SOU president takes first step toward $4 million cut

Southern Oregon University President Mary Cullinan is announcing during her State of the University speech today that in order to achieve a financially and academically viable institution, the administration needs the authority to reduce, reconfigure or eliminate academic programs and faculty members as it sees fit.

Her announcement is the initial step of a formal process known as "retrenchment" that grants SOU's administration the ability to cut ties from or reassign its faculty members without breaching contract. The process is addressed in the collective bargaining agreement between the university and the Association of Professors faculty union, Cullinan said.

Cullinan said the move is necessary after back-to-back years of declining enrollment, disappointing student retention rates and shrinking state funds left the university $4 million in the red this biennium, she said.

Official enrollment figures will not be released by the Oregon University System until mid-November.

"We budgeted in a way that we thought was very conservative last year — but our numbers are clearly lower than we anticipated," she said in her speech, a copy of which was provided to the newspaper.

According to the bargaining agreement between SOU and its faculty, Cullinan can declare retrenchment if "the current or projected budget of the University has insufficient funds" to maintain all essential programs and services and fully finance employee contracts.

Cullinan described today's environment surrounding higher education in Oregon as "volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous."

"To succeed, universities along with businesses, non-profits, and every sector of our economy, have had to reevaluate their strategic plans, their structures — every aspect of their organizations," she said.

In accordance with the bargaining agreement, Cullinan will accept public comments concerning moving forward with retrenchment until Nov. 26, but the decision is ultimately hers.

"At the conclusion of the comment period, the President may declare a state of financial exigency or a condition requiring reduction and/or elimination of a program," according to the bargaining agreement.

— Sam Wheeler

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