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SOU is perfectly positioned for the times we live in

I began my new responsibilities as president of Southern Oregon University on Jan. 15 with great anticipation and enthusiasm. It is a gift to have an opportunity to be of service to our students, faculty, staff, governing board, community partners, donors, SOU alumni and many others. While the challenges ahead are great, so too are the opportunities. I am certain of it.

Several of our university’s stakeholders asked me when I interviewed for this position why I had chosen to pursue it. There were approximately 130 open positions around the country for senior university administrators at the time, and SOU is the only university to which I applied. That is how strongly I feel about the unique opportunities that await us as an institution and as a community.

It would be legitimate to ask candidates for any higher education leadership position why they would want to serve in that role — particularly at this time. The headwinds we face are strong, complex and at times unpredictable: uncertainty about future governmental support, the waning demographic of traditional college-age students, misperceptions about the value of higher education, residual challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and others.

But I am convinced that SOU is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the mid-21st century educational landscape. I believe that our university is the perfect blend of big and small. It offers a robust variety of student experiences, activities and educational pathways (reflective of much larger institutions) and still has the hometown feel and intimacy that is often lacking at larger universities. Put simply, I would love to be a student here. That was the central focus of my decision-making, and what ultimately drew me to seek this position.

Do we have some obstacles ahead? Absolutely. The enrollment and fiscal challenges are real, but they are not insurmountable. I believe completely that with open hearts and minds, a willingness to be creative and innovative, and — above all — a commitment to solving problems together as a community, there is nothing we cannot overcome.

SOU will need to be imaginative and resourceful. We will need the buy-in and genuine efforts of business and civic leaders, and other public and private partners, as we collaborate to provide the best possible education for our students. We will need to defy the label of higher education as staid and unexciting, and be willing to tolerate some degree of risk to achieve the rewards that our students and region deserve.

In my role as president at Southern Oregon University, I intend to embrace bold, enterprising, original and maybe even somewhat unconventional approaches, and I look forward to doing so with my whole being. I pledge to be a community-minded, inclusive and selfless servant for our students, faculty, staff and community. I will endeavor to earn the trust you have placed in me.

Rick Bailey is president of Southern Oregon University.