Theater, business, education and other faculty positions to be pared back, including the Native Nations Liaison
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Southern Oregon University President Rick Bailey released the fine print of his plan last week, detailing all but the names attached to the positions he is recommending be cut as part of what the university is calling a “four-plank realignment plan” to balance the budget and essentially avoid bankruptcy.
SOU is navigating a structural deficit of $10 million and $13 million, or about 20% of the university’s approximate $66 million budget, and he is being directed by the Board of Trustees to cut $3.6 million in the next year, and another $9 million in recurring costs. Through reorganization, process improvement, and program adjustments across the university, SOU’s cost management plan recommends a reduction of 81.83 full-time equivalents (FTEs), or 13% of its workforce, according to the realignment plan. The realignment plan is anticipated to be complete by June 2024, the end of the 2023-24 fiscal year.
About two dozen of the more than 80 positions will result in current employees losing their jobs, according to a prior university release. Other positions will be phased out by leaving open current job vacancies and through retirements, voluntary departures, and “non-renewable contracts,” according to a university news release.
“Without these changes, we will operate at a significant financial deficit in the 2026 fiscal year,” reads a statement in the plan.
For Academic Affairs, realignment planning restructured its current academic model from seven Divisions to four Schools, aiming to reduce program costs and identify ways to generate additional revenue, according to the presentation.
The plan lays out that 25 of the university’s 300 classified employees (8.3%) will be cut, 30 of its 174 unclassified employees (17.2%) will be cut, and 27 of its 185 faculty positions (14.6%) will be cut. Bailey said 14 faculty members announced retirements, with 5.68 faculty planned to be eliminated.
“I think all of it is a balancing act,” Bailey said in a phone interview with Ashland.news on Wednesday.
“I think that if we were to accept skyrocketing tuition, that would have a definite negative effect on enrollment and retention,” he said. “I know that everything that we do in cost management has to be considered as a potential challenge to enrollment and retention, so it is a very, very delicate balance.”
‘Realignment’ or ‘retrenchment’?
Bailey commented on the university’s use of the word “realignment” versus “retrenchment,” which has occurred previously in the mid to late 2000’s and 2014.
“The way I use ‘retrenchment’ – it is a very specific word that is a function of the union contract between APSOU (Associated Professors of SOU) and the university,” he said. “So, that is a technical union term that describes a process. Because we have been very openly transparent in partnering and discussing all of this, with our union partners and with shared governance partners, we have thus far been able to avoid that process (retrenchment).”
“So ‘realignment’ is a better term,” Bailey said.
“The urgency with which we needed to do this work … necessitated that, had we chosen with the union to go through a retrenchment, we would not have had the time to do it,” Bailey said.
“If we were to declare exigency, that would have, in a way, it would not have paid respect to the existing contract that we have with our union partners, so I wanted to avoid that, if at all possible,” he added.
Bailey’s detailed, 41-page plan, released via SOU’s website, shares the details of the cuts being proposed.
Plan cuts Native Nations Liaison
Among other proposed cuts is the Native Nations Liaison, a position that has been held for around five years by longtime Native American Studies faculty member Brent Florendo, who is of Wasco, Yakama, and Warm Springs descent, according to his SOU bio online.
“If I wasn’t retiring, I’d be upset because I’d be out of a job,” Florendo told Ashland.news in an interview at his office on campus Tuesday. He plans to retire this summer.
“This position, while originally and continuously funded by Admissions, has evolved into a direct report in sole support of Native American Studies Program, and Youth Programs,” states the plan.
Florendo asked for a meeting with President Bailey during the Feb. 16 town hall, and he received it. The two met with other members of the Native American Studies Program and SOU administration in what both groups characterized as a positive meeting that SOU aimed to view as crafting “a path forward.”
Florendo said his goal in meeting with Bailey and his administration was about speaking up for his people, and empowering the administration in their next steps.
“It’s greater than me, it’s not about my career or my job,” Florendo said. “Fifteen years ago, it might’ve been about my job because I was young … but I’m really at a place where I’m getting ready to retire.”
He emphasized he understands the financial hardships the university is experiencing. In more than 25 years at the university, he has been through six presidents and two retrenchments.
Despite his upcoming retirement plans, he would like the university to move the position forward if at all possible, as it represents many “seeds” planted and watered over the years in the Native American communities in the Pacific Northwest and across the U.S.
