SOU sees increase in turnover, interim positions

In the past three years, Southern Oregon University has lost 224 employees, with the rate of turnover increasing each year since 2005. Eighty people left in 2007, which included 33 who received notices as part of the reorganization after the budget crisis, and several administrators took the opportunity to move on, leaving their posts filled with interims.

"We're not losing people for any horrible bad reasons," said Deborah Frierson, director of human resources. "To me it just looks like normal turnover."

Frierson attributed much of the turnover before 2007 to changes in the public employees' retirement system, an aging population and a more transient younger generation.

"Society's becoming more mobile, and younger people want money and don't want to work as hard," she said. "They stay one to two years in a position instead of three or five. How do you recruit and retain people who are ... looking for the next position after the one they just got?"

Many of the people that left were hired only as temporary employees, such as football coaches, cooks or custodians, Frierson said, and others left to fulfill life dreams.

"Of course we want to retain people, but we also feel proud when we recruit people who can move on," she said. "We've provided a great growth opportunity here."

Challenges, opportunities

For those left behind, the challenge is to decide when to search for replacements. So far, President Mary Cullinan has put a priority on filling the provost position, Frierson said, but for lower positions, it is up to the department heads when to conduct a search. The average cost of replacing administrators is generally half the annual salary of their position, as well as a large time investment, she said.

"It takes a lot of people hours to do a search &

an entire committee, and we are still reeling a little bit from the loss of our colleagues," she said.

While searches are being conducted, those filling in can face a large learning curve.

"The biggest challenge is just to learn all the things that you didn't know before, and it's good because I have a really good staff to get me up to speed," said Edwin Battistella, the interim provost and vice president of academic affairs.

Battistella, who served as a dean for the school of arts and letters for six years before his year of sabbatical last year, does not plan to apply for the provost position. But he said he values the experience for when he resumes teaching English next year.

"I think everyone should do some administrative work at some point because it gives them appreciation for how things work," he said. "Being an interim is good because you can focus on getting things done and not have to worry about whether you're going to keep the job beyond a year."

Battistella replaced Earl Potter, who was appointed President at St. Cloud University in Minnesota last March. A second vice president position opened over the summer, when former Vice President of Finance and Administration James Main moved on to the same position at California State University Monteray Bay.

Craig Morris is now serving as the interim vice president of finance, a position he said he became familiar with as Main's assistant. He said he is not concerned about the turnover.

"People decide they want to climb the ladder or change location. I don't feel like our change in executive leadership is caused by anything bad," he said. "Transition is always hard, but we have a wonderful president who's very compassionate and caring and has a vision for the direction the university is going. With that kind of leadership, it makes transition much easier."

The dean of the new college of arts and sciences and the dean of university library are also interim positions, and the executive director of marketing and communications position is currently vacant.

Frierson said the turnover would likely continue as baby boomers near retirement age.

"Boomers are getting ready to retire," she said. "In the next five years, there will be a lot of folks in that 55 to 60 age range who are going to decide to hang up their hat."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or . To post a comment on this story, go to .

Share This Story