Thursday was a significant day for Southern Oregon University. We made a tough decision to eliminate or restructure some of our academic programs. In academic-speak, this action is termed retrenchment. In business-speak, the process is called restructuring or right-sizing.
Simply put, we will create a plan that involves cutting programs in low demand in order to invest in programs that attract students and help retain them to graduation. Our goal is to serve students as effectively as possible and ensure a vibrant, sustainable future for our university.
No one wants to see programs or the dedicated instructors who teach them go away. However, SOU is not alone as we align priorities with scarce resources. Nationally, public universities face revenue challenges unlike any in the past. Years of reduced state funding force public universities to put a larger share of costs on students in the form of increased tuition. Students pay more, work more jobs, borrow more, and sometimes choose between buying a textbook and buying groceries. Some choose not to go to college at all, making a decision that will affect their whole lives and those of their families.
Universities must do all we can to keep tuition costs as low as possible in this difficult environment. SOU and our sister institution, Eastern Oregon University, remain the most affordable universities in Oregon.
Rather than viewing retrenchment as a crisis, SOU is working collectively to ensure that our planning will add to program strength and quality. This is a decisive move to invest in areas most important to our students and our regional economy. By reducing or eliminating programs that have low enrollment, no longer meet today's market demand, or are too far from our signature strengths, we will balance our budget while investing in core areas.
For the vast majority of students, retrenchment will be invisible. Students in declared majors will be able to complete their SOU degree. Students on our Ashland and Medford campuses will still take most of the same classes, engage daily with fellow students and faculty, and participate in dynamic academic experiences that prepare them for success after graduation.
Those who will directly feel the pain of program cuts are faculty, the people who teach our classes and labs, who inspire students and help them attain a university education. Yes, some faculty will lose their jobs at the end of this process. There are difficult decisions ahead, decisions that I don't take lightly.
Although SOU must adapt to new realities of higher education, we will not change our values or our mission. We will continue to serve our region. We will continue to be recognized for our strong liberal arts and sciences curriculum balanced with career-focused preparation. We will continue to offer the individualized attention that makes each student a member of our community, not a number on a spreadsheet.
History underscores the need to recalibrate when circumstances threaten long-term success and sustainability. In 2012, SOU celebrated its 140th birthday. We have a great institution that has long contributed substantially — economically, educationally and culturally — to Southern Oregon and to our state. That's why we are meeting our financial challenges head on: for our students and our region, now and in the future.
I ask the support of our wonderful Southern Oregon community as we move forward in our planning. While painful and difficult, the decision made yesterday will ensure a strong, student-focused university for generations to come.
Mary Cullinan, Ph.D., is the president of Southern Oregon University.