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MailTribune.com
  • SOU will move ahead with staff, program reductions

  • Southern Oregon University's administration will start cutting faculty and programs next year under a process known as retrenchment, President Mary Cullinan announced Thursday.
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  • Southern Oregon University's administration will start cutting faculty and programs next year under a process known as retrenchment, President Mary Cullinan announced Thursday.
    Retrenchment gives the administration free reign to cut staff without breaching its contract with the faculty union under Oregon University System rules.
    "Losing valued colleagues will be a very hard process," Cullinan said to about 160 people packed into SOU's Meese Auditorium.
    She said SOU will trim $3 million to $5 million over the next three years.
    If the university does not cut about $4 million before the end of the biennium in 2015, Cullinan said, it will be out of compliance with OUS's policy that each university keep at least a 5 percent fund balance on hand at all times.
    "All our very conservative assumptions and the recommendation of the Budget Committee leads me to declare that we do, indeed, have a condition requiring reduction or elimination of academic programs," Cullinan said.
    "This is the best option for SOU. It's the only way we can sustain and advance our university, to serve students and our mission. ... Cutting some programs is a necessary process, we have seen data through a number of lenses. We know that we need resources to support and enhance programs that students are asking for."
    According to the bargaining agreement between SOU and its faculty, Cullinan can declare retrenchment if "the current or projected budget of the University has insufficient funds" to maintain all essential programs and services and fully finance employee contracts.
    "People whose programs face reduction or elimination will know well in advance and have preparation time," Cullinan said. "... Program elimination and reduction is in no way a reflection on dedicated people teaching in these programs."
    Many of those who attended the campus forum were faculty and staff members at SOU.
    Although students who are signed up for a major at SOU will be able to finish their degrees regardless of whether their program is cut, Cullinan said, it is still unclear whether their courses will be taught at SOU, online or at nearby Rogue Community College, who would teach them and how long those students would have to complete their degrees.
    "You keep repeating what we're going through is not a crisis, but this feels like a crisis to me," said Carol Ferguson, a biology professor at SOU who teaches 11 courses. "It feels very much like a crisis."
    Cullinan acknowledged that it is understandable many faculty members may be experiencing a "personal crisis" as the university goes through the painful process of making cuts.
    "While the word 'retrenchment' sounds severe ... it is not a crisis," she said. "It is a positive response to forestall a crisis. This university is going to be here for another 140 years."
    Erik Palmer, assistant professor of convergent media at SOU, expressed his disappointment in the Oregon Legislature for setting goals such as the 2011-passed "40-40-20" initiative.
    This goal states that by the year 2025, 40 percent of adult Oregonians will hold at least a bachelor's degree, 40 percent will hold an associate degree or postsecondary certificate, and the remaining 20 percent will hold a high school diploma or equivalent.
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