SHE CARRIES EASTERN IN HER HEART
By Dick Mason
What if the recreation center at Eastern Oregon University's Dorion Hall dormitory was an echo chamber of yesteryear?
What would we hear?
The clanging of typewriters and the words of lecturing professors would be easy to pick up.
Eastern Oregon University's business classes were once taught in Dorion Hall. About three classrooms were there, ones which Dixie Lund, Eastern's outgoing interim president, knew well.
Lund taught in the Dorion Hall classrooms during her first year as an Eastern faculty member in 1973-74. The classrooms were where Dorion Hall's recreation area is today.
Lund had no complaints.
"It was my first real job out of college. I would have been happy anywhere,'' Lund said.
Lund's first office, a small house where Inlow Hall's parking lot is now, was also inauspicious. All of Eastern's business professors had their offices there. Lund's office was where the kitchen had been.
Again Lund had no objections.
"I liked it because I was so close to where I taught,'' Lund said.
From these humble beginnings, Lund rose to take an indelible place in Eastern's history. She is the first EOU graduate to serve as the school's president and its first woman president. Lund retired July 1 after a 31-year career at EOU.
"The years just flew by,'' Lund said.
All but the last one.
Lund served as interim president in 2003-04 after being dean of distance education for nine years.
During the past school year, Lund faced stiff challenges. She was responsible for cutting $1.5 million from the budget because of reduced funding from the Legislature, had to cope with many personnel changes, a new faculty union and a dramatic shakeup of the State Board of Higher Education.
"Leadership is tough when the times are tough,'' Lund said. "But that doesn't mean that you shy away when there are tough times. You try to do the right thing.''
Eastern's new faculty union presented Lund with difficulties no other Eastern president has faced.
"It restricts the free-flowing conversation we were used to,'' Lund said.
The demands of her position as interim president did not prevent Lund from making numerous appearances at campus and community events. Lund felt it was critical that Eastern's leader be visible before a permanent president came on board. She feared that a lack of visibility might send the wrong message.
"I wanted people to see that there wasn't any kind of leadership vacuum.''
Lund became interim president after Phil Creighton left to become president of Pacific University in Forest Grove a year ago. She served in that role until May 26 when Khosrow Fatemi became Eastern's president. Fatemi had previously headed San Diego State University's Imperial Valley campus.
Fatemi was selected as EOU's next president in November. Starting in January, Fatemi came to Eastern for one week a month until he took Eastern's reins. Lund said that Fatemi has been excellent to work with during the transition process.
Lund was with EOU's distance education program for 23 years before serving as interim president. She had been dean of the distance education since 1994. EOU's distance education program grew and evolved dramatically during her tenure. Today, 1,800 students take classes through EOU's distance education program via the Internet, interactive television and weekend college classes offered at sites throughout the state.
Eastern came to be recognized nationally as a pioneer in distance education during Lund's time with the program. Lund gives great credit to the distance education staff and former Eastern president David Gilbert for the program's growth. Gilbert was Eastern's president from 1982 through 1997. Gilbert focused on providing service to the entire Eastern Oregon region. Distance education was a key to doing this.
"His impact was huge in terms of his vision and outreach,'' Lund said.
Gilbert succeeded Rodney Briggs who served as EOU's president from 1973 to 1982. Briggs made dramatic changes at Eastern, adding degrees in psychology and fire science, getting the distance education program started, setting up a nursing program with Oregon Health and Science University and establishing a cooperative agriculture degree program with Oregon State University.
Lund said the changes Briggs made came at a critical time.
"I am not sure that Eastern would have survived if it had not been for Rodney Briggs,'' Lund said. "He was the right person at the right time. ... I was one of Rod's fans.''
Eastern was at an important crossroad when Briggs came because of stagnant enrollment. Lund credits Briggs, who died in the mid-1990s, with tackling Eastern's problems head on and helping Eastern evolve into more than a liberal arts university. In the process, he ruffled some feathers.
"It was a tumultuous time; he caused a lot of people to get upset,'' Lund said. "Change agents are never popular.''
Lund also has words of praise for Creighton, Eastern's president from 1997 to 2003. She admires the efforts he made to build stronger ties between Union County and Eastern.
"Phil is very approachable. He made sure that the local community was connected to the university,'' Lund said.
She added that Creighton's leadership enhanced Eastern's reputation.
Thousands of faces have come and gone at Eastern since Lund came here as a student in 1969. Eastern's campus has also changed dramatically since then. Buildings that have been added include the Zabel Hall classroom building, the Loso Hall performing arts building, Alikut residence hall, a science center and lecture hall for it, and the Hoke Center.
Hoke, built in the early 1970s, replaced the old Hoke Hall that consisted of three Army barrack type buildings. Lund liked the old Hoke as a student but not as a faculty member.
A popular feature were the massive oak tables in the commons.
"Students loved to sit around them,'' Lund said.
Old Hoke's basement had faculty offices.
"There was a narrow hallway leading to them that was dark and depressing. It was not inviting,'' Lund said.
During her 31-year tenure at Eastern Lund developed a reputation for giving close attention to detail and doing everything she could to help people address problems. So thorough is Lund that people affectionately refer to her as the Audix Queen, said Michael Jaeger, dean of Eastern's school of education and business.
Audix is the name of EOU's voice mail system. Lund uses it frequently to pass on important information.
"She does everything she can to help you with a problem,'' Jaeger said.
Lund originally planned to help high school students. She was offered a teaching job at Imbler High School right before graduating from Eastern. She would have taken it if she had not been offered a job in Eastern's business department a short time later. She accepted it before graduating.
"I didn't want to commute (from La Grande to Imbler),'' Lund said.
Lund grew up in John Day and graduated from Grant Union High School in 1967. As a high schooler, she never dreamed of becoming a college president. However, a classmate did see presidential-type of potential in her. The student wrote in Lund's senior yearbook, "Someday you will own your own university.''
Lund will have little idle time in retirement. She will continue to be an active member of the Faith Center, a
La Grande church where she has a children's ministry. She will also continue as a member of the Grande Ronde Hospital's board of trustees, and she plans to catch up on her reading, play golf and travel.
"There is a lot of life left to experience,'' Lund said.
Lund and her husband, Ed, have a son, Brian, of Portland and a daughter, Amy, of Pendleton.
The Lunds plan to travel to British Columbia later this month to celebrate their 35th anniversary. They'll make a trip to Europe next year to visit a relative.
Whatever direction Lund's life now takes, one thing is certain. She will continue applying her favorite life philosophy Â— one she uses even in the most trying of times or when talking with friends or people she just met.
"People won't remember what you did or said, they will remember how you made them feel.''
Lund does not plan to work as a professor emeritus at Eastern, in part because most of the classes she taught earlier are no longer offered. Still, her ties to Eastern will remain strong.
"Eastern will always be part of me. Eastern will always be a part of my heart,'' she said.