Guanajuato, Ashland campuses have unique relationship

We were checking into our hotel near the Universidad de Guanajuato when the front desk woman saw my hometown in the ledger. Her face lit up. “Ah, Ashland,” she said with a large smile.

That memory endures — not just the desk clerk’s warmth, but reactions of people we met throughout Guanajuato. “Senora Chela” Tapp-Kocks — a retired SOU Spanish instructor and face of the Ashland-Guanajuato partnership for its first 30 years — told my husband and me before we left for Mexico that our communities have a special relationship. By extension, Southern Oregon University has a deep bond with Universidad de Guanajuato — a half-century connection that has yielded many advantages and holds tremendous opportunities.

A significant size disparity stands out when comparing the two cities or the two universities. In Oregon terms, Guanajuato is a little larger than Eugene and its university has more students than either the UO or OSU. The sister-university relationship with SOU is one of more than 300 partnerships that Universidad de Guanajuato has with other institutions worldwide.

But, as is the case with Ashland and Guanajuato, the link between the two cities’ universities is unique. Many Guanajuato families have participated in exchange programs with SOU for three generations. More than 80 marriages involving folks from the two communities have resulted.

Our partnership was each university’s first, and we will celebrate the affiliation’s 50th anniversary in 2018 and 2019. One purpose of my trip was to sign an agreement to maintain our collaboration.

Guanajuato’s campus community is eager to continue learning from counterparts at SOU, and also to help us in various areas.

A great example is the uncertainty facing SOU students protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. They entered the U.S. as children, grew up in our country and may now face deportation. The White House decreed in September that Congress must act within six months to prevent DACA’s cancellation.

On the day of that announcement, I had dinner with Universidad de Guanajuato’s rector and secretary general — equivalent to SOU’s president and provost. Both wanted their assurance to me and to our community to be “claro” — absolutely clear.

If we are unable to protect DACA students from deportation — which we have vowed to do, in every way possible — Universidad de Guanajuato will admit them and keep them on-track for graduation. Some may even come back to SOU as exchange students.

After returning to Ashland, I received a follow-up email from the university’s secretary general — Dr. Hector Efrain Rodriguez de la Rosa, an SOU alumnus. He wanted our community to know that leaders from all public universities and 400 private ones in Mexico signed a proclamation denouncing DACA’s cancellation. The Council of Public Universities and Related Institutions (CUPIA) statement pledges to support deported students from U.S. universities through Mexico’s PUENTES (BRIDGES) program for college completion.

“PUENTES will extend their policy until 2019 so that (DACA) students can complete their academic preparation in our country,” the proclamation said.

SOU can offer much in return to its Guanajuato friends. For instance, that university’s rector is particularly interested in tapping our well-regarded criminology and criminal justice program to address police professionalism in Guanajuato.

Our business programs have a strong connection, which may expand as SOU’s online MBA program is redesigned next year. There is mutual interest in performing arts, which could lead to a collaborative performance by the universities’ percussion groups during next year’s 50th anniversary recognition.

I met with a group of SOU alumni from Guanajuato on the final evening of my visit, and most seemed to be leaders in their fields. Mexican senator and likely 2018 presidential candidate Juan Carlos Romero Hicks and his brother Jose Luis — a member of Mexico’s Council on Foreign Affairs — both are SOU alumni. Faffie Siekman, a philanthropist and Juan Carlos’ wife, supports the Amigo Club of Ashland’s annual Guanajuato Nights dinner/auction — on Nov. 18 this year — which funds a scholarship for the two universities’ exchange program.

The message from alumni was that history has married our communities and universities. Our task for the coming months is to decide which mutual opportunities to pursue next.

— Linda Schott is president of Southern Oregon University.

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