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SOU president touts successes in last university address

Linda Schott talked enrollment and new sports programs, but also looked back at milestones during her 5.5-year tenure as president

In an address to the campus community Tuesday, Southern Oregon University President Linda Schott told attendees that she would try not to cry, given it was likely the last time she would talk to them in a major way before retiring at the end of the year.

But at the conclusion of her annual State of the University address, Schott clearly wiped her eyes a few times.

“It’s been my tremendous privilege to serve as the president of this university — I am going to cry, no, I’m not,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed reflecting with you on everything we’ve achieved, and I hope you’ve been reminded of the important roles you play in keeping this institution strong and supporting our students.”

Schott thanked the campus community and the general community for inviting her and her husband, Tom, to campus in 2016, when she was appointed by the Board of Trustees as president.

“We have truly had the time of our lives,” she said.

That remark seemed to echo the chorus of the hit Green Day song “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life),” which was played at the end of her speech during a slideshow of photos of her time as president.

Schott’s Tuesday address came at the same time the Board of Trustees was deliberating over which of the five finalists, recommended through a search committee, would be offered the job as SOU’s next president.

Schott did mention some things she hoped that person would do, but she mainly used her address to focus on “what we’ve done here together.”

“I hope that this little trip back through the last five years will be useful to you, too,” she said. “So, let’s take some time to reflect on what we’ve done and how we’ve changed.”

Her address came with some news.

For one thing, enrollment has “not yet fully recovered” from the affects that the pandemic and wildfires brought to higher education. While the total headcount is up slightly, she said, the number of students enrolled in a full-time credit load is down 5% from last year.

But there was some good news Schott shared: thanks to an advisory committee the president appointed, it has produced recommendations for four new athletic programs that will be offered starting fall of 2022.

A big focus of Schott’s speech was around the seven “directions” developed in a strategic plan.

“Do you remember that? We spent a year and a half on that work,” she said. “I can’t mention everything, so I’m really just going to hit some highlights.”

The plan touches on everything from curriculum delivery to improving services for both students and employees.

During Schott’s tenure, four majors, eight minors, several certificates and “micro-credentials” have been added.

During the pandemic, SOU realized it needed to hone the way it offers instruction virtually. Not only were there an abundance of training workshops through popular websites such as LinkedIn, Schott said, recognition needed to be given to IT staff for getting out Chromebooks to students so quickly when campus shut down.

SOU has continued to change the way it works to become more environmentally sustainable, she said. Not only has the university added to its solar arrays, but it has three net zero buildings — meaning they generate more electricity than they use. SOU has won several awards for its leadership on sustainability, Schott said.

The number of students who identify themselves as non-white has increased, according to the SOU president.

She also noted how the school has been recognized for nine years in a row as one of the nation’s top 30, “Best of the Best” LGBTQ+-friendly colleges and universities by Campus Pride, a nonprofit that supports and improves campus life for LGBTQ+ people on campuses nationwide.

What’s more, SOU has worked to improve its relationship with local Native American tribes. These efforts included the recent announcement of the Land Acknowledgment, a statement that makes clear the land that is now SOU once belonged to tribes and was horrifically taken from them during the Gold Rush by white settlers. The statement is meant to be read at university events, as it was at the most recent Homecoming game and Schott’s university address.

These diversity efforts came as numerous events sparked a new conversation on race relations. Not only did 2020 see the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but also closer to home, in Ashland, 19-year-old Aidan Ellison, a Black man, was shot and killed by a 47-year-old white man in a parking lot of a hotel allegedly for playing music loudly. Additionally, Schott said, there was racist graffiti on campus.

“We all recommitted ourselves to learning more and doing better,” when it came to race relations, Schott said.

When it comes to finances, SOU has secured a revised base funding model that is “more fair to our institution,” Schott said, translating into $1.4 million more each biennium than before. External support has “steadily increased,” from $1.5 million in 2013 to $3.7 million last year.

During Schott’s tenure, $55 million has been invested in capital facilities projects, including on student dormitories.

SOU’s communication effort on what it can offer prospective students has changed since Schott took office. She noted how a virtual tool of campus, which was only a dream in 2016, is now reality — and is something that is helpful to students who can’t get to campus before they enroll.

“We’ve taken a stroll down memory lane and reflected on … our strategic plan,” Schott said. “It is clear that is indeed accomplished and we should be really proud of what we’ve done — mostly you’ve done it. I’m just here cheering you on. And, of course, there are still challenges.”