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United SOU board picks Schott as president

A clearly delighted Board of Trustees on Monday unanimously appointed Dr. Linda Schott to become the 13th president of Southern Oregon University starting July 27.

Trustee Les AuCoin, instead of saying “aye” to approving her choice to succeed Dr. Roy Saigo, trumpeted “hell, yes!” over the Skype connection linking trustees to Schott. When Schott signed her new contract and held it up for all to see, board President Bill Thorndike waved pom-poms and everyone clapped.

Schott’s ascension to the office caps a half-year search, in which a 15-member search committee combed through 77 applications to lead the small, liberal arts university with a history of financial challenges — and even a no-confidence vote from the faculty in then-president Mary Cullinan, Saigo's predecessor. Her selection means, after she takes office, three of the last four SOU presidents have been female.

In an interview after inking the deal, Schott, the president of University of Maine at Presque Isle, declined to spell out many specifics of her vision, noting she’s “going to wait till I’m out there, working with the leadership on the transition.

“It’s a great community and a good team of committed leaders on the board,” said Schott. Saigo, who became president in July 2014, will help her learn the ropes in the first month.

There was little discussion about the choice. One of the three finalists had dropped out last week and, as Thorndike said in a later interview, “I think she will take SOU to the next level. Her strategic planning is geared for success and the Maine college was facing some of the same challenges about budgeting that we have. She can take the university in a different direction.”

Thorndike noted that in Schott’s public presentation on campus last week, she stepped in front of the dais and connected with everyone. “We felt that was very important. She was a good listener and answered all questions. All of her meetings — with staff, faculty and in social settings, went well, particularly with the K-12 educators, with whom we want to work so high school graduates look at SOU as the place to go.”

Schott, in the interview, said she agrees with suggestions that, because of the internet, students now have access to the world’s greatest lecturers, so professors here can be more focused on personally mentoring students.

She said she has no problem with SOU’s long reputation as a liberal arts college, noting that she earned degrees in history, German, humanities and women’s studies.

“You should study what sets your heart on fire ... and learn critical thinking," Schott said.

Schott, her husband, two grown sons of college age, three cats and one dog will soon drive across the country. Her husband, Tom Fuhrmark, is retired and wants to join the arts community here. Her two sons, 19 and 20, want to work here and eventually think about college, she said.

Schott has been dean of the School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Fort Lewis College in Colorado and associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at Eastern Michigan University.

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

Linda Schott