'New direction' sought in SOU program study

Southern Oregon University is embarking on a yearlong effort to evaluate and prioritize its academic programs and student support services to take a "new direction" academically and to ensure an optimal future for the institution, according to an SOU official leading the effort.

Two teams of about 20 faculty and staff members are carrying out most of the work, said Dan DeNeui, a psychology professor at SOU who is overseeing the effort.

The plan was announced to the campus community Nov. 6, a day after SOU President Mary Cullinan selected the two prioritization teams, DeNeui said.

The teams are slated to provide recommendations to Cullinan before June, according to a website established to disseminate information about the process to the campus community.

The university is still defining many of the details surrounding the effort, and the teams have yet to meet, said Chris Stanek, director of institutional research at SOU, who is overseeing the effort with DeNeui.

"We're establishing priorities at the university "… this is not a cost-cutting type of initiative or endeavor," said Stanek. "It's a matter of making sure all of the programs that we have are the ones that we should have. "… We want to know where we would best be suited to put our resources in alignment with our new vision."

The prioritization plan does not rule out cutting programs or services, according to the website.

DeNeui said the effort is a proactive response to the changing landscape of higher education in the United States — the ways in which it's made available to students, and how it's being funded.

"We're consistently confronted with a pretty strong reality that we are going to continue to face budget challenges "… state support is always dwindling," said DeNeui. "What we've decided to do is look at ways that we can transform the university to make us sustainable, and to make us attractive to students."

Other initiatives that are part of the effort include strengthening ties between SOU and the Higher Education Center in Medford, remodeling SOU's general education classes, bolstering student job opportunities on campus and developing a new four-year "house," a program that groups students from their freshman through senior years for collaborative academic work and research.

"We're trying to take one big look at all of our programs ... and we're going to try to create some consistent metrics to evaluate their relative contribution to the university," said DeNeui. "We have to look at who we are, what we do and how we can do it better, and what we can do strategically to make the university distinct and recognized nationally, while still serving the needs of our regional students "… we're breaking down the traditional barriers of higher education."

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com

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