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Southern Oregon University

Flying with the (Red-Tailed) Hawks


Good afternoon, everyone. I've seen many of you over the past few weeks, but, if I haven't had an opportunity to welcome you back to this new academic year, let me do so now.

As many of you know, I spent years teaching composition classes. I would work with my students so they could make an outline for their papers. I do the same for my own writing. I've been writing these talks to the campus for some years now. My outline for a typical SOU speech has been: (1) a short opening that stresses good news; (2) a long central section of bad news, and (3) an ending that points toward the good news that will be coming in the not-too-distant future after we get rid of the bad news.

But this fall my standard outline had to change somewhat. Of course, bad news is still out there. But we have so much good news that it overshadows the bad stuff that has hung over us for so long. We can now spend much more time focusing on what we should be doing as a university-we can focus on teaching and learning, on positive change. We can see what SOU looks like as a successful university-and it's a beautiful sight.

So let's do the very best news right away: our fall numbers. We don't have official numbers yet, but it's clear this is the strongest fall in SOU's history. Our headcount is coming in significantly over 6000.  That's pretty amazing, folks.

Another number to celebrate: our retention. I mentioned at the opening breakfast that  it looked like our 2009 freshman cohort retention would be over 70%, the highest ever in SOU history. Those numbers have held. My thanks to everyone for helping our students be successful and stay in school. I know how people have pitched in-in classrooms, residence halls, advising, financial aid, academic departments, enrollment services-all over campus.

We kept saying a few years back that recruitment and retention are everybody's business. Well, everybody stepped up. Thank you, everyone

And these students we're seeing are good students. Mada Morgan and others say the freshmen are really excellent. Fredna Grimland says she usually has 50 students in the SOU Concert Choir -but this year the enrollment is 78!  She's seeing strong, motivated singers.

And in the School of Business, we've expanded our presence in Roseburg where we've started a new masters in management cohort.  The students are primarily private and public sector executives. Steve Schein tells me these students are highly motivated-and delighted to have this opportunity available to them in Douglas County.

So-we have new students at all levels-and they're adding talent and energy to our classes and university activities.

Now-as a successful university-we are focusing on wonderful initiatives, some old, some new.  These are linked to our planning-and to our vision as the public liberal arts university of the West.

To support that vision, for example, we're designing an Honors College to open in fall 2012. Work is underway in this effort, with Fredna Grimland and Prakash Chenjeri at the helm.

We are promoting and supporting faculty and student scholarship and creative activity. SOAR 2011 is in the works under the leadership of Paul Adalian and Deb Hofer.

Beginning in winter 2011, we will launch a Distinguished Lecture Series to highlight the great work of our faculty-and underscore, again, why SOU is the public liberal arts university of the West.

We continue to support faculty-student collaboration with mini-grants. And this year we also have some additional funds from the Foundation to support faculty research and creative activity projects.

With the assistance of our Development office and Foundation Board, our donor base is increasing.  And our recent successes in enrollment and other areas encourage even more people to support the university.  This year we've already received several substantial scholarship gifts, some of which are endowed in perpetuity.

Because of recent large estate gifts, bequests and annual fund drives, this month the Foundation will award a number of full scholarships.  We've received more than one hundred applications, in which students were required to work collaboratively with faculty on a project.  

We're implementing a giving campaign to encourage faculty, staff, and students to support scholarships, academic departments, and other priorities.  A committee of staff and faculty is working with the development office to celebrate and encourage on-campus support.  Students involved in this project are particularly excited about how the new program can help make a difference for SOU students.

In support of our planning goals for this year, also, efforts to create a more diverse campus are underway. Our Diversity & Inclusion Oversight Committee, co-chaired by Kasey Mohammad and Jon Eldridge, will focus on issues of access for under-represented students and employees, campus climate, policies, and research. Much work will be accomplished in the coming months. As part of this initiative, we're also searching for a diverse faculty hire.

To support our campus planning priorities, we are implementing a Healthy Campus Initiative. Students and employees face health issues and concern such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and relationship violence. By undertaking a comprehensive Healthy Campus Initiative, SOU can help support students and employees. You'll hear more about this initiative in coming months.