“This program is different than other programs,” Florendo said, “because it’s about sovereign people.
“My goal is really to maintain a relationship with this other institution outside of Native Indian Country, because that’s always been the legacy of my family that I go represent my people.”
He also laid out unintended consequences of eliminating the position.
“When the tribes, when they see this position is going to be gone, they’re going to have an opinion and it’s probably not going to be a positive one, because of all the wrong things that have happened,” Florendo said. “I’m trying to put them (SOU) in a position of respect, but you’ve got to give respect to get respect.”
Florendo said he understands that they may need to eliminate this position because of finances, but wants to remind them of the impact of the position.
“There’s going to be retribution from Indian country and it might take years to fix that,” Florendo said.
While no action is final so far, Florendo said if his position is eliminated, the university could find other ways to staff it. He believes it could be an opportunity for the university to get outside of the box and set a new precedent of how to water the “seeds” he and others within the Native American Studies Program have planted over the years.
Florendo encouraged Bailey to “reassure the tribes they are not being forgotten,” even if the position must be eliminated, and to explain the financial hardship as the reason behind it.
“That’s all they need to do, that’s all I want from them,” Florendo said.
“I just want good relationships to continue,” he added.
He also emphasized he continues to pray for Bailey, who he believes is in a tough position making these decisions.
“I’m here to be a positive addition to this transition that’s difficult,” Florendo said.
In an interview with Bailey on Wednesday morning, Bailey said the meeting with Florendo was “very productive,” though a path forward has not yet been resolved.
“What we are exploring is how to make sure that we continue and even strengthen partnerships and pathways for students from tribal communities, to make sure that those students have the support they need to thrive when they are with us, and to strengthen relationships with tribal entities writ large, across the country,” Bailey said.
Bailey said the university is looking at how to re-envision the way forward, to include the possibility of an Native American Studies institute. In terms of the future of the Native Nations Liaison position, Bailey said, “The good news is that we don’t have to have that solved today.”
“We have some time to build what we want together, but I think it was a very productive first meeting … we’ll continue to move forward — not just in a way that where we’re simply talking about, it but where we’re actually moving toward an actionable vision for where we go,” Bailey said.
“Are we going to commit to having resources available for students?” Bailey said, “The answer is, unequivocally yes. But I also think we owe it to ourselves to explore how we do that in a way that is conscious of our limited resources.”
Theatre positions also among proposed cuts
Among other departments slated for cuts, Theatre Arts is proposed to have 3.25 of 10 employees, equivalent to around one-third of positions cut, with one full-time professor of Theatre Arts pending, according to the plan, which does not state the name of the individual. One additional professor, an instructor, and an associate professor are slated to be eliminated. Two professors of Theatre are retiring and a third professor of Theatre will retire in 2024.
“With the refocus of the Theatre Department, the Technical Director, Lighting Design, and Costume Design and Construction positions will be reconfigured, aligning Theatre faculty positions with enrollment and structures at similar sized programs across the western United States,” states the plan. “Retirements will provide opportunities for strategic hires within the next several years. A currently vacant part-time staff position will be eliminated with the removal of one of the auxiliary Theatre Programs, the Visiting High Schools Shakespeare Program.”
The university has emphasized that cuts are not targeted toward any department in particular.
“Theatre Faculty have been strategizing ways to better train students not only for work in Theatre but for the creative entertainment industries,” states the plan. “Theatre graduates have opportunities in film, video, gaming, concerts, special events, and more. In the university’s proposed realignment plan, Theatre will revise positions to meet the needs of students and prepare them for future employment opportunities. The program will better align its offerings with student demand, and will remain a program of distinction in our region. Students will continue to have real-time experience in the development of and participation in a robust Theatre season.”
Eric Levin, professor of Theatre Education, will retire this December after 19 years with the university. He’s been through five presidents and two retrenchment processes, and he sees similarities in what past presidents have done and said with Bailey and his approach. But he’s confused by Bailey’s approach.
Levin spoke up during the Feb. 16 town hall, sharing his belief that Bailey isn’t taking a new approach to address financial issues. He also shared his thoughts with Ashland.news in an interview the day after the town hall.
“I don’t understand his talk,” Levin told Ashland.news in an interview on Feb. 17. “I don’t understand what he’s trying to communicate, because he’s not presenting a plan for the future, he’s presenting a plan for now.”
