By Jacob Le, OMN photographer
The Oregon State University Board of Trustees met Wednesday afternoon to discuss the recommendation of Dr. Rebecca Johnson as the interim OSU president; the appointment will likely last 12 months if approved.
Johnson is currently the vice president of OSU’s Cascades campus, and worked on the Corvallis, Ore. campus for 25 years before joining OSU-Cascades in 2008.
Johnson spoke virtually to an audience of approximately 200 people in the meeting.
University faculty members, the Survivor Advocacy & Resource Center, United Academics of OSU, the Office of Institutional Diversity and more were represented in the meeting.
OSU is currently in need of an interim president after the resignation of former president F. King Alexander.
Alexander resigned in late March following the mishandling of Louisiana State University Title IX allegations that occurred during his time as LSU’s president.
During Wednesday’s meeting, an open panel was held, and university community members asked questions surrounding what Johnson hopes to accomplish as interim president.
The board did not conclude in this meeting if Johnson will become the interim president; that decision will be made during the public board meeting on Friday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Sarah Erickson is a mathematics professor at OSU and asked Johnson, if elected, how she would handle and approach COVID-19 safety precautions with in-person teaching come fall term.
“We don’t have an answer right now if we will be requiring vaccines when people come back, as you can imagine there are a lot of issues surrounding that,” Johnson said.
While there isn’t concrete information about vaccination requirements for in-person learning in the fall, Johnson noted that OSU Vice Provost Dan Larson is looking at how other universities are responding and following Center for Disease Control guidance as it becomes available.
John Dilles is a professor of geology and geophysics and asked about how Johnson will avoid a conflict of interest considering how she has been working to expand the Bend, Ore. Cascades campus as vice president.
“I am resigning my position as vice president of OSU-Cascades if I am appointed as interim president,” Johnson said. “What I can help people understand is better than [the OSU community] does now is that it’s not a competitive situation between OSU-Cascades and the Corvallis campus, we’re one OSU.”
Johnson said that the faculty at OSU-Cascades have their academic homes in colleges in Corvallis and their tenure decisions are made by their faculty colleagues in Corvallis as well.
Brandi Douglas, who works in the Office of Institutional Diversity, asked what Johnson’s experience is in supporting Black, Indigenous and other faculty of color and what her other plans are as interim president to deepen that engagement.
“As you know it’s been difficult to diversify our faculty at Oregon State and at OSU-Cascades we have one Black faculty member [Erika McCalpine] and I just couldn’t be more grateful to Erika for what she has done, not just for OSU-Cascades but the whole of central Oregon,” Johnson said.
Johnson said despite what Mcalpine has accomplished, “one person can’t do it all.” Johnson said it could be helpful to do cluster hires and bring in faculty together that are having the same experiences, so that way the university can retain faculty they have failed to in the past.
“I will be working hard to try to advance the diversification of our faculty, staff and students,” Johnson said.
Becca Williams is the director of the Survivor Advocacy & Resource Center at OSU and asked Johnson how she will work to ensure that the voices of survivors are listened to and believed.
“It’s incredibly important that we provide the support that [survivors] need and I would love to make a difference in the actual incidents of sexual violence or interpersonal violence,” Johnson said. “I’ve talked to Dan Larson and he is committed to having a holistic approach to help overall wellness and health here for students, faculty and staff.”
Regarding the task force currently working on uplifting survivor voices and providing survivors with resources for sexual and interpersonal violence, Johnson said she would be happy to listen to and meet with Williams to discuss how survivors can be better supported and believed.
President of the Faculty Senate Selina Heppel asked Johnson how they can work together to restore confidence and get back on track with shared governance.
“In my other roles, I have been more directly involved with the Faculty Senate and meeting with the Faculty Senate executive committee on a [regular basis] and it’s not usually the president that does that, but I would be very interested in meeting with you and come to Faculty Senate [meetings] and listen,” Johnson said to Heppel.
On Friday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., the board of trustees will vote to appoint Johnson; they are voting based on Johnson’s perceived ability to build trust and confidence with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders, demonstrate commitment to core university values and past leadership experience across a wide range of responsibilities associated with the position of president.
More information about Friday’s meeting can be found on OSU’s newsroom website.