Oregon State University’s Board of Trustees Friday confirmed the university’s new interim president — Becky Johnson.
Johnson is currently the vice president of OSU Cascades — the campus in Bend for the state’s largest university. She will resign from that position to step into her role leading the entire university.
“My choice to put Dr. Johnson forward was informed by extensive community engagement,” Board Chair Rani Borkar said Friday. “As noted in online nominations made about her by community members, Becky is the perfect leader for this role at this time.”
Johnson was nominated through a two-week process in which the board solicited input from the OSU faculty, students and staff, as well as outside stakeholders and community members.
Johnson has worked at Oregon State since 1984 when she began as an associate professor in the college of forestry. She will be the university’s first female president.
Johnson will begin her work as interim president on May 1. She will serve in that position for about a year, or until a permanent president is chosen.
At the Friday meeting, Johnson discussed the challenges of the past year including the pandemic, ongoing violence spurred from systemic racism, “and of course, our own university presidential situation caused disruption, significant hurt and awareness of interpersonal violence that impacts many in our community and society.”
She steps into an opening created by former OSU President F. King Alexander’s resignation. Alexander left the school last month following reports of mishandled sexual misconduct at his previous university — Louisiana State.
Johnson acknowledged that rebuilding the trust many felt Alexander broke will be a big part of her job.
“I think it starts with listening and building relationships across campus,” she said. “And really being committed to shared governance as we move forward with decisions and actions from the university.”
About a dozen people spoke in support of Johnson’s nomination during the board meeting Friday, including Central Oregon community members she had worked with during her time at OSU Cascades.
Katy Brooks, CEO of Bend’s Chamber of Commerce, spoke about Johnson’s leadership with respect to the higher education pathway to the workforce.
“Dr. Johnson has been a stalwart leader in finding out what is needed in the workforce,” Brooks said. “Dr. Johnson has been a harbinger and a leader in developing the curriculum here at our Bend campus.”
Ed Feser, OSU’s current acting president, said although Johnson has many accomplishments out of the OSU Cascades campus, she has an “all-OSU perspective.”
“I look forward to working with her and for her,” Feser said.
Feser will return to his role as provost and executive vice president and will be appointing an interim vice president for OSU Cascades to fill Johnson’s place.
Johnson said her first priority when she starts next month will be ensuring a smooth transition back to campus for students, staff and faculty in the fall.
“We’re not a virtual university, we’re a residential university,” Johnson said. “We do have students who [are online], but for the rest of our students, we want to provide an in-person experience. We know how important that is to have relationships between students and faculty and staff, and we need to figure out how to do this in a safe and supportive way.”