In a surprise move, Southern Oregon University President Roy Saigo reversed an earlier position and will not seek a third year on the job. The move, which emerged at Friday’s board of trustees meeting, set in motion a search to replace him by the time his two-year contract expires June 30, 2016.

Board Chairman Bill Thorndike said that, in consultation with all campus groups, “it became clear, from SOU’s standpoint, that we needed to get going as soon as possible on a permanent replacement. A year’s extension didn’t make sense to go with.”

Representing the Faculty Senate, math professor Larry Shrewsbury read a letter to the board opposing an extension of Saigo’s contract, noting, “The faculty has requested that long-term strategic planning be initiated to meet the goals demanded by our accreditation process and retrenchment requirements. Such planning has not begun and is dangerously overdue.”

Board member Lyn Hennion was named to lead a small group starting the search. The search criteria will be finalized at the board’s January retreat, but Thorndike said the board is looking for a president who is “student-centric” and who recognizes SOU is a place of “co-governance,” and a teaching and not a research university.

Saigo was very committed to the school and has done a “wonderful job,” said Thorndike, and the board approved dropping the “interim” from his title out of respect for that.

The search process will be “radically different” than any in SOU’s history, he said, as it will be the first time it has searched for a president on its own, rather than having the state Board of Higher Education do it. The state system decided to go to local governance of universities two years ago, and the current board assumed local control July 1.

“A lot of what we will be doing will be new and fresh,” he added. “We will be working from past policies, but we’ll have the ability to modify from some 270 polices that we got from the Chancellor’s Office about the selection process at the changeover. We have to figure out what policies will work for us. We’re starting to grapple with questions and processes that will serve us.”

Saigo, in a statement, lauded the increased enrollment and healthy fund balance during his tenure, as well as “great strides” in engaging the local community and strengthening ties with area high schools and Rogue Community College. Saigo will stay on the job longer than June 30 if the school needs him, Thorndike said.

Thorndike, who was on two presidential search teams with the Board of Higher Education, said there will be a great deal of interest in the post, as SOU is “a nice-sized university” with professional programs and great connections in the arts and environmental science.

The board will offer a salary around $225,000.

Saigo was hired after an embattled President Mary Cullinan grappled with severe budget cuts during the Great Recession and ensuing years and received a vote of no confidence from the faculty. She took a job as head of Eastern Washington University in July 2014.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.