Levin is unaffected directly by the changes but sees potential for drawbacks for the Theatre Department moving forward.
“We are no longer teaching students how to design sets, costumes, or lights, and we will no longer be teaching students how to run the backstage with faculty,” Levin told Ashland.news.
“They’ll only have performance faculty. They may be wanting to backfill if they hire professionals, but that’s a lot of money per hour, per professional, and they’re not qualified in how to train students to do it.”
Levin said he and others have been assured by those within the department who will continue that all aspects of Theatre will continue to be taught, even though how that will be done is not yet known. Theatre has met to discuss a way forward and a task force has been made to develop future plans, Levin said.
He hopes that professors of Performance Acting aren’t asked to teach technical design and lighting, because of the differences between the Theatre art forms. He said he believes the Theatre department isn’t getting the level of support from administration it received in years passed.
“When I came here … the faculty was completely united on what our philosophy is, that we’re here to serve students, that no area of theater is more important than any other,” Levin said.
“The administration has been very reticent to take our word for what we need and has … tried to make us fit the university model, which is, every department’s different,” he said. “They’ve made it impossible for us to train anybody to be a professional anymore.”
President Bailey has consistently said the university is not targeting areas of the university and is making cuts across the board.
Strategic, four-plank realignment
Susan Walsh, provost of the university, who has been at SOU for more than two decades, submitted a statement to Ashland.news, shared via Joe Mosely, public information officer for the university.
“The cost-management portion of SOU’s current financial realignment is one of four elements in an overall strategy that will balance our revenue and expenses going forward, and allow us to grow into our strengths,” Walsh said. “The other three parts of this plan — reimagining our approach to grants, leveraging philanthropic giving and pursuing entrepreneurial projects — all will help reduce the university’s reliance on state funding and tuition revenue.
“We arrived at the current cost-management proposals through a process that prioritizes student experiences and academic opportunities. This plan does not target any individual undergraduate program or department; it is a university-wide effort to get the most out of our resources. Our emphasis in Academic Affairs has been on program reductions rather than elimination, and refocusing our efforts to maintain the most options for our students.”
Bailey has also emphasized that the university doesn’t favor one department over another, and that the Theatre program remains intact.
“I do want to make it very clear to your readers that SOU is not in any way abandoning its support for our Theatre program,” Bailey said, specifically noting the program due to pushback at the previous town hall meeting. “We’re committed longterm to a vibrant Theatre program at SOU, but this process will encourage that program to evolve and they’re already having those conversations.
“I think that the Theatre program is evolving in ways that will open doors to more collaboration,” he added.
Levin noted the fairness by Bailey in proposing cuts to numerous departments.
The Education Department has seen the most significant reduction in personnel in the Division of Education, Leadership, Health & Humanities, according to the plan. The university will eliminate the one-year Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, with “faculty available to teach the essential teacher preparation courses in the two-year MAT program.”
An online option will be added to the two-year MAT program allowing local and remote students to meet as a cohort to support one another, according to the plan, and a synchronous online format will make the program accessible to teachers and teacher candidates in the region’s more rural areas.
The Division of Education, Leadership, Health, and Humanities also has the most significant number of faculty members leaving the university within a division – 11. It was unclear as of press time how many total positions there currently are in the division.
Among the cuts: one professor of Education, one associate professor of Education, one associate professor of Language (unspecified), one senior professor of Language, an associate professor of Philosophy and a professor of English.
Additionally, the current Special Education (SPED) endorsement for teachers will be offered with an online option, similar to the MAT, the plan says. The undergraduate teacher preparation program is also pursuing an online option and hopes to begin making it available by fall 2024.
Also being proposed for cuts is the Associate Vice President for Government and Corporate Relations, a .20 unclassified position, in addition to the fulltime Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs.
In Business, the plan would eliminate one professor of Business, two senior instructors, and one instructor.
Bailey outlines in the plan the “steady decline” in enrollment over the past five years, and how it’s difficult to reduce the total number of sections offered because the program is offered both online and in-person. This requires teaching sections of courses in both formats.
“Through the use of innovative teaching modalities, we will reduce the number of sections by offering courses as in-person, online synchronous, online asynchronous, and self-paced in one unified course,” states the plan. “Business is additionally revisiting its curriculum as it strives to offer courses that appeal to, or provide resources for, a broader range of students. The resulting course reductions will permit us to eliminate an open line in marketing and a retiring faculty line in management, and further reduce faculty through early retirement in the areas of both accounting and internship delivery.”
