Bailey prepares to announce proposed cuts in Thursday town hall
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Ahead of a planned announcement of proposed budget cuts intended to realign Southern Oregon University’s multi-million dollar structural deficit, student leaders are saying that their classmates were largely surprised by talk of reductions and/or cuts to faculty, staff and programs in a recent student town hall.
Alicia Gerrity, president of the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU) said many students voiced concerns at the Feb. 2 town hall about not hearing of the proposed budget cuts until recently. The university is facing a $10 million to $13 million structural deficit, which essentially means a recurring budget issue to the tune of about 20% of a $66 million budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The challenge isn’t a one-time financial problem, SOU President Rick Bailey told Ashland.news in September, but one that requires a root-level solution by reducing staffing and/or programs for the institution to continue serving students in the future.
Administrative officials are saying they are trying to keep impacts to students at a minimum and are trying to include students in the process. Student leaders have said that some students who attended a recent town hall for students were hearing about it for the first time.
“A lot of angst and nerves are just flying around right now,” Gerrity said, in an interview last week with Ashland.news.
Gerrity said students feel discouraged by the current process that has led up to the release of the proposed realignment proposal and were caught by surprise to learn of the looming impacts.
“It was kind of a surprise, like, ‘Oh, wow, we’re only a month out into things and there are some of our staff and faculty who will no longer be with us,’” Alicia Gerrity said in an interview with Ashland.news.
Gerrity said ASSOU leadership was aware of the situation and trying to keep classmates informed, but many are busy with student life and hadn’t yet heard of the financial issues. She worries the unique experience SOU provides to students will be impacted.
“A big part of the small and unionized classrooms is the ability to articulate and create that relationship with your professor or staff or faculty,” Gerrity said.
Plan unveiling set for Thursday morning
Bailey will announce the draft realignment proposal during a campus town hall planned for 9 a.m. Thursday at the university’s Rogue River Room in Stevenson Union. Bailey’s proposal will be a draft and subject to final action by the SOU Board of Trustees in a meeting of the board on April 21. Until then, no final action will be taken.
It is currently unclear what programs or positions are being proposed for cuts as Bailey said he wants to deliver the message on an individual basis before making a public announcement.
Bailey spoke with Ashland.news in an interview last week about the draft realignment plan as the university revised it ahead of the upcoming meeting and the impact on students, faculty and staff as well as programs.
“We’ve moved the timeline up so this (announcement) will be an overview of the recommendations as it stands then,” Bailey told Ashland.news in a phone interview last week.
“We’re putting last minute revisions to it,” he added. “We’re also going to use that time in the next week to make sure that any employees whose positions may be affected by that recommendation are notified before that plan is released to the public. They deserve to hear it from me and from their supervisors before the plan is released, and a reminder that that recommendation is not final until the board makes a decision.”
He emphasizes that the university is doing everything it can to minimize the blow to students.
“I’m confident that we have put so much thought and effort into minimizing the effect on students that I think likely, students may not fully … feel the effects of these changes in terms of their experience,” Bailey said.
He acknowledged that the realignment will impact people’s jobs and livelihoods, and presents a “heavy, heavy task.”
“It’s too big of a transformation for it not to have an impact,” Bailey said. “But I do think that we have been very, very thoughtful about minimizing programmatic changes to their experience.”
Students concerned about impacts of cuts
Gerrity remains concerned about her classmates and how they will be impacted by upcoming cuts.
The 19-year-old double major in Political Science and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies is also a first-generation college student. She’s planning to attend law school in fall 2024 and is currently enrolled in the Accelerated Baccalaureate Program.
“I’m concerned that the staff and faculty that will be dismissed will affect our campus support and how that involvement will impact our students because students are very connected with our staff and faculty,” Gerrity said. “That’s something we pride ourselves on in our relationship with one another. We’ve grown the most in diversity over the past 10 years over all seven public universities. Having these connections and these resources is … so important, so losing that or the fear of losing that is very detrimental.”
Gerrity first learned of the gravity of coming budget woes while attending an all-campus breakfast held in October 2022.
Gerrity said the Student Fee Allocation Committee in September from last year had to cut club sports programming, meaning club sports couldn’t start at all this year.
“That was something that student government voiced and advocated on behalf of students that it was very detrimental to students of color, BIPOC … it was just harsh how everything all
went down very quickly and I guess that was my first taste of what budget cuts could look like and what I need to be doing in my position.”
Gerrity said many students voiced concerns at the Feb. 2 town hall about not hearing of the proposed budget cuts until recently.
“It was kind of a surprise, like, ‘Oh, wow, we’re only a month out into things and there are some of our staff and faculty who will no longer be with us,” Gerrity told Ashland.news. “A big part of the small and unionized classrooms is the ability to articulate and create that relationship with your professor or staff or faculty.”
