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First SOU town hall sought faculty input on budget shortfall

SOU President Rick Bailey addresses an audience of faculty and staff Nov. 1.
Jane Vaughan
SOU President Rick Bailey addresses an audience of faculty and staff Nov. 1.

At a Southern Oregon University town hall Tuesday, faculty and staff pressed President Rick Bailey on how exactly the university will address its approximately $4 million shortfall next academic year.

The town hall was planned to discuss next steps in order to address the university’s financial situation. SOU announced earlier this year that it's facing a multimillion dollar deficit and declining enrollment.

Bailey answered questions that were submitted online and from the audience. But some attendees felt he did not provide concrete steps to address the problem, which could lead to major budget cuts at the university.

"Are there some steps that are happening, other than we’re just gonna talk about our feelings here and ask questions? Can you update us? I’m just wondering, where are you in the process?" asked Helen Eckard, the theater office administrative program assistant.

Jane Vaughan
SOU President Rick Bailey answers audience questions at a town hall about the university's financial future.

Addressing the university's financial problems is the first major challenge for Bailey, who started as president at SOU in Jan. 2022.

Bailey said the university is currently analyzing operations in five categories: academic affairs, finance and administration, enrollment management and student affairs, university advancement, and athletics. Later this month, he said the university will make its findings public for feedback from the community.

"I think people are jumping to the medicine when we’re still diagnosing the patient. So, where are we in the process? We’ve listed all these factors, right now we’re putting all of that together," he said.

Bailey discussed the possibility of early retirement, the profitability of academic programs, the importance of retaining students, and the potential for online Bachelor's degrees, without committing to a solution.

He said his goal is to avoid retrenchment — a process where both tenured and non-tenured faculty can be terminated — while prioritizing transparency throughout this process.

"I see nothing in [the university's realignment plan] that explains to me how you're going to avoid the entrenchment," said economics professor Ric Holt. "What would be helpful is really to explain to us your strategy and your view of how we are going to not go through retrenchment."

"Retrenchment, how to avoid it," Bailey responded. "I don't know."

"My concern is that the more granular we get with that, we're losing sight of what the strategic initiative is," he continued.

Approximately 50 people attended the town hall in person Tuesday, with about 80 attending virtually.

The next town hall will be held on Friday, Dec. 2, at 9 a.m., with additional town halls held on Jan. 12 and Feb. 16.

Jane Vaughan began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media. Jane earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.