WOU president’s departure a big loss

Statesman Journal
Editorial

Western Oregon University is losing its outstanding president. John Minahan is stepping down this summer, citing health and personal reasons.

The loss is not just WOU’s; it is Oregon’s. Minahan exemplifies the best in educational leadership. A philosopher by training, he transformed into a highly respected educational CEO with a down-to-earth manner that belies his rigorous mind.

He arrived at WOU as a dean in 1986. Unlike some top administrators who haven’t made successful transitions from other states, Minahan understands Oregon and relishes its quality of life.

He dearly loves the university and has been absolutely devoted to it. Indeed, he already retired once from the university, as provost, before returning as interim president in 2005 and then being coaxed into accepting the permanent position.

WOU is the oldest institution in the Oregon University System, founded in 1856. But it struggled under some previous presidents who were a poor fit with Oregon. At one point, the university’s financial situation was so precarious that people feared the institution might be converted to a state prison.

No one talks about closing WOU anymore. Instead, it’s held up as an example of a college that understands and embraces its mission.

Enrollment has blossomed during Minahan’s tenure. Many students are the first generation in their family to attend college. At WOU, they find small classes, professors who enjoy teaching undergraduates and a close-knit college community.

To help students afford college, WOU initiated the Western Tuition Promise: For entering undergraduates from Oregon, the university promises not to raise their tuition rates during their four academic years.

Minahan has been entrepreneurial in building WOU’s academic stature as well as its financial stability. He’s developed strong ties between WOU and China, as well as recruiting students from around the globe. They come to Monmouth for the higher education that will help them become leaders in their home countries. Their higher tuition rates help make the university more affordable for Oregonians. But Minahan also understands the critical importance of a global education for all of today’s students.

Long known as Oregon College of Education, WOU was regarded as a teachers college. It still has an excellent college for training teachers and has earned prestigious national honors. But the university also has branched out, including developing a nursing program. Today the university is known for everything from its Rainbow Dance Theatre to its Regional Resource Center on Deafness.

WOU’s heart is its faculty, staff, students and alumni. But John P. Minahan, Ph.D., has been its soul.

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