Rodgers, who will be stepping down as dean, leaves behind over a decade and half of academic and philanthropic triumphs

By Colin Bowyer, Communications Manager - June 10, 2024

It was in September 2023 when Larry Rodgers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), announced that he planned to step down at the conclusion of the academic year, after 16 years in the position. As the longest serving dean at Oregon State University, Rodgers leaves CLA after a storied tenure uplifting students, championing the arts, and ensuring the arts, humanities, and social sciences have an equal seat at the table at the university.

Rodgers arrived at CLA in 2008 from Kansas State University (K-State), where he was head of the English department and associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences. After 19 years at K-State, Rodgers began to look for a dean position at a university where he could make a more tangible impact in students’ lives, as well as have the opportunity for his wife, Susan Rodgers, currently associate dean of the Honors College, to be a professor of creative writing at the same institution.

First impressions and a plan for the future

“What I especially liked about Oregon State,” explained Rodgers, “was the way in which its vision and sensibility mirrored what I had already learned about my own values as an administrator. I was attracted to the prospect of leading CLA within the context of a university that’s essentially a soft landing for students, a university that accepts all comers, including first-generation students, Pell Grant-eligible students, and students from diverse backgrounds. OSU is a university that tries to live by the idea that, if you come here, we’re going to do the best we can to help you get through your time with us with a degree.”

Rodgers admits that when he first arrived in 2008, CLA was not in the best position. The university has always been heavily STEM-focused and CLA felt overshadowed by colleges that had much longer histories, more developed identities, and alumni who identified most strongly with its applied land-grant focus. The college was also still feeling the effects of Measure 5, an Oregon ballot measure in 1990 that capped property tax limits to fund public education that resulted in especially significant cuts to CLA faculty and programs.

Rodgers recognized the vast potential that CLA had in claiming its rightful place as a partner and peer to OSU’s nationally prominent research areas, including the agricultural and ocean sciences, forestry, and engineering.

“This is a spectacular college offering students a great education,” says Rodgers, “but perhaps the story of CLA hadn’t been properly told. What we needed to do was reshape the narrative from that of a service college created to complement the rest of the university to one whose extraordinary accomplishments in research, creative work, teaching, and outreach allow it to be celebrated on its own merits. CLA is a great destination, not just because you get a good education, but also because you'll come out of here with a meaning-filled job and a purposeful life.”

A legacy as a champion for faculty and students

In his time as dean, Rodgers oversaw a significant transformation of CLA that included a reorganization from 19 individual departments and programs into an initial six, now seven, schools under one college, as well as the addition of three new Ph.D. programs and a varying range of on-campus and online master’s degrees. CLA has the second largest student population on campus.

From 2008 to 2024, Rodgers led the development of two CLA strategic plans that advanced student success, DEI goals, faculty research, and creative work. He created a “4-Year Graduation Guarantee” for CLA students and oversaw the largest and most wide-ranging Ecampus program among OSU colleges, which has led to CLA continually being in the top five of online degree programs. In 2018, U.S. News awarded CLA with a first place ranking for online bachelor’s programs. In 2024, the School of Psychological Science held the second highest ranking for best bachelor’s psychology programs in the country.

Rodgers advanced significant improvements in space and facilities across 12 university buildings, including the redevelopment of Bexell Hall in 2014 after CLA assumed ownership when the College of Business moved into Austin Hall. Rodgers’ vision for the design of the Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts (PRAx) as a world-class performing arts center helped drive the transformational project from the start. He advocated for a space that was architecturally distinctive, acoustically extraordinary, and formed around the central concept that an art space should feel accessible to all while combining arts and education functions.

To fuel the development of CLA spaces around campus, Rodgers worked tirelessly with the OSU Foundation to identify and secure resources for CLA. From 2004 to 2014, donors contributed $20.7 million to CLA for the “Campaign for OSU,” far exceeding the original goal of $12 million. The college is now on track to significantly surpass its ambitious $75 million fundraising goal within  the university’s current  philanthropic push, “Believe It: The Campaign for Oregon State University.” Today, endowment support for  CLA totals more than $44 million, up from $25.4 million in the past decade.

The significance of Rodgers’ pursuit—to elevate the impact of CLA—has gained respect across the university. “From the start, Larry had the vision for what it would take to stand out as a college, and it has paid off so much for not only CLA, but for all of OSU,” said Shawn L. Scoville, president and CEO of the OSU Foundation. “He’s helped bring so many decisions into reality that have forever changed the course of the college.”

Rodgers also championed the creation of the prestigious Stone Award for Literary Achievement, a top honor for a major American author with an acclaimed literary resume and commitment to mentoring younger generations of writers. Endowed by Vicki and Patrick Stone, ’74, the Stone Award exists to shine a light on the School of Writing, Literature, and Film’s Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing, an under-recognized gem on campus.

 “When Shawn Scoville shared the idea for an endowment,” explained Stone, “I knew it was an opportunity to shine a light on our excellent College of Liberal Arts and support the highly-ranked creative writing program. I'm forever thankful for CLA because it's where I actually achieved intellectual confidence."

Rodgers also oversaw the successful submission of OSU’s bid to house a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the oldest, and perhaps most esteemed, academic honor society in the U.S that’s solely focused on the arts and sciences.

“That's an unsung success that I feel,” said Rodgers. “When I got here, we were one of the most distinguished universities without a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. After months of work, our team put together a 150-page application that was very strong. You can only apply once every five years and I believe out of 26 universities that applied through a rigorous three-year process, OSU was one of three that was successful. The chapter has now existed on campus since 2015.”

A continued pursuit

Through all the achievements over the past 16 years, Rodgers has always felt the greatest challenge for CLA is in shifting people’s perceptions of the college; that the impressive successes of arts and humanities students and faculty deserved great recognition and respect. Rodgers still feels the need to continue to “sell” the college and importance of the arts and humanities.

“Many of the world’s most complex and systemic problems are most often human problems, even when there’s a technological or scientific component to it,” says Rodgers. “CLA has to be at the center of addressing those kinds of challenges and helping the world understand why that matters.”

After June, Rodgers looks forward to an eventual return to the School of Writing, Literature, and Film. But first, beginning this fall, he’ll be a fellow at the University of Chicago, where he’ll be focusing on how university leaders can work most effectively with non-academic partners. Regardless, Rodgers is eager to hand the college leadership reins to a new dean.

“What I have no interest in doing,” says Rodgers, “is imagining that I’ve built something that sits in a kind of permanent fashion that has to be honored. I want to walk out the door as a dean and have somebody come in after me to implement their own dynamic and exciting vision.”

“I hope 10 years from now,” says Rodgers, “others have figured out what students in 2034 need and what research and creativity looks like a decade from now. And I hope they’ve taken this idea and run with it–to make CLA a better place for every student to earn an education and for faculty to conduct world-leading research and creative work.”

Next: Elevating the strength of the liberal arts

Read Part 2