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Schott talks retirement

SOU president says she’s leaving SOU in a good place

A day after announcing her retirement, Southern Oregon University President Linda Schott said Friday that after a 36-year career in higher education she’s looking forward to the next chapter of her life.

Schott announced Thursday afternoon that she will retire by the end of the year, ending a tenure that began when she became SOU’s 13th president less than five years ago.

Schott said she had been pondering the move for a while and talked to the SOU Board of Trustees Chair Paul Nicholson a few weeks ago. By then, she had already made her decision, and believes SOU is in a good position to make the transition.

“When I came, we did the strategic planning process and we laid out kind of a road map to what we wanted to achieve, and we’ve done a lot of it,” she said. “And kind of getting through the pandemic, feeling like we’re coming out on the other end, the federal relief money has really helped stabilize our finances, so I felt like I could announce and not feel like I was leaving the university when it’s in the midst of a pandemic.”

Schott said there were personal factors as well. She had three deaths in her extended family this year, events which caused her to reconsider her priorities. She grew up on a ranch northwest of San Antonio, Texas, which has been in her family since the 1880s, and that’s where she’s planning on retiring to once her days at SOU come to an end in the next few months.

“They tell presidents, always have another house because you never know when you’re living in a president’s house what could happen,” said Schott, who began her career teaching in 1985 as a professor at what is now Texas State University in San Marcos.

“So I have a house there (in Texas), and we’ve been kind of fixing it up and thinking that we would retire at some point. So my husband and I will move back there and we’ll see what happens next. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being a president, and I just need some time to relax and I don’t know what I’ll do next. Maybe I’ll just stay on my ranch and raise chickens or something else. But I don’t envision applying for another presidency.”

SOU’s Board of Trustees will discuss Schott’s retirement and the search for the school’s 14th president during its regular meeting April 16, the school announced. A search committee is expected to be formed in the coming weeks.

Schott said she still has much to do before she leaves. Besides the day-to-day business, she has her eye on a few initiatives that will keep her focus until a search committee finds her successor.

She has visited the Confederated Tribes of Siletz and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and says SOU is moving toward possibly signing a memorandum of understanding similar to the MOU the university signed with the Klamath Tribes.

“It’s really trying to figure out how to make the ties stronger between SOU and the tribes so that we can better serve their learners, whether they are high school graduates or they are adults who might want to take one of our online classes,” Schott said.

Schott also mentioned the possibility of SOU receiving competency-based education funding, and how her experience in that area could be put to good use before she leaves.

Schott said she’d like to see SOU make more progress toward preparing students for employment. She mentioned the micro credentials now offered at SOU — 18 are currently available — as one example of the strides the university has made in that area.

Schott said she believes the student experience has improved in her time at SOU, and she also touted the improved graduation rate, which increased 13% in a seven-year span that ended in 2019.

“So that means we’re being more successful with our students,” she said. “We’ve also increased the diversity of our students — I’m proud of that.”

Schott said when she came to SOU, she sensed a certain feeling of “post-traumatic stress syndrome” following years of budget-related stress which led to a painful retrenchment. Part of her initial challenge, she said, was getting everybody on the same page.

“There has been a lot of controversy at the college,” she said, “and I think my team and I have done a good job of building trust with most people on campus – you’re never going to get 100%. We’ve been very transparent and honest. So it feels like even though we’ve been through a really rough year with the fires and the pandemic, people are all pulling in the same direction. And that’s essential.”

Schott is also excited for the formation of a staff assembly. Slated to be rolled out next fall, the new governing body is expected to give a voice to unclassified and classified staff.

“One of the phrases that folks on campus have heard me say a lot is, ‘We need all good hearts and minds helping us get better as an institution and address the challenges of higher ed,’” she said. “So to me, (the staff assembly) is sort of the last piece in terms of giving representation to a set of hearts and minds that haven’t had it in the past.”

Schott was appointed the school’s third president in 10 years in July of 2016 when she was selected from a pool of 77 candidates. She came from the University of Maine at Presque Isle, where she served as president from 2012 to 2016. Before that, she taught at three Texas universities and held administrative positions in Michigan and Colorado.

Schott’s original three-year deal included a $240,000 salary, a house at which she was "required to reside" during her presidency, a vehicle stipend of $1,000 a month and $30,000 for moving expenses. She expects a transparent recruiting process and predicts the interview process will begin in August or September, with the next president signing a contract in October.

When asked to name some of the biggest challenges that next president will face, Schott said finances will always be a primary concern at a public university like SOU.

“We’re in a good position right now but it’s because we got one-time money from the federal government and because we did a lot of short-term savings this last year with furloughs and hiring freezes and stuff like that. The challenge will be how we rebuild our enrollment and how do we continue to make sure that the institution is attractive to people who want to get some education.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.