New Mexico college president chosen to lead SOU next year
It might sound a little “sappy,” but the one thing about Southern Oregon University that really stood out to Richard J. Bailey, Jr. when he visited campus were the people.
“The thing I was struck by, maybe more than anything, was the fact that, no matter what people did for the university ... every single person I met loved this university,” Bailey, the president of Northern New Mexico College, said of his time Oct. 27-28 in Medford and Ashland while interviewing for SOU president.
As he made those remarks in a media session Tuesday, Bailey was SOU’s president-to-be. The Board of Trustees convened Tuesday to name him president, succeeding Linda Schott, who will step down at the end of the year.
Bailey begins his post Jan. 15 and could serve for at least the next 3.5 years, per the terms of his contract. During his media interview period Tuesday, he spoke about what attracted him to move from one presidency in Española and El Rito, New Mexico, to another in Ashland.
“I love where I am now; that’s why I did not submit a dozen applications around the country,” said Bailey, speaking via video conference from New Mexico. “This was an opportunity for me to be of service to SOU, moving forward, and also for me to hand the baton here [in New Mexico] to someone else who can pick it up and take it to a new place. I think that’s healthy for institutions.”
At Northern New Mexico College, Bailey’s tenure saw increased enrollment by 20% and raises for employees at a time when there had not been any in years.
This year, his college also introduced an eight-week Cannabis Establishment Technician course after New Mexico legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older. On a related note, Bailey was also named to the Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee to guide the state on the formation of the cannabis industry.
Aside from the people of SOU, Bailey liked the school for its student opportunities and the fact that it provides a seemingly hometown feel to them.
“Those will be the two most important things, going forward, between determining the difference between good universities and great ones, and I am very excited to be a part of that future,” he said.
Having prepared for SOU president somewhat during his candidacy — which involved a town hall event with the campus community — Bailey said he doesn’t think there will be “a switch” to turn off when it comes to listening to constituents once he settles into the job.
“I don’t think that at some point, I will do enough listening to say, ‘now, I have all the answers’ and I’m going to start directing what we do. I think it’s going to be far more nuanced,” Bailey said. “I am going to do all this listening, but I might start asking questions as I learn more. That might spark some ideas.”
Even so, Bailey’s approach with making priorities for SOU is not based on the number of plans he comes up with, but how they can be solved.
“[Let’s] be creative in how we approach strategic issues,” he said.
Asked about what challenges he believes are facing SOU, one Bailey mentioned is the pandemic, which he said had been dealt with in a serious and aggressive way.
As far as priorities are concerned, diversity, equity and inclusion; enrollment and student success are three at the top of his list. SOU recently named a DEI vice president, Toya Cooper, to its roster — she will start Nov. 15. And last week, President Schott said the school’s enrollment for this fall semester was down 5% from what it was last year.
“I think those [issues], at least, moving in on day one, I know, are already priorities for the institution and things that will be on my mind,” Bailey said. “There are also things I will start to become more aware of even before I get there, so I can start to ask better questions when I arrive.”
The Northern New Mexico College president wasn’t asking questions Tuesday — rather, he was humble about the board’s decision and on the receiving end of some glowing compliments.
“I am honored, humbled and grateful to be with you today and I will endeavor, everyday, to earn the confidence that you are placing in me,” Bailey said during the trustees meeting Tuesday. “I know how much all of you love this university, and you did not make this decision lightly.”
According to the terms of his contract, he will earn $290,000 a year and could serve until at least June 30, 2025. Bailey will be reimbursed up to a total amount not to exceed $30, 000 for moving expenses; given the keys to the president’s residence in Ashland as well as a car allowance, given the amount of traveling the job entails.
Bailey will get all the same health care benefits as SOU employees, plus six weeks of vacation time.
“By my observation, the [contract] negotiations went very well and Dr. Bailey demonstrated his excitement and commitment to work at SOU,” Jason Catz, general counsel for SOU, said during the meeting.
Schott tweeted out congratulations to Bailey.
“I look forward to what you will accomplish with the marvelous @SOUAshland community!” she wrote.
Board members also expressed confidence in Bailey. One member, Barry Thalden, thanked Schott for her work over the past five years and said Bailey’s leadership would provide SOU a way to “leap to exciting new levels that we can only imagine.”
Board member Paul Nicholson said he looks forward to working with Bailey and that “we’re all convinced we’ve got the right president.”
Lyn Hennion, another board member, said Schott has set the bar high for SOU presidential leadership, but in Bailey, she believes “we’re going to build on everything that’s happened over the last five years with you at the helm.”
Bailey was one of five finalists among numerous higher education administrators throughout the country culled from an appointed 18-member president search committee. That small pool of candidates included no women — which garnered some criticism — and no SOU employees.
“It became apparent throughout the search process that Dr. Bailey’s innovative and entrepreneurial accomplishments, leadership style, strategy expertise and optimistic vision for what is possible at SOU can propel the university’s bright future, ” Santos said in a press release.
Bailey earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering sciences from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a master’s degree in international affairs from Washington University in St. Louis, and a doctorate in government from Georgetown University.
Bailey’s Air Force career included being an air operations official for NATO, where he oversaw the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan.
When Bailey was asked during the media session how his military background could be an asset for the job of university president, he mentioned mentoring.
“It was baked into the military,” Bailey said. “Every single member of the team mentors everyone around them, and eventually we can back each other up. In terms of what we do, I love that. I love cultivating an environment where every member of the team feels like they’re being listened to and respected.”
Though the military and higher education are “two different animals,” leading a school calls for a “much more nuanced leadership style.” And then there’s the rigid accountability factor.
“I will have things to prove every day,” said Bailey, brushing off the notion from a reporter that he has proven himself. “I will own it and take the criticism.”