Planning for a Sustainable University
Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming.
First, I would like to say how pleased I was with the questions and comments that came to me during the official comment period that ended December 15. They were constructive and portrayed thoughtfulness and an understanding of our situation.
The comments also showed a universal love of this university and a willingness to work hard to make SOU a better and more fiscally sound institution. I was encouraged too by the groups of people who are coming together to brainstorm ways to improve SOU. In these small groups, people from different parts of the university are thinking about the kind of university they want to be a part of, a university that will attract and retain more students. I believe together our work will form a framework by which we can all develop a stronger and more dynamic SOU.
We received almost 90 comments, from students, faculty, and staff as well as a few community folks. They ranged from comments about cleaning buildings to restructuring curricula, from suggestions about volunteer efforts to questions about business practices. The suggestions were made in the spirit of the collaborative and consultative process we are fostering as we move through this challenging budget process. Each comment and suggestion helped me formulate next steps and will continue to inform our process moving forward. The comments are summarized on the president’s web site.
Many, many people offered their assistance and support, which I greatly appreciate.
SLIDE 1 (President’s web site address )
I’d also like to report that, during the comment period, a number of cost savings initiatives, including our energy conservation efforts, got underway. Because of everyone’s efforts to conserve energy, we are already seeing a payoff. We achieved a significant savings of $125,000 in November and December. This is a good example of what we can accomplish when we pull together for the greater good. Deans and department chairs have also been re-thinking curricular offerings in ways to be more efficient while continuing to serve students effectively.
The other good news that has occurred during the past weeks is that voters did not vote in measures that would have immediately put SOU and most of the public universities in Oregon in bankruptcy. Moreover, if it makes its way successfully through the legislative process, the governor’s proposed budget includes funding that would help stabilize revenues for us and other regional universities.
We can’t be sure exactly how helpful the budget will be for us—for example, it includes proposed funding for enrollment growth that we will not be eligible for unless we see sizable increases next fall. There is also funding for lowering student/faculty ratios to system goals—but SOU is already under those goals.
While I’m very grateful that the proposed budget shows support for higher education in Oregon, the Governor’s proposed budget won’t solve our immediate problems.
Our budget challenge remains steep. In the weeks, since I last spoke with you, we have identified the need to cut about $4 million from our costs to reflect the approximate 10 percent reduction we have experienced in student enrollment. These cuts will enable us to build back our fund balance, which is precariously low, and stabilize our spending over the long term.
Some people have commented on the goal of getting our fund balance back up to 10%, saying we should have a more modest goal. The Oregon University System Board wants us to be back in the 10% range. But also we need to have some protection against disaster—so we’re not back in a mess if calamity occurs or we have a very bad enrollment year.
Also, we need some money to do positive things, to keep us moving forward, so we’re not always in “cut mode.” We need to ensure that we maintain and enhance academic quality, to ensure that students have an optimal experience here.
As I said to the campus earlier this year, we cannot and should not solve our fiscal problems by making one-time cuts. We also cannot base our budget on hopes for huge increases in enrollment. The Board is rooting for SOU in this process because it realizes our value to Southern Oregon and to the state. However, the Board is also encouraging us to face our problems and develop long-term, not short-term, solutions.
In order to meet our $4 million challenge, I gave each vice president a target goal based on his or her percentage of the overall budget. On January 2, I met with the Executive Council, and each Vice President presented substantive ideas for meeting our budget challenge.
SLIDE 2 (VP reduction targets)
As a result of the savings targets required of each Vice President, 17 of our colleagues received notice today that their positions are being eliminated. These cuts are made up of people in classified and unclassified positions. This unfortunate reality asks us to be understanding and compassionate.
Because of the rights of classified employees under the SEIU contract, we anticipate additional changes in personnel as a result of these layoffs. We realize the uncertain atmosphere this will create and will offer services and guidance through Human Resources for all of our employees.
These people are our friends and colleagues. Through our Office of Human Resources and with the assistance of outside employment placement services, we hope to assist our colleagues in the weeks ahead through this period of transition.
Today's layoffs and the vacant positions we have chosen not to fill in three vice presidential areas represent a reduction of 25 non-academic positions.
Slide 3 (Assistance Slide)
Each area is rethinking itself very significantly. In addition, we are achieving savings by continuing to freeze most vacant positions and continuing a selective freeze on travel. However, despite these painful cuts, we are still $1.6 million away from balancing our budget. The plans presented so far will not meet our steep fiscal challenge within the coming year or two.
As you know, the framework and timeline for our budget planning work have been guided by the faculty collective bargaining agreement. Thus, I have been interested in hearing from the APSOU leadership and have been very impressed with the serious approach they have taken in their examination of our problem.
After careful thought and analysis, they agree that SOU does have a significant budget problem. However, their formal response to me states that we can meet our financial goals by using Article 11, Section B, of the contract. Section B enables the university to adjust staffing and budgets for programs through attrition, reassignment of faculty members within the university, and non-renewal of fixed appointments. APSOU does not support invoking Article 11, Section D--the declaration requiring the need to reduce or eliminate programs.
The APSOU Board also makes a number of very valid recommendations that I am looking at closely. They recommend, for example, continued careful examination of data and staffing levels throughout the university—and they ask that we remember that the mission of the university, teaching and learning, form the basis of all decision-making.
I am in strong agreement with much of what APSOU has recommended to me. However, at this point, with the timeline for our re-thinking process racing onward, we have to leave options open. Approximately 70 percent of the university budget is in Academic Affairs; I have not been convinced so far that we can meet our reduction target without laying off tenured faculty.
