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SOU wraps up listening sessions

Search for next president in early stages

Southern Oregon University stakeholders want the school’s next president to be forward-thinking, community-minded and approachable to students and faculty alike.

Those were some of the qualities — there were many more — mentioned by faculty members, staffers, students and community members during the series of virtual listening sessions held over Zoom between Thursday and Monday.

The battery of sessions was the first step in the university’s drive to replace President Linda Schott since hiring search firm Parker Executive Search and appointing an 18-member search committee.

According to search committee Chair Danny Santos, Parker Executive Search will now sift through the comments made in each of the hour-long sessions and present them to the search committee.

“We’ll tabulate those responses, share them with the search committee with the hopes of getting a position description put together, have that description go to not just the search committee but others in hopes of getting this before the (Board of Trustees) on June 18,” Santos said. “So it’s a fairly fast timeline, but again we want to be able to approach the June 18 meeting with a description for the board’s consideration and review.”

If all goes according to plan, Santos said, initial interviews will begin in late October or early November.

“And from that,” he said, “I think we hope to narrow the search to a more finite number of people to bring to campus for the full array of review by all the constituencies — students, faculty, staff, community — and to see them face to face. There are things you can learn from those conversations that you may not be able to see in a Zoom session.”

Ideally, Schott’s successor will be hired in late December or early January, Santos added.

The listening sessions began Thursday with three for faculty, staff and students. A community session, an open session for those who had not had a chance to chime in yet, and a Board of Trustees session were held Monday.

Those who would like to add their two cents in written form can do so by clicking on a “provide input” button on SOU’s presidential search page. The link takes visitors to a three-part, short-answer survey that asks the following: preferred characteristics of the next president; opportunities facing the next president; challenges facing the next president. The school is also inviting people to nominate a candidate through a link on the same webpage.

Santos said the listening sessions are an important step in SOU’s search.

“I think the desire is to get us a wider breadth of comments, that clearly we have the interest of the faculty and the students and the staff and the community,” he said. “But we also have the interest of the cabinet and others who would like to check in with and see what we want to put into that job description. On a transparency basis, you don’t go back to a group and say, ‘Here’s our job description, tell us what you think.’ I think we want to get the input and then from that input get the job description and then, again, circulate it for review and further comment.”

Monday’s open session included 28 participants, including Parker Executive Search representatives — Vice President Porsha Williams helped moderate the meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes.

Santos said the input the university has received from the sessions will be very useful when it comes time to create a job description. He singled out student session as perhaps the most passionate.

“So, they want to see a president who is committed to working with them — not just on board matters but the day-to-day (issues) — organizationally, housing, tuition clearly, those kinds of things,” Santos said. “But they also wanted to raise what I would call the equity lens that they want to see in a president, somebody who’s aware of the social justice issues, not just because of last year. Clearly — and I think we’ve seen it across the nation — there’s a higher focus on these issues. But (students want a president) who comes to the table with a willingness to have discussions about those types of issues for the students as they come to Ashland.”

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