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SOU president talks enrollment, budget

Mary Cullinan didn't mince words in her first speech addressing the state of the university.

The new president of Southern Oregon University went straight to the crux of declining enrollment and budget problems.

"I think people need to know what the situation is," Cullinan said. "We aren't getting state funding. We don't know what our prospects are for state funding. We don't have a lot of other options except students paying more money."

New student enrollment stabilized this year with enrollment figures shaping up to be about equal with last year's 4,795 students. However, the university's loss of the equivalent of 558 full-time students since 1999 leaves the state institution in rough shape, she said.

"Our new programs are helping to attract new students," Cullinan said in her speech, "but we need to not do some of the things we have been doing &

and rethink the things we really need to do."

With enrollment still an issue and budget cuts a constant threat, Cullinan wants to take a closer look into the university's budget and find a way to ease the burden on students.

"This cost-cutting stuff is not about cruelty. It's about fiscal responsibility," Cullinan said. "My hope is to turn it into a more positive planning experience where we are working together collaboratively and talking about where we're going as a university instead of just hunkering down and waiting for the pain to go away."

After Cullinan's speech, the Rogue River Room in Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union buzzed with murmurs of more than 100 people discussing Cullinan's address of the university's pertinent issues.

The new president spoke of the 17 percent of the university's resources coming from the State of Oregon and the school's inability to keep up with rising costs like energy in a state that ranks 48th in state funding for higher education.

Cullinan started work at SOU little more than a month ago, replacing President Elisabeth Zinser who headed the university since 2001. Cullinan came from her position as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. At Stephen F. Austin State University, Cullinan created a new administrative post to oversee student recruitment and retention. She applied for the provost position at SOU three years ago when the university hired Earl H. Potter III.

After Cullinan's speech, Potter said he thought the university could move in a new direction with Cullinan.

"The news that our new enrollment is up and people are excited about it is really turning a corner," Potter said. "The budget challenges are real but folks recognize them. In the past people have felt put upon by the budget calendar. I sense people are really up to the challenge now."

An optimistic look at enrollment and the new Foundations of Excellence program tracking first-year student progress with the goal of retaining them will lead the university into a process of keeping students, Potter hopes.

"The main part now is the retention piece," Cullinan said. "There are so many forces that pull students out of school. We really need to say how important it is to stay the course."

Cullinan's struggles lie ahead, but she said she has a game plan. She wants to have an open budget process, appoint a budget committee and keep the strong suit of student and faculty relations going.

Most of all, Cullinan said, she wants to rethink SOU.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x 227 or .