President Bob Davies and his assistant Heather Cashell walk by the portraits of past university presidents in Inlow Hall Thursday. Davies will be the latest to join the line of ‘past’ EOU presidents when he officially resigns his position June 30. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Bob Davies named next president of Murray State
Eastern Oregon University President Bob Davies, a man of seemingly boundless energy, had his reserves tested by a marathon earlier this week, an exam he passed with flying colors.
Davies was named the next president of Murray State University in Murray, Ky., on Wednesday following an extensive series of meetings with community and university groups at Murray State.
“It has been a whirlwind,” said Davies, who is completing his fifth year at Eastern.
Davies will serve as Eastern’s president another 3-1/2 months and will take the reins of Murray State on July 14.
Davies was named president after a series of eight 45- to 90-minute meetings with school and community groups on Monday and an interview with Murray State University’s board of regents on Tuesday.
The meetings did challenge Davies’ energy level.
“It was a marathon made up of sprints,” Davies said. “In a lot of ways it is like the daily life of a (university) president. You go from meeting to meeting and constituency to constituency.”
Davies and his family found time to explore the city and campus and liked what they saw. They found a university with similarities to Eastern.
“Everything I love about Eastern is there, too,” Davies said. “It has a tremendous focus on student achievement, a great staff, terrific students and a great environment. All of the things that make it special.”
Davies said the job will provide an opportunity for professional growth since Murray State has almost 11,000 students, significantly more than Eastern’s approximately 4,000 students.
Davies said he often is contacted by people asking if he would be interested in applying for leadership positions at other universities.
He always has turned people down until he was contacted about the Murray State position.
“I get a lot of calls and emails about jobs. It is easy to say no thank you but this one struck a chord,” Davies said. “I felt it was an opportunity I had to pursue.”
Davies will step down as EOU president on June 30. Melody Rose, chancellor of the Oregon University System, said that an interim president will first be appointed for EOU and then a permanent president will be selected. The permanent president will likely take office at Eastern July 1, 2015, Rose said.
Davies has been president at Eastern Oregon since 2009. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada at Reno, an MBA from the University of Oregon and a doctorate in higher education administration from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
James Smith, president of Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., was also a finalist for the Murray State position.
Davies was asked Thursday about the concern some people on campus have about Eastern because he and Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Steve Adkison will both leave at the end of June. Adkison, Eastern’s second in command, announced in January that he will leave at the end of June to take a position as provost of Henderson State University in Arkansas.
Davies said that Adkison’s position will also be filled by interim appointees until a permanent president and provost are selected.
Davies understands the concerns people have about Eastern losing its top two leaders at once. Davies said he is asking Rose to pick an interim president and provost in tandem.
“We need individuals who will work together well. You can’t look at them as individuals,” Davies said. “You need to have strong partners. We have to think of these two positions together. We have to make sure they understand and communicate.”
All of Rose’s appointments will have to be approved by the State Board of Higher Education.
Eastern’s interim president will likely have to address declining enrollment.
Enrollment is a concern at the moment because it was down 1.2 percent last fall after reaching an all-time high of 4,298 in 2011. Davies expects enrollment to decline again in 2014-15, then stabilize for a year or two before going up again. The reason for that is demographics.
The number of students in the Eastern Oregon region graduating from high school has been dropping in recent years. In another year, the decline will flatten for a couple of years before numbers pick up again, Davies said.
The Eastern president is confident that EOU will successfully tackle any of the challenges it will face.
“One of Eastern’s great attributes is its ability to adapt,” Davies said.
The Eastern president said he has been struck by the outpouring of messages he has received since people learned that he was a finalist at Murray State. Davies has received close to 200 emails, many of a congratulatory nature. The messages have touched Davies and his family deeply, the president said.
“It has been an emotional time,” Davies said.
Davies will be missed by students and faculty
By Dick Mason
The news that President Bob Davies is leaving La Grande has generated feelings of shock and concern on the Eastern Oregon University campus, but is also prompting people to smile while reflecting on their favorite memories of the departing educator.
“It is still a shock for me,” EOU music professor Matt Cooper said of the Wednesday announcement. “Bob is the face of EOU. He knows students by name. He’s very generous and approachable. It’s a big loss.”
Cooper said he also wishes Davies was staying because Eastern is facing big challenges in the near future in part because its governance structure is being changed. Eastern may be governed by its own institutional board 16 months from now instead of by the State Board of Higher Education because of state legislation passed last summer. Cooper said he would feel better about the transition and other challenges Eastern is facing if Davies was still going be at the helm.
“We are feeling a little anxious about our future right now,” Cooper said.
Davies’ ability to reach students in a one-on-one manner will long be remembered by Tessa Ortmann, a sophomore from Athena.
“I really like him. He connects with students and is very personable,” Ortmann said. The sophomore will never forget the day that she was on campus with her parents looking at Eastern as a possible university to attend.
“He came out of his office when he heard a (prospective) student was here and sat down with me and my parents,” Ortmann said. “Usually, a vice president does this (at other universities).”
EOU senior Ron Witcraft has a similar memory of Davies.
“He’s a friend of the students. He’d walk across the campus to say hello to me. I’m hoping for good things for him,” Witcraft said.
Eastern music professor John McKinnon also speaks highly of Davies’ personable nature.
“I like Bob a lot. He is always cordial and kind to me,” McKinnon said. “I’m delighted for him. I’m sure that he will be very successful and do a great job (at Murray State).”
McKinnon wishes that Davies was staying longer because of the unsettled situation Eastern is facing in part because of the change in governance structure.
“I was hoping that for continuity’s sake that he would be here a couple more years because of all that is happening here. To have someone here with his experience would be a benefit to us,” McKinnon said.
Senior Courtney Millsap has a similar sentiment.
“I feel good for Bob, but I’m worried about how this will affect EOU,” Millsap said.
She noted that Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Steve Adkison, Eastern’s second in command, recently announced he will be leaving as well. Adkison will leave in July to take a position as provost at Henderson State University in Arkansas.
“Suddenly, we are losing the two biggest names on campus within months of each other,” Millsap said.
The student, like many students, is a fan of Davies.
“Bob is a great guy. He is really nice and he did a great job,” Millsap said. “I wish Bob well.”
Senior Sarah Draper will never forget the time Davies spoke in one of her classes about what he looks for in people when they apply for jobs.
“I’ve never had a president take the time from his personal schedule to speak to one of my classes,” Draper said.
Nancy Knowles, a professor of English and writing, said she marvels at the positive, friendly demeanor Davies is able to maintain regardless of the circumstances.
“No matter what the challenge was he was always able to smile and listen,” Knowles said.
Rory Noble, the editor of The Voice, Eastern’s student newspaper, appreciates how Davies never passes up an opportunity to meet with students.
“What I love about Bob, in particular, is that he takes the time to talk to students,” Noble said. “He doesn’t rush by people.”