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August 4, 2020 LA GRANDE, Ore. – After five years as Chair of the Eastern Oregon University Board of Directors, and following decades of public service, David Nelson will retire next week.
“Whether he is participating in a one-on -one friendly discussion or chairing a meeting of the EOU Trustee Board, David is respectful, caring and attentive,” Trustee Richard Chaves said of Nelson. “He has the ability to work through sensitive discussions and situations, bringing them gracefully to resolution. I am honored to know David and call him friend.”
Nelson was appointed to be a founding member of EOU’s independent governing board when it was established in 2015. He said he’s proud of what the fledgling board has achieved in such a short time.
“We were in a very difficult situation when the board came on—no reserve funds, essentially on probation from the state commission, looking for a president,” he said. “Now in five years, we’ve got new full-time deans, pay and benefits have improved across campus, there are new programs coming on.”
After 16 years in the state legislature, Nelson came to the role equipped with experience in building consensus and presiding in public meetings. His familiarity with the capitol and far-reaching connections with Eastern Oregon communities added to Nelson’s natural affinity for leadership.
“It’s all about developing relationships, listening, being transparent and looking for common ground,” he said. “You have to be able to respond to human emotions and strong feelings.”
Nelson has a law degree from the University of Montana, and spent years as a rural lawyer. He said each trustee brought an impressive set of life and career experiences, as well as formal education.
“We’re a very well-rounded board, and we didn’t always agree, but I think we came together to make good decisions,” he said. “When you’ve got a 15-person board and different perspectives, the chair’s job is to bring everybody together.”
When the university passed its accreditation evaluation in 2018, Nelson felt like EOU was going in the right direction.
Originally from Pendleton, Nelson sees the benefits in more local representation in the university’s governing board. He said programs like the Rural Engagement and Vitality (REV) Center are key to unlocking EOU’s potential to serve the entire region.
“In an economic downturn, the people who keep their jobs are those with a higher education,” Nelson said. “It’s a competitive world now, even for higher education—our funding is based on outcomes. We should be recognizing higher education as the key component to a person’s successful, happy life.”
As EOU anticipates resuming on-campus activities this fall, Nelson reflected on the university’s long history of delivering courses remotely and its nimbleness as a smaller institution to adapt to changing requirements.
“We’re well-positioned to anticipate some really major changes,” he said. “We’ve got an excellent faculty in place, who have adjusted to this COVID environment and online instruction.”
Trustees will elect a new board chair to lead them through an unprecedented fall term at the board’s sixth annual retreat on August 10. Other business on the agenda includes approval of EOU’s Resumption Plan, a discussion of the board’s role in countering institutionalized racism, and a welcome of new staff and faculty trustees. The full agenda is posted at eou.edu/governance/board-meeting-schedule.
After his esteemed tenure in public service, Nelson, now 79, will spend this fall working on a novel based on his experiences as a Montana County Prosecutor in the 1970s.
“In the legislature, you’re never quite sure if you’re successful, but in the university you see things grow and change every year,” he said. “Serving on the board was a worthwhile endeavor, on par with serving in the legislature. Thank you to the community for allowing me to serve and giving me this great opportunity.”
The board retreat will be held in a hybrid format with some trustees attending on campus and others participating via Zoom. Members of the public can watch the meeting via livestream at livestream.com/eou/governance
Written comments to the board will be accepted through Thursday, August 6. Visit eou.edu/governance/board-meeting-schedule or contact Ella Maloy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-962-4101 to submit a public comment.
“I have learned much by listening to and observing David’s style of leadership. He’s also become a very good friend who I will greatly miss when he steps down from the Board. He makes sure that all opinions are voiced, but is also perceptive when a speaker tends to monopolize, ‘get into the weeds,’ or speak on a personal agenda, rather than on what’s best for the University. He was the best choice for our first Board Chair, and I hope he leaves with a great sense of pride and accomplishment.” — Dixie Lund
“David and I have known each other and worked together on many things regarding education since I was a superintendent and he was in the legislature. I have such great admiration for him and how he preserves the dignity of people while moving to a sometimes tough solution. David Nelson is like the North Star to sailors: he is always there, always a guidepost to the right direction, always can be counted on, and is a very bright spot in an often vast and dark world.” — Jer Pratton
“I have come to love and admire David, not only as a leader of our board, but also his character, his values, his manner, his self-control, and his warmth. I haven’t ever seen him lose his cool, even in real times of adversity. He always has a welcoming smile and an encompassing personality. I felt complete peace in knowing that he would carry this board and the university in the right direction. We will miss him dreadfully, and I wish him a very happy and blessed future.” — Cheryl Martin
“David provided outstanding leadership skills that are best summarized by the Chinese strategist Lao Tsu (circa 500 BCE), ‘The master does not talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves.’” — Gary Keller
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