southern Oregon Arts and Research program will take flight on May 19 through 21.  Geoff Mills, Deborah Hofer, and the SOAR Planning group are designing a fabulous event to highlight the talent and hard work of our students and faculty. 

 

I hope everyone here will attend at least part of this event.  We received a number of applications for the president's mini-grant program to support faculty-student collaboration—so hopefully that funding will help contribute to work we celebrate at SOAR.

 

We also have been implementing new systems to help efficiency and safety. The SOU Portal is launched.  I recommend that you take every opportunity to use it. I took one of John Stevenson's classes on the Portal—and that speeded my learning process considerably.

 

One good use of the Portal is for university committees. The recently established University Policy Committee has created a group for members on the Portal to house and record their draft documents.

 

We have also implemented an Emergency Notification System to communicate effectively with students, faculty and staff in the event of an emergency.  Messages are sent automatically to land line phones, cell phones text messaging devices, or email addresses.  I encourage you to visit the SOU-Alert section under the Faculty/Staff Tab on the Portal to update your contact information.

 

Speaking of committees—I am delighted that we have initiated a Diversity Council on campus.  This group, chaired by Marion Boenheim, is charged with leading development of a long-term diversity and inclusion plan and promoting diversity and inclusion across campus. I want to thank all the people who agreed to serve on this important group.

 

We have some wonderful new folks on campus. Sylvia Kelley, our Vice President for Development, is here. Jim Beaver is our new Public Affairs Officer. He is getting us in the news for all sorts of good things.  Both are here this afternoon—please take an opportunity to welcome them.

 

We continue to do a lot of excellent work on planning. Jim Klein held a master Academic Planning forum last Friday—and that event provided lots of good input to refine our academic planning. Christine Florence and the SimpsonScarborough group have been working with the campus on branding. There will be more campus branding forums on January 20. Larry Blake is heading up facilities planning, and there will be opportunities for input on that process too.

 

I have been working with the strategic planning group on a broader, overarching plan for the university. We are going to meet with deans and vice presidents on January 29—and from that event will come a draft plan that we will circulate on campus and to our friends in the community. We will gather feedback and refine that plan over the coming months.

 

I want to stress that all of these efforts are leading to active, living plans that will inform decision making and thinking over the coming years—they won't be dusty documents on a shelf. Thus, I urge everyone to pay attention, provide input, and participate. This is an exciting time on our campus despite the challenges we face.

 

Yes, now we do need to look at challenges. We all know the country, the state—and most of the globe—are struggling with frightening economic issues, situations almost none of us have seen in our lifetimes. There is no doubt that this legislative session in Oregon will be difficult.

 

In a first bit of bad news, the state came up short with funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant program that started this past fall. I am working with enrollment services and our Vice Presidents to make sure we accommodate those SOU students who are challenged by the shortfall. 

 

The 2009-11 Governor's Recommended Budget that came out in December was incredibly supportive of higher education. It supports our general operating needs as well as our request for expansion of our Theatre Arts Building and for significant maintenance and upgrade of facilities.

 

Legislators consider the Governor's Recommended Budget a starting point for discussion as we begin the Legislative process.  Given the continued decline in state revenues anticipated, we expect a very challenging legislative session.

 

The Governor and Legislature are very interested in capital projects to create jobs.  Along with our theatre project, funding for the repair and maintenance for Churchill Hall was included in the Governor's budget.  We have moved the McNeal Hall and Britt Hall projects forward, and we are working with OUS to accelerate the Science I project.

 

So there is good news in the governor's budget—but most of the news, as you know, is quite bleak. Late last year, the Governor required state agencies to reduce 2007-09 biennium budgets by 1.1%.  For SOU, this was approximately $413,000.  Again, with declining revenues, we anticipate additional reductions to our budget this year.

 

For SOU, the key to getting through this economic distress is fiscal prudence, maintaining as strong a reserve as possible, and continuing our excellent work retaining and recruiting students. We're in a stronger position than we've been in the past; the steps taken over the past two years are serving us well.  However, we are still in retrenchment. Those plans aren't yet complete. And now we face new challenges.  We don't know when we will see the end of this worldwide economic crisis.

 

I continue to support the approach we took during the initial phases of retrenchment: we must work together as a campus to support our priorities and goals. Our planning continues to be extremely important.

 

A major component of our planning will be to end this fiscal year with as high a fund balance as possible. The retrenchment plan calls for us to end 08-09 with a 5.4% reserve. If we can increase that amount to 8%, which is a $1.1 million budget adjustment within the last six months of this biennium, we'll be in a far better position to face the uncertainties of the next biennium.

 

I have asked each Vice President to work within his or her area to identify savings that can contribute to the fund balance. In some cases, also, we need to carry through with the next phases of plans developed during the retrenchment process.

 

Financial decisions, restructuring, and reorganizations are difficult. Universities around the country-and millions of people—face conditions similar to—or worse than—ours. But knowing that others are suffering doesn't make us feel better.  We are working hard to focus on administrative changes that enable us to preserve our academic excellence, our commitment to student support, our powerful connections between students and faculty, our commitments to learning that is connected to our community and to our region.

 

Tomorrow I will host a forum in the Meese Room in the Hannon Library from 11 until 12-and the vice presidents will be there as well—to discuss some of the challenges and processes ahead of us.

 

Craig Morris will host three budget forums next week to update the campus on our 2008-09 budget forecast. Provost Klein will also attend those forums and will answer your questions about reorganization in Academic Affairs.

 

Please take advantage of these opportunities to ask questions—we need to be informed. We also need to speak with one voice as a university—to communicate clearly the importance of what we do here and the powerful benefits we bring to this region and this state.

 

We need to communicate the good news—about the excellent work we do. And we need to continue getting out the message that we will weather this storm with minimal impact on students. We will weather the storm. Strong enrollment in fall 2009 is, once again, key to our fiscal stability.

 

An effective campus plan, combined with fiscal prudence, will help us immeasurably during this incredibly difficult period in our national and state economy. We are on a strong path—even though fiscal turbulence surrounds us.  We will continue to rebuild and reorganize the new SOU.

 

As always, thank you. With your support, with our work together, we will survive—and we will thrive.

 

Now please enjoy the refreshments. We need this opportunity to come together as a campus. Thanks so much for coming this evening.