Western president may lose "interim" label

MONMOUTH -- John Minahan could be made permanent president of Western Oregon University in December.

MONMOUTH -- John Minahan could be made permanent president of Western Oregon University in December.

The State Board of Higher Education is conducting an assessment of Minahan on campus this month, and will consider testimony from faculty and students regarding a promotion from his current status as interim president. Minahan is in the second year of a two-year contract that began in 2005-06.

Minahan said he's open to the possibility, on one condition: "The faculty and students must support it. If I get their support, I'll do it; if I don't, I won't."

State board members approached Minahan about the permanent position in May.

Western has climbed out of a nearly $3 million debt, has vastly increased its international student enrollment, and has announced key education partnerships with Oregon Health Sciences University and other institutions since Minahan was brought on board.

"We saw improvements ... regarding students, the faculty and financial performance of the institution," said George Pernsteiner, Oregon University System Chancellor, who will conduct the assessment.

"It became apparent to the vice chancellor, myself and the president of the board that John was doing an outstanding job."

Pernsteiner will host discussions regarding the proposed hiring with campus groups this month, including an open public forum at noon on Tuesday, Nov. 21 in the Werner University Center.

Those results will be passed on to the state board, which may vote on the issue in December. If approved, Minahan would serve as president until June 2008.

The position pays $168,000 annually, the same salary earned by the presidents of Southern Oregon University and Eastern Oregon University.

Minahan, who had held teaching and administrative positions at Western since the mid-1980s, retired from the school as Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs in early 2004.

He was recruited as interim president by the state board during the summer of 2005 to temporarily fill the void created when former WOU president Phil Conn resigned.

"I wasn't doing well in retirement. I was failing it," Minahan said. "I had been sailing and doing house repair, and it was awful ... there's only so far you can sail in one direction without coming back."

Western instituted an administrative hiring freeze, reduced some university positions and cut travel expenses. Faculty also recommended dropping some duplicate course offerings, Minahan said.

Despite a sexual harassment lawsuit involving a faculty member that damaged the school's public image, enrollment at the university remained steady. Officials also announced a nursing program in conjunction with OHSU and a dual enrollment program with Chemeketa during the past two years.

"We're all too proud to see this place looking less than what we are to the general public," Minahan said.

And he was quick to dismiss the notion that he is responsible for Western's turnaround. "This isn't reflective of me, it's the collective efforts of the people who work and live here," he said. "This place is much more than an administration.

"The faculty, staff and students make a terrific combination," he said. "When they're moving in the same direction, we're irrepressible."


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