Slide 4 (article D, APSOU contract address)
Therefore, after much thought and deliberation, I am officially announcing that we will follow the path outlined for us in Article 11, Section D, of the APSOU bargaining agreement. Retrenchment will allow us to pursue thoughtful and deliberate reductions so we can make constructive changes to our programs and adjust our staffing levels within our limited timeframe.
Let me emphasize that this is not a declaration of financial exigency. It is a declaration of a condition requiring reduction and/or elimination of a program. This step, while tough, is a process, and during this process, we will once again welcome input, comment, and thoughtful deliberation. I am counting on all of you to summon your greatest inspirations and creativity as we work together to envision a sustainable SOU.
The decision I announce today was not reached lightly. It was done after pouring over data and analyzing our enrollment projections, after meeting with campus groups, holding budget forums, running scenarios, talking to the Chancellor and our State Board, and consulting outside communities. It was reached after the deans worked hard to see what we could accomplish by making a variety of adjustments allowable under Article 11, Section B, of the APSOU bargaining agreement.
This process has a clear timeline for completion. First, in the weeks ahead with the help of our Vice Presidents and deans, we will develop a provisional plan that will address an additional $1.6 million in savings. During this time, we will work with the University Planning Council, students, and other campus entities to discuss options; also, the Vice Presidents will hold forums to explain the steps they have taken so far and to discuss suggestions for further cuts.
Slide 5 (APSOU article e)
The provisional plan, according to the APSOU contract, will list proposed reductions, reconfigurations and/or eliminations by School while not identifying the precise means of implementation. Again, we need to recognize the centrality of the academic mission and of academic programs. And, again, let me emphasize, that we are looking to identify an additional $1.6 million in savings.
Slide 6 (timeline)
I will outline a provisional plan on January 22. That will trigger another 20-day comment period, ending February 19, during which all of you will have a chance to comment on the revisions being proposed. We ask that, as before, you send your comments to the address listed on this slide. However, I must inform you that our local media have made a request under the Oregon Public Records law to make these comments available, so we cannot keep written comments and questions confidential.
Slide 7 (president’s address)
I will continue to meet with APSOU, UPC, Faculty Senate, and other groups to gather feedback while the various areas work on the provisional plan. The University Planning Council has reviewed our criteria for evaluating which academic programs will be reduced in scope or eliminated. UPC will be an active partner in developing a process for campus engagement and in reviewing proposed plans.
On March 5, we will release the completed plan.
Many people have asked me over the past few weeks if there are any “protected” programs. This campus-wide effort requires that everything be put on the table. We need to look at how we do things, who does them, and, most significantly, what our students need to attain an excellent education and have an excellent experience at Southern Oregon University.
We need to change. We need to do things differently. And everything that we change, everything that we start doing and stop doing as a result of our plan, will make someone unhappy. I ask that you work with me to see the university as a whole, not just the piece you are most familiar with. I have seen many of us expand our vision over the past months as we thought about our mission and our processes, our strengths and our challenges.
I realize that people here are already working hard, doing all they can do to make SOU a great university. With a comprehensive plan, people will not put in more hours of work—but we will not work so much in silos; we will work together to ensure we don’t duplicate efforts. We may need to learn different skills. We’ll use technology more effectively. We’ll know what the best practices and standards of excellence are —and achieve them.
As I have said before, I believe we can create a plan that will ultimately strengthen SOU, a plan that will protect us from having bad budget news—and bad enrollment news—repeatedly over the coming years. Our budget issues are significant and potentially devastating if not addressed. NOW we need to address them creatively, to design a truly excellent SOU with costs that are appropriate for its revenues.
I hope that you will continue to see our task as an opportunity. I also hope you understand that, in making cuts, we need to do enough so that we can introduce new programs down the road and invest in recruitment and retention efforts.
The planning process will continue to be open and honest. I want to assure our students that we are committed to ensuring that they can continue in majors that fit their life goals. I also want students to be involved in the process as we move forward.
Slide 8: Building a sustainable SOU
People asked me when I was interviewing for this job if I had a vision for SOU. I summarized some of that vision when I addressed this campus in early October: that I wanted SOU to promote academic excellence, to support students who aspire to learn. We need to be committed to the external community—this entire region—and to K-12, to civic as well as academic engagement, to access for a diverse population of students.
We are an ambitious regional university. With the liberal arts as a basis, we aspire to serve this region by educating its people in multiple ways so they may pursue satisfying careers, provide useful community service, and live richer lives.
We are a center for the arts. We aspire to serve Southern Oregon and to reach beyond our borders to the arts community at large.
We are civic leaders. We aim to develop programs to promote this region’s welfare and support our educational partners in K-14.
But to have long term value in fulfilling this mission, we must be a sustainable partner.
To achieve sustainability we must continually assess how we use our limited resources and expend them wisely.
Looking forward, we need to work together to maintain our excellence. As we work to become fiscally sustainable, we need to reach across traditional academic disciplines to find synergies and savings. We need to craft interdisciplinary programs to meet the needs of a global workforce. We need to break down our academic silos and create partnerships that will help our students think critically and prepare them to become future leaders in their communities.
Despite the pain we are experiencing now, SOU must continue to aspire to be recognized in our region and state for innovation and excellence.
We must be purposeful and intentional in promoting learning and excellence.
As we go through this rethinking process, please keep this goal in mind: Each of us needs to aspire toward excellence every day, whatever our job duties, whatever our responsibilities. We can never lose sight of the fact that we are here because of our students. I ask that you work with me in the coming months so we can serve our students AND Southern Oregon with the greatest degree of excellence possible.
I thank you again for your understanding, your patience, your creativity, and your openness to change. I look forward to working with you through this challenging process.
I will be happy to take questions. Behind me are the dates for campus forums.
Slide 9 Campus Forums