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Forums planned for EWU presidential finalists

Thu., May 29, 2014

Two of the three finalists to lead Eastern Washington University received no-confidence votes from faculty in their current jobs as university presidents.

The three candidates in the running to replace retiring President Rodolfo Arévalo are on campus this week and next. The EWU board plans to select a new president by July.

The two finalists who currently lead other universities said in interviews that they were unsurprised by the faculty votes against them because they followed difficult decisions forced by shrinking university budgets.

“We tried to do too much too fast in a resource-poor environment,” said Timothy Mescon, president of Columbus State University in Georgia since 2008. “It’s made me much better as a leader. I’m much more inclusive about decisions.”

Mary Cullinan has been president of Southern Oregon University for eight years. In March, she learned the results of the university faculty senate’s vote of no confidence against her and the university’s two vice presidents. The vote against her didn’t meet the threshold to have her removed.

Oregon stepped away from its support of higher education, reducing state funding much like Washington did in recent years, which forced “difficult decisions and difficult bargaining sessions,” said Cullinan, who wrote columns for the Huffington Post until six months ago about challenges in higher education. “It’s been a really difficult year.”

Cullinan says those challenges are unrelated to why she became a candidate for president at two other universities this year. Cullinan was nominated to be president at Youngstown State University in Ohio and became a finalist in April, but was not hired. She learned of her status with EWU earlier this month.

“It’s an unprecedented time for me,” she said.

Rex Fuller, provost and vice president for academic affairs at EWU, moved to Cheney in 2006 from Colorado to be a professor of public administration and the dean of the College of Business and Public Administration. Fuller has held his current position since 2010.

“I believe that my work as provost has helped me prepare for challenges as president,” he said.

Fuller praised Arévalo for taking the college through the recession and developing initiatives that focus on student needs. He said Arévalo has left a great foundation to build on and he would be able to focus on external relations if chosen as president.

“I think one of the key conversations for the next president will be with Legislature about making the case for a continued investment in higher education,” said Fuller, who has never been a university president.

The California native assisted in several efforts at EWU, including the enhancement of student services and creation of the College of Health Science and Public Health.

“I’m most proud of efforts to improve student success and retention,” he said. “One of those was a learning commons that is designed to meet student individual needs. It has the buzz of a Starbucks and students can get help with any topic they need.”

Cullinan and Mescon each consider EWU a well-established college with a good reputation and a place they could easily help move forward.

“I would love to be able to commit a significant amount of years,” Cullinan said. “I’ve known about the university for many years. It’s a fascinating place that I would love to be a part of, and I don’t move around a lot.”

Mescon is particularly impressed with EWU’s creation of a new college focused on health.

“It’s a good move, and it’s being done in a well-thought-out way,” Mescon said.

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