‘Who and what and where?’
Gerrity said her classmates shared concerns, wanting to know “who and what and where” the cuts would take place, and what it could look like for them to essentially finish out a degree in progress.
“The vibe is that a lot of students are, I would say, disappointed because they kind of felt like it came out of left field without any guidance,” Gerrity said, “and as much as student government has been trying to advocate (for) them or encourage them to use their voices, it feels really discouraging ….”
“A lot of these decisions lie on the back of President Bailey (pending SOU Board of Trustees approval) as well as his five VPs, so as much as student voices are the most important, … it can feel a bit discouraging.”
Susan Walsh, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at SOU, emphasized the prioritization of program reductions versus outright eliminations.
“For Academic Affairs, SOU’s realignment plan has centered on the restructuring of our current academic model,” Walsh said in an emailed statement to Ashland.news. “This includes, but is not limited to, moving from seven academic divisions to four. These will likely become ‘schools,’ though their names are still being discussed by the faculty. Importantly, in order to continue to best meet the needs of our students, the focus has largely been on program reductions instead of program eliminations.”
Spirit of collaboration
Bailey said he believes that relationships between governance partners, the Faculty Senate, the staff assembly, ASSOU and union partners, the Associated Professors of SOU and SEIU have improved by “leaps and bounds” compared to years past.
He believes there is a new spirit of collaboration being built among the tough conversation topics, and that trust is being cultivated. He referenced a recent agreement reached with the faculty union to work with faculty members planning to retire or who know they would like to retire soon.
“I am excited about how we can leverage these new strengthened relationships to continue to build the university that we all love and deserve.”
He believes those who are planning to retire — a number he declined to share — will have a tangible effect on the realignment plan put forward.
“I’m very grateful to the faculty members who have been willing to engage in those conversations,” Bailey said. “Their willingness to engage in these conversations definitely had a positive effect on … lessening the impact to programmatic decisions and thus likely helped mitigate what may have been larger numbers of employees affected. That’s about as much as I can say.”
Bailey emphasized he hosted a town hall on Feb. 2 to hear directly from students regarding upcoming cuts.
“We have focused a lot of our own town hall discussions through the lens of the effects on faculty and staff,” Bailey said. “We do need to pay special attention to that, but we also needed to recognize that when an institution like ours undergoes transformation like this, we have to be sensitive to the effects that those changes will have on our students and the student experience, and so we felt it was important to have a town hall specifically focused on their perspective.”
Bailey declined to share specifics of how many people and programs would be affected by the proposed cuts. In an interview in September, Bailey called the situation “one of the biggest fiscal challenges in history” for the university.
“We still need to take the time to be with the employees who may be affected by it,” Bailey said. “So I’m hesitant to give you a number. But we’ll share that recommendation with the public on the 16th.”
Faculty cutbacks likely
When asked if some faculty positions could be lost while the board weighs the final decision, Bailey confirmed that is possible.
“Anytime an organization as complex as ours undergoes a transformation like this, I think there’s always a risk of stability in terms of the employee base,” Bailey said. “I think that’s natural and it’s unfortunate but I think it’s a byproduct of this work, so I think we’re very sensitive to that.
“For faculty members who are affected by this, when the board makes their decision in April … we are not going to be insensitive to the needs of employees, who now will need to transition,” he added. “We will work with those employees to make sure that we are honoring their service to the institution with compassion and doing everything we can to support them through that transition.”
Bailey acknowledged the process of realigning the university’s budget has caused widespread stress, something from which he is not immune.
“There have been you know some sleepless nights because of it and there’s a lot of stress involved, but I also know that that is something that we’re feeling across the university,” Bailey
said, “and so, we’re going to come together as a family to figure this out and do everything we can to heal moving forward and I think we’re all committed to that.”
Bailey said the university will continue to gather feedback and input during the realignment
process, even leading up to the presentation of the proposed cuts to the Board of Trustees during a special board meeting planned for March 17.
‘I think we are going to solve that one once and for all’
“As challenging as this entire thing has been, I am incredibly hopeful for the future for many reasons,” Bailey said. “First of all that I think we are going to solve what has been a longstanding structural fiscal imbalance. I think we are going to solve that once and for all.”
The Feb. 16 town hall will take place in the Rogue River Room.
Gerrity said she’s nervous anticipating the town hall but is encouraging all student leadership to attend and be vocal.
Those with questions or concerns about the realignment process can email the university at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How does the realignment process make you feel? We want to hear from everyone, no matter your perspective. Comments may be used in news stories. Reach out to Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth by email at email@example.com.