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  • Cullinan says changes are to blame for SOU faculty's recent no-confidence vote

  • Embattled Southern Oregon University President Mary Cullinan told an Ashland audience Thursday that she believed a Faculty Senate no-confidence vote in her administration was the result of years of disruptive changes.
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  • Embattled Southern Oregon University President Mary Cullinan told an Ashland audience Thursday that she believed a Faculty Senate no-confidence vote in her administration was the result of years of disruptive changes.
    Cullinan attributed the vote to widespread frustration over class-chopping, a new higher education governance system, reorganization and bargaining with faculty — all coming after years of declining state financial support.
    "We're working our way through it all," Cullinan told a meeting of the Ashland Rotary Club Thursday. "There's a lot of turmoil right now and people are feeling very stressed and sensitive. The Senate has the ability to state their level of confidence in me and I can understand it."
    In November, Cullinan announced that the university would begin a retrenchment process that allows the administration to cut programs and eliminate professors without breaching the faculty union contract. She has said SOU will need to trim from $3.3 million to $5 million from its budget over the next three years.
    Cullinan said she was working with David Carter, president of the Faculty Senate, to address staff concerns.
    "It's a challenging and difficult time," she conceded.
    In the vote, results of which were announced Wednesday, 63 percent of the faculty expressed no confidence in Cullinan, while 71 and 76 percent cast no-confidence votes against Vice President of Finance and Administration Craig Morris and Provost Jim Klein, respectively.
    Cullinan did not mention the vote in her half-hour speech, instead lauding the school's advances and new construction and the work of students on community projects. But she addressed it when asked a question from the audience following her talk.
    "It's been a wild year; there's never been a year like this in the history of the university," said Cullinan, as she outlined the confusion facing SOU after the Oregon University System began to move away from its single state board model, allowing the state's three largest schools to set up self-governing boards.
    She said the four "technological-regional" schools, including SOU, are proposing to the State Board of Higher Education a new system in which they would have a council of presidents and a combined governing board. That, she said, would strengthen their voice in Salem.
    All of that is unresolved, however, adding to faculty frustration, Cullinan said, adding, "We don't know what path is open to us now."
    From the audience, retired utility executive Sid Field said he supports Cullinan's efforts.
    "I wouldn't hire any of them (Faculty Senate members) to work in my business," he said.
    After the meeting Field added, "I don't think the Senate understands the financial difficulties and are looking out for their own little departments and selves."
    Carter could not be reached for comment.
    Cullinan lamented the $13 million drop in state funding for SOU since 1999, adding that the state at that time paid 85 percent of costs for students — and now it's the reverse, with the college "greatly dependent" on students to pay that 85 percent. In the same period, SOU has gained 1,000 students.
    In response to a reporter's question as she was leaving the meeting, Cullinan said she did not believe the no-confidence vote would lead to any upheaval in the school's administration.
    The school has undergone a huge capital construction boom, including a $50 million resident hall and a $22 million Science Building renovation project. Cullinan told the Rotarians the school expects to hear shortly whether it will receive funding for a renovation of McNeal Hall, SOU's athletic center.
    The capital expenditures are earmarked for specific projects, meaning Cullinan cannot divert the funds toward salaries or lowering tuition, she said.
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
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