The scene: Rex Fuller, a finalist for the Western Oregon University presidency, is having lunch on campus. He spots the student server’s name tag, greets her by name and introduces himself, “Hi, my name is Rex.”
This matters because WOU has been a success story under two consecutive strong presidents — John Minahan and Mark Weiss — while Oregon, Eastern Oregon and Southern Oregon universities have struggled with transitions in leadership.
WOU, like Oregon’s other public universities, now faces a new transition: operating under its own independent board of directors. No longer will WOU be constrained by a statewide higher education bureaucracy. But no longer can WOU count on the expertise and business services provided by a centralized university system. WOU is on its own.
Fuller gets that. As provost at Eastern Washington University, he understands how to work with an independent institutional board. He grasps the unique role of a regional college, where the emphasis is on student-faculty interaction. A former business school dean, he knows the value of building community connections.
WOU likes to bill itself as the most Oregon of Oregon universities and as a school that provides a private college education at a public university price. Both claims are accurate.
The oldest public university in Oregon, WOU predates statehood. More important, the overwhelming majority of its students come from Oregon. WOU has avoided the trend of targeting out-of-state students, whose higher tuition holds down tuition prices for in-state students.
Yet WOU remains fiscally sound. It is raising in-state tuition only 2 percent next year, the smallest increase among the state universities.
Many of its students come from the Mid-Valley. Many are the first in their family to attend college. They succeed thanks to relatively small class sizes, a talented and passionate faculty that puts teaching ahead of research, and the university’s increased attention to student advising and other systems to help students succeed academically.
Fuller knows WOU’s reputation for academic success. As a student-centered leader, he is a good choice to build on that tradition.