An Open Forum with Dr. Rex Fuller. Recorded April 4 by WOU Digital Production Services.
MONMOUTH – Higher education is vital to a thriving economy and a citizenry capable of thoughtfully communicating with each other, but it needs to be accessible – and affordable.
“As we strive to create a more civil public discourse and more secure nation, humanities and social sciences are at the heart of the matter,” said Rex Fuller, the fourth finalist for Western Oregon University’s president. “A regional comprehensive university has to hold true to a liberal education, as well as those that are more focused.”
Fuller, 62, is an economist and professor of public administration, has served as provost and vice president for the division of academic affairs at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. He is the fourth of four presidential finalists to visit WOU’s campus for interviews, and student and public forums. Whoever is chosen will replace President Mark Weiss when he retires at the end of June.
Each candidate has been asked to answer, “What is the role of a midsized, public comprehensive university in a changing world?”
“The goal is to education Americans with the knowledge and understanding to thrive in a 21st century nation,” Fuller said. “The second goal is to create a society that is innovative, competitive and strong, based on instruction and creating new jobs.”
Federal and state governments have a history of supporting public education through programs such as student grants and the GI Bill, but have moved toward disinvesting in education.
“We’re in a world where students are paying more of the bill,” Fuller said, pointing to tuition as the fiscal driver to support universities. “That’s a pattern we need to question and revisit.”
Particularly with ambitious goals like 40-40-20, people need affordable opportunities to attend universities.
Oregon’s 40-40-20 Goal aims to have 100 percent of Oregon’s citizens have at least a high school diploma or equivalent by 2025, with 40 percent holding a two-year degree or certification and 40 percent having a bachelor’s degree or higher.
One way to increase accessibility is through hybrid or online programs, but strictly online programs do not contribute to creating a whole person, Fuller said.
“An academic degree is more than an accumulation of credits,” he said. “It has to be more than that if it’s going to personally transform you. Online programs ignore all the other connections in a college experience.”
The personal experiences offered at Western makes it ideal for most students, Fuller noted.
“Education is a choice model,” he said. “Who we are and why this choice is right for many of our students and many of our parents. At Western, education is transformative and personal. Our role is bright and vibrant going forward.”
But it needs to be affordable, Fuller said.
“To simply go (to college) is not a success,” he said. “If it’s out of reach financially, it’s not a success either. Recognize that’s a challenge for many families. (Western) is an affirmative choice, not second best. It is best, and here’s why it’s best for you.”
If chosen to be WOU’s president, Fuller said he would be active in the community, and encourage faculty and students to be, also.
“WOU’s foundation can be a place where you can bring people together as well,” he said. “The university can be a place where you can have a think tank where you can develop that.”
If you attended the presentation, give feedback to Western Oregon here. The survey will be open until midnight Wednesday.
Fernando Delgado toured WOU April 1. Christopher Ames visited Thursday. Margaret Madden toured campus Monday. To see each candidate’s resume and cover letter, click here.
A decision is expected early next week. Check the April 15 Itemizer-Observer for details.
Polk County Itemizer-Observer
by Emily Mentzer