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SOU control shifts downstate

Southern Oregon University is poised to enter a new chapter in its history next year when a newly appointed local board of trustees takes over responsibility for governing Ashland's regional university.

The 12 appointees announced last week are local business and community leaders familiar with SOU, its programs and its mission. A 13th member, Lithia Motors chairman Sid DeBoer, was also appointed but has resigned and will be replaced. A student member will be nominated to fill the 14th seat on the board, and SOU's interim president, Roy Saigo, will be an ex-officio and nonvoting member.

SOU joined the other six campuses in the Oregon University System in asking to have its own board. The change in governance started with the University of Oregon and Portland State University, which advocated for self-governance after many years of answering to the state Board of Higher Education. Some of the smaller regional universities initially were wary of moving to institutional boards, but all eventually decided to make the change, as did Oregon State University.

Among its new powers, the local board will have the authority to hire and fire the university's president, and to raise tuition when necessary. SOU still will be dependent on the state for a portion of its funding.

The new governance structure is not by itself the answer to SOU's financial struggles of recent years, but the new board will be able to run the university free of much of the bureaucracy and top-down management of the statewide board that oversaw all seven campuses at once.