Read the original article in the Lake Oswego Review here.
Melody Rose is looking forward to her role as the president of Marylhurst University, but her colleagues say she can also look back on some major accomplishments that paved the way to her new position.
Rose became chancellor of the Oregon University System (OUS) at a challenging time last year, was instrumental in freezing tuition for public universities this fall and founded what’s now called the Center for Women’s Leadership at Portland State University.
“She’s the hardest working person that I know,” said Sunny Petit, who was one of Rose’s students when she taught at PSU. “She’s just really driven to get results, and to have good process, and to think about all of the different strategies to make sure you get the best outcome.”
Rose will become Marylhurst’s 15th president when she joins the private liberal arts school on Aug. 18, replacing interim president Jerry Hudson. A first-generation college graduate, she said Marylhurst’s mission appealed to her — the “love for teaching underrepresented groups and giving opportunities to students who wouldn’t otherwise have them.”
Marylhurst was the first liberal arts college for women established in the Northwest, beginning as St. Mary’s Academy and College in downtown Portland. In 1974, Marylhurst started enrolling men, too, becoming a co-educational institution.
“There is a long-standing tradition of advantaging women,” Rose said, “which is part of the reason I was drawn to Marylhurst.”
And that, said former Gov. Barbara Roberts, is one reason Rose is an excellent choice.
“I love that they have chosen a woman who cares about the history of the institution, cares about women and cares about higher education at the level she does,” said Roberts, who has worked with Rose. “I think she’s going to be incredibly good for Marylhurst, and she is going to be a great asset to the community.”
Changes at OUS
Rose for more than a year has served as chancellor of OUS, which includes seven public universities. In January 2013, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education accepted Chancellor George Pernsteiner’s resignation. Rose took the reins as interim chancellor in February 2013, and she was named chancellor on April 18 of this year — all during a time of great transition.
Lawmakers decided during the 2013 Legislative session to allow Oregon State University, the University of Oregon and PSU to institute their own governing boards. On July 1, the three schools will no longer be under the authority of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, which governs OUS. The remaining four schools will establish their own boards next year; OUS will close its doors at that time, with a few staffers staying on for a couple of months to tie up loose ends.
When OUS staff heard about the changes, they were worried, said Di Saunders, former communications director at OUS. But Rose set them at ease.
“Every day, she’s just the person that everybody is looking to for direction, for inspiration in a time of transition,” Saunders said. “Dr. Rose has been our rock, and that has really helped everyone get through this process.”
Rose’s tenure has also been marked by positive changes. While at the helm of OUS, she persuaded policy makers to freeze tuition this fall for students at all seven public universities. It’s the first tuition freeze since 2001, Saunders said, and it affects more than 103,000 students.
The freeze will save each student several hundred dollars. That might not sound like a lot to some people, Saunders said, but it will make a big difference to students, especially those on the edge of being able to attend school.
“It means being able to pay a few bills and buy some books,” she said.
Changes at PSU
In addition to supporting a student tuition freeze and offering strong leadership at OUS, Rose established NEW Leadership Oregon, a college program at Portland State University that aims to educate and support the next generation of women leaders. Her leadership efforts for women in 2004 bloomed into PSU’s center for Women, Politics & Policy, later called the Center for Women’s Leadership. She served as the executive director of the center for seven years.
During her time at PSU, she also held a few other positions: faculty member and then chairwoman of the political science division, special assistant to the president, vice provost for academic programs & instruction, and dean of undergraduate studies.
Roy Koch, PSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, named Rose to be his vice provost with responsibility for academic issues such as curriculum, accreditation and teaching support. She was always straightforward and thoughtful, he said.
“Combining her personal qualities with her being very well organized, always prepared, insightful and very well connected with the faculty and community, she was a great addition to the team in academic affairs,” Koch said.
As a graduate student at PSU, Petit worked as Rose’s assistant during the formation of NEW Leadership Oregon. Petit also took classes from Rose as an undergraduate, joined the center as associate director in 2007 and later succeeded Rose as the center’s executive director.
“I was so excited to just learn from her,” Petit said. “It was like watching a wonderful keynote speaker every time she gave a lecture. I thought she was amazing.”
As the original chairwoman of the NEW Leadership Oregon board, Roberts said she would take program participants on tours of the state Capitol, where young women would meet with elected officials. She and Rose would sit next to each other and talk during the drive to Salem. Rose, an author of four books, recently helped Roberts craft her autobiography.
“She’s a wonderful conversationalist,” Roberts said, “and she loves to listen to other people’s stories.”
Sue Hildick also served on the board of NEW Leadership Oregon and is now president of The Chalkboard Project and Foundations for a Better Oregon. She said Rose is “a joy — charismatic, smart, effective, pragmatic and visionary.”
“I enjoy being around her, because she elevates the conversation to what might be possible instead of dwelling on the traditional barriers,” Hildick said.
Hildick, an incoming board member at Marylhurst, said she is eager to work with Rose again because she “is great to work with, thoughtful and thorough. I think the people who work on her team have the highest regard for her.”
Beginnings for Rose
That high regard may stem in part from Rose’s managerial philosophy.
“It’s important for me to have great people and let them do what they do best,” she said. “You can’t be an expert in everything.”
But colleagues also admire Rose because she is adaptable and hard-working, and those are traits she gained though life experience.
Rose grew up in a low-income family that moved frequently as her father looked for work at title insurance companies in California’s fluctuating real estate market. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom, and Rose has a little brother. As a young woman, she paved her own path, though she had supporters.
A school counselor told her she was smart and should apply to college. She did. It changed her life, and she became the first in her family to attend college.
Rose earned a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of California at Santa Cruz, graduating with Honors and Phi Beta Kappa distinctions. She earned a master’s degree in public administration, a master’s in government and a Ph.D. in government from Cornell University.
Not only is she an academic, but Rose is also graceful on her feet, a ballerina who danced all the way through graduate school.
“I still have my toe shoes in my office,” she said.
Rose said she is old enough to remember Wham! but young enough to appreciate Beyoncé. A mother of four who lives in Southwest Portland, she will begin transitioning into her new role in the next few weeks, regularly traveling to Marylhurst to learn more about the school and to meet with school staff and faculty.
“The most important thing is to form relationships of trust and partnership,” she said, “and then build from there.”