Our work on sustainability continues. Our focus this year is on five major issues-transportation, waste, grounds, dining, and research. Subcommittees of the Sustainability Council are moving us forward in these critical areas-toward the ultimate goal of climate neutrality.

We are also moving forward on a public/private partnership to build more residence halls. We could be beginning construction by this time next year. We need to improve and expand campus housing--we're up over 20% in campus housing from this time last year. 

We are initiating a mentoring program for students through the alumni office and already have more than 80 alums offering to mentor SOU students.  If you know a student whom you would like to see in this program, please contact Doreen O'Skea.

We're designing a new university website to align with our branding and marketing-and to increase usability and accessibility.

We are beginning plans to celebrate our 140th birthday in 2012. The first version of higher education in this region, Ashland Academy, opened in 1872.

We have numerous international initiatives underway-including the partnership with St. Mary's that has brought 25 Chinese high school students to our residence halls.

Part of our planning this year includes a Downtown Ashland Initiative. You may have begun to see SOU decals appearing in windows of local businesses. We're really strengthening relationships with the Ashland business community. We plan to expand this initiative to Medford and the rest of the Rogue Valley.

We have some incredible success stories in athletics: Our men's cross country team is ranked 1st in the nation and our women's team is ranked 8th-the highest ranking in program history. Women's soccer holds the second place in conference rankings and is looking ahead to the postseason. Our volleyball team is ranked 17th nationally.

And of course our students and faculty continue to do great things-connecting classroom learning with research and contributions to the region. The removal of the Gold Ray Dam this summer involved SOU faculty from the beginning. Eric Dittmer, Charles Lane, Robert Coffan and others worked on every phase of this enormous project-and our students have also been involved, especially in the monitoring to assess water quality, geomorphic changes and economic impacts resulting from the dam's removal.

And, just in the past few weeks, the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) announced the discovery of Peter Britt's original log cabin from 1852. Mark Tveskov, SOULA archeologists, and SOU students were engaged in this highly significant, professional excavation. 

Yes, the good news this fall is extraordinary. SOU is increasingly successful-and successes will fuel further success. But I know the pain we've all gone through is still there. We're still on furloughs and reductions. We're doing all we can to bring those to an end after this year.

We need to begin building back-salaries and positions. I know that all these wonderful new students put stress on offices and departments-even as they help us regain financial stability. I wish we could fix everything all at once. But I know that every year will be better for SOU. We ARE making tremendous progress.

So-I was putting all sorts of thoughts into my outline for today's talk. This time I needed to start with lots of good news and then acknowledge the same old bad news. But I felt I needed an image at the end of this talk. I started thinking about the images you're familiar with-fixing bicycles while riding them, etc. Then the other day I saw some red-tailed hawks floating gracefully over I-5. There was the image I wanted: our own mascot-the red-tailed hawk.

They're incredibly beautiful. They're versatile. They're all over the West-mountains, deserts, woodlands, open fields, urban areas. They're visible-you see them everywhere. They're strong. They have incredible vision (eight times more powerful than a human's). And, of course, they're highly successful-they survive and thrive in all sorts of conditions.

What a perfect image for this university. Versatile, successful, visible throughout the West. Whoever chose the red-tailed hawk for our mascot really captured SOU.

Hawks have their challenges-and SOU will continue to have ours. We will continue to wait for economic forecasts and for news coming out of elections and legislative sessions. We will continue to work hard to align revenue and expenses. Our resources will always be limited-(we'll never be rich). We will continue to plan and spend carefully. We'll continue holding regular budget forums and communicate with the campus whenever we have news-good OR bad news-to share.

But truly- this afternoon we need to celebrate for so many reasons. It's wonderful to work at THE public liberal arts university of the West. It's wonderful to work in a university of OVER 6,000 students. It's great to work with all of you. It's thrilling to have this lovely place to live in. And this outstanding-and astounding-university to work in.

We should smile with pride every time we see a red-tailed hawk swooping overhead.

My thanks to the president's cabinet who contributed the wine and beer for this afternoon. We also ordered a special celebratory cake.

And so now-let's celebrate. Thank you.