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New president was 'on everybody’s priority list'

A day after concluding a five-month search by hiring Dr. Linda Schott as Southern Oregon University’s next president, the school Board of Trustees and members of the search committee breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday.

The board voted unanimously Monday to appoint Schott the school’s 13th president and third since 2006. Her first day of employment will be July 29 (a Friday), but she won’t be on campus serving as president until the following Monday, Aug. 1.

Schott was one of 10 candidates selected from a pool of 77 to fly into Portland for interviews, and one of three finalists who visited SOU for a gauntlet of meetings and a public forum. One of those finalists, Indiana University South Bend Chancellor Dr. Terry Allison, pulled his name out of the running, leaving SOU’s Board of Trustees to choose between Schott and Eastern Michigan University Dean Dr. Michael Tidwell.

SOU Director of Institutional Research Chris Stanek, who was on the search committee, felt Schott emerged as the best fit early on.

“When I read through all the applications, hers really stood out and was at the top of my list from the very beginning, mostly because of her writing,” Stanek said of Schott, who has served as president of the University of Main at Presque Isle since 2012. “When I read her cover letter and her CV (curriculum vitae), it was very down to earth and grounded in real language rather than a lot of educational buzz words and high-level concepts. So that resonated with me. And then her position currently in University of Maine’s system that she’s now at seemed to be such a perfect fit for the kind of institution that SOU is.”

Stanek said he wasn’t the only one impressed with Schott after the first face-to-face meeting.

“She was one of 10 that we interviewed up in Portland and the reaction by the rest of the search committee was the same as mine, at least in terms of initial impressions,” he said. “It was pretty much kind of a no-brainer as far as the desire to invite her to campus. She definitely bubbled up on everybody’s priority list.”

SOU School of Business chair Joan McBee, who was also on the search committee, said she had no idea who would be offered the job because she felt all three were highly qualified for the position. But, she added, Schott did make a good impression during interviews and at a breakfast get-together during her visit.

“She impressed me in the initial interview and again when we had breakfast,” McBee said. “She seems like a person who is willing to explore new ideas. At one point she called herself the idea hamster, like she’s always constantly spinning her wheels and coming out with new ideas. But she also makes sure that the ideas are supported by everyone at the institution, that people are behind her and that whatever changes she’s recommending that they all want that same thing.”

That’s important, McBee noted, because collaboration is key.

“I like that about her,” McBee said, “that she wasn’t just going to come up with all these ideas and go off, take us somewhere we don’t want to be. She seems like somebody who has really been successful at building teams and creating change that is very positive for everyone.”

Schott joined the members of the Board of Trustees via Skype just before its vote Monday in the Meese Room of the Hannon Library. After she was approved, Schott signed the contract as the board members looked on. A round of applause followed, and board President Bill Thorndike even broke out some pom-poms to celebrate the occasion.

“As you can imagine, after an eight-month ad hoc process we were glad to have it completed,” Thorndike said. “And again, from the trustees standpoint, it was unanimous. And just talking with staff, everybody seemed really pleased.”

The terms of Schott’s contract were laid out by SOU general counsel Jason Catz and are available online at governance.swp.sou.edu. Her three-year deal includes a $240,000-a-year salary, a house at which she is “required to reside” during her presidency, a vehicle stipend of $1,000 a month and $30,000 for moving expenses.

Catz noted that past presidents have traditionally signed two-year deals, but now that SOU is self-governed it negotiated a three-year term, “that has advantages, frankly, for the institution, as it provides more stability in terms of salary movement and spreading out the time in which it’s renegotiated.”

Traditionally, a president’s salary remains the same through the life of the contract. “But of course,” Catz said, “this board at all times retains the authority to address the salary of the president, as long as it does so in an open meeting like this.”

The contract also lays out a performance evaluation Schott will undergo once a year which will measure her performance in seven categories: 1, leadership; 2, financial management; 3, enrollment; 4, degrees awarded; 5, degrees in workforce shortage areas; 6, research, scholarship and knowledge creation; and 7, representing the university “with regard to advocacy and collaboration on important matters of higher education.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.