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Daily Barometer: OSU Provost, Dean Address Engineering Changes

Oregon State University Provost Sabah Randhawa and College of Engineering Dean Scott Ashford spoke to engineering faculty and staff Wednesday to address two abrupt changes in college leadership.

The meeting, which took place in a packed Construction & Engineering Hall at the LaSells Stewart Center, addressed plans to move forward in the College of Engineering following Randhawa’s decision to have both Sandra Woods and Terri Fiez step down Friday.

Woods served as College of Engineering dean and Fiez served as head of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Both were dismissed prior to the end of their terms.

“It happened with a lot of deliberation,” Randhawa said.

Randhawa said the change was necessary since the declining leadership, which he did not discount any specific individuals for, didn’t match up with the best interests for the college.

“It was my assessment that it is, at best, paralyzed and, at worst, dysfunctional,” Randhawa said.

Ashford, who served as interim dean for the college in 2011, will continue the remainder of Woods’ duration. The decision to continue his contract as dean will follow after a formal review.

In addition, Ashford will serve as acting head of EECS and the School of Civil and Construction Engineering until a national search takes place to find new department heads.

Over the course of the past few weeks, Randhawa said he talked with administrators, including President Ed Ray, the provost council, faculty senate representatives, foundation board members and outside partners through the EECS industry advisory board.

“It’s the biggest college in terms of students, research and fundraising,” Randhawa said. “We needed to make sure it gets to a positive place soon.”

Randhawa declined to say which outside companies and representatives he spoke with.

EECS Professor Karti Mayaram said, as an administrative leader, Randhawa did not understand the gravity of the situation.

“It’s very disruptive,” Mayaram said to Randhawa during Wednesday’s meeting. “You’ve provided a solution that most likely does not solve the problem.”

In response, Randhawa said the decisions made weren’t about any particular individual and focused more on the issue of the dynamics within the college as a whole.

“I’m not going to stand here and change your mind,” Randhawa said back to Mayaram. “I have shared my thinking. I think the situation in the college was not very productive.”

After the presentation, Mayaram said Randhawa said all the right things but walked away still feeling the impact of events similar to those in September.

“Faculty don’t seem to be that important to him,” Mayaram said. “Why is this happening without any faculty engagement?”

Other faculty members and staff who spoke out said Randhawa and college administrators failed to take policies of shared governance into consideration.

Beatrice Moissinac, a graduate student who attended the meeting, said there has been a lack of communication between students and administrators.

“There has been no student voice at all,” Moissinac said.

Very few students attended the all-college staff meeting due to lack of notice. Moissinac said Randhawa’s reasons for the decisions he made Friday did not convince her.

Ashford approached to acknowledge the college following Randhawa’s presentation. He said his primary goal was to focus on revitalizing the college’s current state, focus on shared governance policies and continue toward a successful future.

“I need everyone working with me,” Ashford said. “I know it’s a very difficult time, but we have great faculty — hard-working, dedicated staff.”

Following the address, Ashford said he would work with other student leaders in organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and Engineers without Borders to including more students in the conversation moving forward.

Ashford said he would also consider an open forum or presentation to various student groups if the demand called for it.

“There’s a lot of students in the college, so … I (could) try to reach out to the students in other ways,” Ashford said.

Mayaram said he appreciated how Ashford wanted to work with faculty and staff moving forward, but added that students should also be more included in the discussion.

Sean Bassinger

Higher education reporter

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