Through the use of support staff and streamlined processes, the division of Biz, Communication and the Environment (BCE) is being eliminated, according to the plan. The departments of Business and Environmental, Science, Policy, and Sustainabililty (ESPS) will move to a new School of Science and Business and the Communication, Media & Cinema (CMC) department will join colleagues in the arts.
“Business has experienced a steady decline in enrollment over the past five years,” reads the stated reasoning behind the plan. “However, it has been difficult to reduce the total number of sections offered because the program is offered both online and in-person. This requires teaching sections of courses in both formats. Through the use of innovative teaching modalities, we will reduce the number of sections by offering courses as in-person, online synchronous, online asynchronous, and self-paced in one unified course. Business is additionally revisiting its curriculum as it strives to offer courses that appeal to, or provide resources for, a broader range of students. The resulting course reductions will permit us to eliminate an open line in marketing and a retiring faculty line in management, and further reduce faculty through early retirement in the areas of both accounting and internship delivery.”
Dee Fretwell, a business instructor and newly elected chair of the School of Business, submitted a comment about the changes to her department, via Joe Mosely, public information officer for SOU:
“We teach our students that the ability to adapt and progress through challenging times is essential in business, and within the School of Business is no exception,” Fretwell said. “Our faculty and student body is incredibly innovative, inspired and willing to enact great change.”
The plan also calls for cutting a full-time assistant professor of Communication back to two-thirds time (which was done on a voluntary basis) and elimination of one Environmental Science and Politics instructor.
Despite continued growth in the total number of majors, certificates, and micro-credentials in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Sustainability department, the department will also see a reduction in faculty, according to Bailey. Multiple new programs are currently under review that will expand offerings at both the undergraduate and graduate level. As a result of changes to general education curriculum, there will be a 75% reduction in offerings of classes to non-majors, according to the plan.
Music will voluntarily eliminate its graduate and undergraduate programs in Music Performance. The department is moving from a conservatory model of academy to a comprehensive music school model, according to the realignment plan, with a focus on creative industries and instrumental and choral ensembles.
“This will provide students with the preparation necessary to enter the music industry in all its forms, as well as to practice their art in music ensemble settings,” states the plan. “All students currently in the Master of Music in Performance and the Bachelor of Music with concentrations in Performance and Music Education will be given a pathway to graduation.
Three out of the seven full-time faculty have agreements for retirement within the next three years. Another faculty member specializing in the music industry may eventually be hired to replace one of the retiring faculty members.”
SOU will teach fewer applied music lessons and eliminate the Bachelor of Music with concentrations in Performance and Music Education, so fewer courses are needed.
The university says this will not eliminate the Music major, but rather reposition the program for future growth and opportunity.
Plan process history and future
Bailey said he’s very grateful for hearing from individuals and groups that are advocating for changes to the plan he is putting forth. He has consistently said that suggestions accompanied by alternative solutions are the best way to go.
“A few have come with recommendations that provide a little more detail to what is possible,” Bailey said.
Looking back on the past several months, Bailey said he recalls several suggestions and proposals submitted by union and shared governance partners and union partners, and faculty, staff, and area residents provided “creative cost management ideas,” with many ending up being reflected in the plan. He wasn’t clear what those proposals were or who submitted the ideas.
“The future of higher education is strong,” Bailey said.
“We’re not going away, but colleges and universities who thrive in the next 10, 20, 50 years all have three things in common: They will be nimble, they will be creative, and they will be collaborative. And does that mean that we don’t have challenges? Absolutely not. I think public higher education is at a crossroads. I think there are a lot of things that we have to do differently. I think we have to be far more careful to face fiscal realities. But these challenges are not existential.”
“We are engaged in the single biggest financial challenge, likely in our history,” Bailey said.
Bailey told reporters following the Feb. 16 town hall that he first learned of the university’s financial position on his third day on the job in mid-January 2022. He alerted the university of the financial crisis in September.
He was due to convene his final town hall-style gathering on campus from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, March 9, in the Rogue River Room of Stevenson Union.
“I only have one goal and that is to give space for students, faculty, and staff to share their views and recommendations and advice, and comments,” Bailey said.
