Describing Southern Oregon University as “the university of the future,” SOU President Linda Schott presented a seven-year strategic plan and new vision to the school's Board of Trustees Thursday.
“The future that feels so far away is here. We have to prepare today,” Schott told the board as she unveiled her plans to make SOU more accommodating to older and returning students, to create physical learning environments that emphasize technology and are less encumbered than a traditional classroom and to move toward collaborative learning as opposed to teaching from a textbook.
“It used to be that there was only one textbook and so we taught from it," she said, "but information is everywhere at the touch of a phone so we have to adapt.”
Schott reinforced the university’s sustainable environmental model and doubled down by pointing to a sustainable financial model as well.
“I think we are financially stable now. Now is the time to invest.”
SOU has had its share of financial struggles, raising tuition by 9 percent for the 2017-18 school year in order to avoid program cuts.
Acknowledging the difficulty in attracting faculty and staff to SOU — it's among the smaller campuses in Oregon with starting tenure-track PhD’s earning roughly $50,000 per year — Schott noted the importance of creating a positive place to work. She told the board that SOU needs to create a simpler, less paper-driven and happier environment.
Training is not enough, she said; the pay must be good and the job needs to be fun.
“If people are unhappy and don’t feel valued and if they aren’t having fun, the training won’t work.”
Schott said the university of the future must be on top of technology issues such as artificial intelligence and automation. She noted that many traditional jobs will be absorbed by technology.
“We need to teach how to evaluate, seek out and use information," she said. "We need to emphasize information literacy and empathy, things that can’t easily be replaced.”
The strategic plan focused less on hard data and more on the feel of educating the whole student.
“They’ll need an entrepreneurial spirit," Schott said. "It’s not about a job, it’s about creating a life purpose.”
Schott listed seven principal goals:
SOU will transform its teaching and curriculum to enhance the success of its learners and graduates.
SOU will become a better place to work and provide excellent service to all of its constituents.
SOU will support efforts to promote an environmentally sustainable campus and will take part in sustaining the bio-region.
SOU will create a diverse, equitable, inclusive community where learners flourish in diverse environments.
SOU will achieve and maintain financial stability.
SOU will develop physical and virtual environments in which all learners can thrive.
SOU will serve as a catalyst for economic, cultural and social development in the region.
Schott’s reference to working with employers and community leaders to take students out of the classroom and place them closer to the front of the line for local opportunities was also an emphasis of her presidential predecessor, Roy Saigo.
In addition to the goals, Schott unveiled a new vision statement: “Southern Oregon University will become an inclusive, sustainable university for the future that guides all learners to develop the knowledge, capacities, and audacity to innovate boldly and create lives of purpose.”
Schott did not get into specifics of exactly how the goals would be implemented but told the board the plan was created through a collaboration among faculty, staff, students and the community.
She said she had faith it would work. “I think it’s pretty darned exciting.”
Schott acknowledged that the changes will not be felt by students initially, saying “the day-to-day experience won’t change immediately but over time programs will evolve.”
In approving the strategic plan unanimously, the board of trustees applauded Schott.
“People are excited about rolling up their sleeves and doing this. This is not just words on paper,” said Trustee Sheila Clough.
Schott promised more detail in her State of the University Address at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20, in the Rogue River Room of Stevenson Union.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.