WOU in the news: Western invites community input

Cec Koontz, middle, speaks with Marshall Guthrie, left, and Paul Sieber, right, about WOU’s goals. Koontz and Guthrie are both on the Western Oregon University board of trustees, as well as on the strategic planning committee.

MONMOUTH — When Rex Fuller was first hired as Western Oregon University’s president in April 2015, he anticipated having conversations with the campus community and residents of the surrounding area.

This year, those conversations took a more formal approach. In April 2016, a committee of 25 people representing a cross-section of campus started working in earnest on a new strategic plan for the university.

The old plan was found on a shelf and was five years old, Fuller said.

All the goals with the new plan point to student success.

At a town hall on Nov. 16, about a dozen members of the community mingled with strategic plan committee members to discuss WOU’s mission and goals.

Dave Foster, professor of psychology, has a background in industrial organization psychology and has experience helping governmental entites through the strategic planning process.

He sits on WOU’s planning committee and said one of the things they hope to address is how to keep WOU relevant in a changing world.

“We and all public universities find ourselves in a time of tremendous change,” he said. “With the dissolution of the Oregon State University System, we now have our own board.”

With uncertainty surrounding the future of higher education — specifically the funding — the goal of strategic planning is to help point the university in a direction that’s sustainable and successful, Foster said.

Fuller said once the plan is adopted by the board in January, it will not sit on a shelf and collect dust, but rather be put to use right away in the budgeting process for 2017-18, which has been revised to include a university-wide budgeting committee.

“They’ll consider that (the strategic plan) as we make final decisions,” Fuller said. “That alone will open up the dialogue. Right now, the budget’s a little bit of a black box.”

The new plan is more specific than the old one was, said Laurie Burton, faculty member on the strategic planning committee.

“I think this time we’re a little more encompassing of our campus in the process,” she said. The old plan wasn’t integrated into university life the way the new one will be, she added.

Monmouth Mayor John Oberst said he has noticed the upward trend in community engagement between the city and WOU.

Students and professors help with workshops at the Monmouth Senior Center, and Monmouth City Manager Scott McClure helps teach a public policy course using real challenges faced by the city of Monmouth.

“People don’t realize the opportunities that are present because this university is here,” Oberst said. “Or there’s an attitude that I’ve heard expressed — and I’ve heard it here tonight — that all I get for going to Western is a parking ticket.”

Western Oregon and its facilities contribute enormously to Monmouth and the surrounding communities, Oberst said.

“Just for the stuff that’s available on WIMPEG channel 17,” he said. “If you watched that for an hour a night for a month, you’d be so much smarter. It’s amazing.”

The strategic plan is still coming together. The committee is still taking community input. To participate in the process and to learn more: wou.edu/planning.

Published by Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Emily Mentzer