As plan appears headed for adoption in April, concerns aired about impacts on remaining staff
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Following a presentation of the budget realignment plan by Southern Oregon University President Rick Bailey on Friday at SOU, the university’s governing board questioned him on details of the plan, which he says will eliminate a multimillion-dollar structural deficit and change the fiscal model for the university moving forward.
The public had roughly 90-minute comment period to share comments, ask questions and direct feedback on the plan to the Board of Trustees during its roughly three-hour meeting. Individuals weighed in on the plan, offering feedback on the 41-page realignment plan that serves as a financial blueprint for moving the university forward. No actions were taken and no amendments were set forth at the meeting on the third floor of the Hannon Library, with additional viewers online.
The plan will cut the equivalent of nearly 83 full-time positions, or 13% of SOU’s workforce, as previously reported by Ashland.news. About two dozen of the cuts will result in job losses for current employees and cuts are expected to reduce costs by $3.6 million this year, with a yield of $9 million in recurring cost reductions.
Trustee Chair Daniel Santos asked for Bailey to elaborate on the Native Nations Liaison, which is scheduled to be cut, and about Bailey’s plans for the position going forward.
Bailey reiterated that SOU is committed to its relationships with tribal entities and in exploring how best to strengthen pathways to graduation.
“The question is how we do that,” Bailey said.
He recently met with Native Nations Liaison Brent Florendo and faculty members of the Native American Studies Program, as well as SOU Provost Susan Walsh, Vice President of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Toya Cooper and Vice President of Enrollment Management Neil Woolf.
Bailey said the group discussed the reimagining of the Native Nations Liaison position, and what that would look like in the future.
“The initial draft of this plan had that position, the tribal liaison, coming out of Admissions,” Bailey said. “The question that we started with in this conversation was, is there a way now to make it broader than admissions, because it also has to do with relationships with the tribes … and also has to do with, as you heard Brent (Florendo) talk about, with student support.”
While Bailey served as president of Northern New Mexico College, he was a part of a team that, over the course of five years, was able to create a Native American Students Center with a separate funding stream from the state of New Mexico.
“We shared that, by the way, that same plan with this (SOU) group,” Bailey said. “So I can’t give you a, ‘here’s the plan, here’s what we’re doing’ — what I can pledge is that we will stay committed to doing that outreach, to being of service to students in tribal communities.”
Bailey said he also plans to listen to Florendo, who will retire from SOU this summer, and others with ideas on how we make that happen.
He said he would like to have something in place in terms of tribal outreach solidified before summer.
“And likely, there could be even some inroads that can be made that give a little more fidelity than the plan that you all vote on April 21,” Bailey said.
Bailey questioned on cuts to services for underrepresented students
SOU Trustee Katherine Cable, who identifies as transgender, continued to emphasize that there is a perception from students and staff that with some of the proposed cuts of services are increasingly going to affect underrepresented communities, including Native American students, veteran students and students who identify as trans.
“With some of the proposed eliminations of services of staff, it has the appearance of coming on the backs of underrepresented students,” Cable said. “More and more, that is fewer services, more burden on underrepresented students that we are trying to recruit, and especially when it comes to veterans.”
Cable said more transparency is needed with the process of reimagining the position and others, including affecting veterans.
“Let’s start with veterans. As a veteran myself, I’m very sensitive to support that we give to our veterans,” Bailey responded, who retired as a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. “Every underrepresented group in this institution is personal for me, so I know that a lot of thought and care was put into how we started having conversations, particularly within student affairs and student services.”
Bailey said the university is looking at what services it can do without and what services can be undertaken by others in existing positions.
In terms of the Veterans Administration certification, the financial aid coordinator and assistant financial aid coordinator are certified in this role, he said.
“We’re not taking away the ability to do what we do,” Bailey said. “Does it mean that we are going to look at all the processes that we do? Yes, and … this is where we’re going to have to have very serious conversations in every office with supervisors who say, what are the things that we do that are just ‘hamster wheel’-type things that we’ve got to get off of.”
There’s a long list of criteria to remove something from the realignment plan as it stands, according to Bailey.
“And if we’ve gone through all of that and then, based on … compliance issues, state and federal regulations, after we’ve done all of that, and we’ve said, ‘look, we cannot not do this stuff. And we cannot not do this stuff without really seriously harming students, particularly students who are underrepresented,’ then we have to reevaluate and I’ll eat crow and we’ll look at how we replenish that, but I want us to make sure we’ve had that (process).”
Bailey emphasizes that the realignment plan was created with the intent to cause “as little damage as possible” to SOU students and the progress he says the university has made in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
“And this is a work in progress, but I want to make sure that I say publicly that we’re completely committed,” he said.
Trustees to Bailey: ‘Walk the talk’
Trustee Andrew Gay spoke to Bailey’s commitment but noted more was needed for these communities.
“I’m not critiquing that from a budgetary standpoint, but as (Cable) just pointed out, all these little pieces together start to tell a story and it’s a different story than what SOU’s been telling
for a long time to those communities,” Gay said. “I appreciate when you say we’re committed to this or we’re committed to that.”
Gay noted that commitments are “a lot cheaper” than actions and shared concerns that, as the university moves forward, marginalized communities will not see actionable steps to make pathways for those in underrepresented groups.
Trustee Vice Chair Sheila Clough, who also serves as chief executive officer at Mercy Flights, also wanted to know how Bailey would ensure employees are not saddled with more work if the plan moves forward unchanged.
“We heard in a number of submitted letters, which many of us have been talking about how
much we’ve read every single one of them,” Clough said.
Clough referenced a comment by Bailey that there’s a need to “redesign” the work that SOU is doing, and at the same time, the university is proposing to remove human resources to do the work.
“But that’s not sustainable in terms of the workload and I think that’s what the fear I hear in many of these letters is, we’re just going to be left with all this extra … work,” Clough said. “So, have you and the rest of the team thought about how you would invest in the resources and skilling of the remaining team to really take a deep dive in terms of understanding how to do performance improvement and reimagine the actual work? … It’s good that you’re committed to it. Is there something more than that commitment that you’ve been thinking about in terms of helping those that remain learn how to readjust their workload?”
Bailey responded, “It’s sad because I almost feel like commitment is a four-letter word,” sparking a moment of levity with laughter from the group.
“The fear that you just mentioned, I think, is being felt across the campus,” Bailey added.
He emphasized the importance of looking at the situation from a faculty perspective and a staff perspective.
“I think the muscle movements in some ways might be slightly different between what faculty may do … and what staff may do,” Bailey said.
“All of the leaders of those groups have committed to, how do we think about this writ large?” he added. “What I suspect is, if I put my faculty hat on … then those things might be, what are the extra things that you’re doing outside of the classroom that are kind of like the busy work-type stuff that you do, and is there a way for someone else to do that?”
“Second, how do we schedule classes in ways that are attractive and convenient for students, right?” Bailey added. “In terms of staff, the question is … when we look at classified and unclassified staff, there are far more employees now than we had 10 years ago. The only group that has decreased in number is students. So we have more employees serving fewer students.”
Bailey said student needs today are much higher than they were a decade ago, something the university must honor.
“The question for us is, after you account for all that … are there processes that are so work intensive that there might be other ways to reimagine it? And I think we owe it to ourselves to at least have that conversation,” Bailey said.
The Finance and Administration Committee of the SOU Board of Trustees will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 20, and will recommend a realignment plan to be voted on by the board on Friday, April 21.
Comments, questions, story ideas? Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at firstname.lastname@example.org.