Bailey said the 40-page plan as it is currently has been distributed across campus and is available on the website. He said he has fielded a lot of feedback from it so far, and said he will continue to.
SOU Board of Trustees will review the plan during March 16 and 17 board meetings on campus, but will not take official action until their April 20 board meeting. Bailey said Trustees will have opportunities to ask Bailey questions about the plan. Students, faculty, and staff, as well as any interested individuals will have the opportunity to share comments or questions, both in-person or online.
“We must make the difficult decisions about what we hold most dear, what is essential to our identity, and what we can live without,” reads a statement on Bailey’s presentation, titled, “SOU Forward.”
Bailey shared the following statement in his presentation of recommendations, available on the SOU website:
“SOU must change the way it does business because the status quo is structurally flawed,” the statement reads. “Like each of Oregon’s seven public universities, we have historically relied on a combination of state appropriations and tuition revenue to pay for most operations.
“But the proportion of those two funding sources has flipped in recent decades—what used to be about a two-thirds share from the state and one-third from tuition is now the exact opposite. Students and their families have become overburdened, and we must not allow skyrocketing tuition to be the answer to current and future fiscal challenges.
“We have completed several millions of dollars in budget reductions during the past several fiscal years—many of which resulted in one-time savings. However, the structural changes necessary to improve the university’s long- term financial condition were not made. Without these changes, we will operate at a significant financial deficit in the 2026 fiscal year.”
Bailey said rather than a single-faceted approach to reductions such as institution wide cuts and “last-in/first-out” approach, proposed reductions under the current proposal are mindful of the programmatic needs of our students and those who teach, administer, and support them.
“In this way, we position ourselves to maintain continuity of the program service levels we provide and to develop a plan that does not inequitably burden those who remain in university employment,” Bailey states in the presentation materials. “To that end, the three governing and two union associations, in partnership with university faculty and staff, are charged with considering how roles and functions can be reimagined, and how workloads can be reduced; how we can reasonably adjust expectations and create different ones; and find ways to invest in the person as well as the function toward a thriving, transforming community in which everyone can flourish.”
If not this, then what?
Bailey has said that the university is not weighing hard decisions, but impossible ones.
“No one wants to do this work — nobody — including me,” Bailey told Ashland.news in an interview. “But we also need to think about how we position this institution for future success and how we make sure that the university stays affordable and accessible for students now and in the future, and I think we’re all committed to that.”
Bailey specifically shared his gratitude for students, staff, and faculty of the Theatre Department, who met together on Feb. 16 and 17 to discuss a way forward in ways that help students.
“There are other things that are already being discussed,” Bailey said.
Will advocacy for a position or program help the chances it will not be eliminated? Bailey’s answer was nuanced.
“I certainly can’t speak for the board but I think this is their position as well: We’re open to listening to everyone so advocacy is welcome, but one of the things I mentioned in the town hall is advocacy is more powerful when it comes with ideas and alternatives and proposals,” he said.
“Even if someone comes up and says, ‘Rick, don’t do this,’” he added, “… we do need to take the time to honor that and be respectful of it, but I think it is far more powerful and far more influential if there are well-thought out proposals and alternatives to help us do what we need to do.”
“We will introduce this plan to the board in whatever shape it is in by then on March 17,” he said. “So we’re clearly looking for inputs, recommendations, ideas, and more but … that does not stop the process because the board does not make its final decision until April 20.”
Board meets March 17
The SOU Board of Trustees will meet at 11:15 a.m. Friday, March 17, with opportunities via Zoom or in-person to accommodate public comments, including those regarding the proposed plan.
“I don’t want to say that March 9 or even March 17 is a last chance for anything,” Bailey said. “We’re going to still be open to ideas and thoughts and recommendations moving forward until the board makes its final decision.”
No final action will be taken until April 21, when the board will review the realignment plan during a public session on campus.
“I think it is my responsibility, whether it is tense or not, no matter what we’re all feeling, it’s my responsibility to be there and to listen and to understand and accept what people are feeling no matter how they’re feeling,” Bailey said. “I made an oath to SOU that I will be the president in good times and I’ll be the president in challenging times.”
Comments, questions, story tips? Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 10 update: Some details regarding the March 9 town hall removed or changed since the date has passed. An error saying a full-time assistant professor of Communication would be eliminated was corrected to say the position will be cut back by one-third.