- Collegian staff
Ross Stout reflects on decades-long role in Campus Safety
After more than thirty years working at Willamette University, long-time Director of Campus Safety Ross Stout will be retiring at the beginning of January. Since he was hired in 1987, Stout has played an essential role in protecting students, faculty, staff and the campus from safety concerns. He has also been a witness to numerous events and changes at the university over the years.
An alumni as well as a staff member, Stout began his time at Willamette as an undergraduate student while working at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. He then attended the Atkinson Graduate School of Management before beginning his career as the director of campus safety, a job in which he oversees the system that works to keep the university safe from threats varying from individuals to theft and natural disasters.
Because he was a presence on campus for so many years, Stout experienced many of Willamette’s significant events that he looks back fondly on: “I have lots of memories [but] the ones that stand out are times that people are having fun.” He mentioned the Freshman Glee, a now-defunct interclass singing competition dating back to the 1900s, and the following Blue Monday, where students would pay off their competition bets in ridiculous, “goofy” ways. He also enjoyed the Red Light Green Light world record attempt in which Willamette claimed the title of the largest ever game.
Another part of Stout’s career that he really enjoyed was the encouragement to be constantly improving, challenging and changing. He said, “If you have an idea [at Willamette] about how you’d like to engage in something or change something or start a new idea, people are open to that idea. It’s refreshing and even somewhat expected that people will innovate.”
Certainly Stout’s position presented a lot of challenges that require this willingness to constantly improve and adapt to the circumstances, from bomb threats to an early 2000s fire in Lausanne Hall that left a million dollars in damage. One recent concern has been the university’s proximity to the capitol, which—though a “great advantage for our campus and our students,”— is also an attraction for a variety of political groups, including the Proud Boys and other protesters who [have been violent or threatening to students]. Though these situations have been a challenge to navigate due to the open campus and people’s rights to legally gather and express their opinions, Campus Safety’s response has been to keep an eye on threats and update the community so that “people can make an informed choice whether they want to avoid that area, not be on campus that day or conversely whether they want to participate,” according to Stout.
During his time as director of campus safety, Stout also has spearheaded various initiatives to improve safety on campus and incorporate student voices. Though these occurred to varying degrees of success, Stout said that going forward, the student safety committee “is going to begin meeting again, and while [it] has not formally met this year [he has] been in contact with student government leaders to let them know that they have an open line of communication with me.”
This responsibility will also be passed along to Stout’s successor, Andrew Fresh, who will assume a position that has been modified to include emergency management. Stout explained that, “Although I had done, do and did do emergency management within my responsibilities, it's something that has needed more emphasis in a formal planning way than it has been given in the [past few years] and that's because my time was diluted to a number of other responsibilities.”
Stout’s job certainly required a lot of him—including being on-call 24 hours a day—and often pulled him in many directions at once. Though he found the position incredibly rewarding and “wouldn't trade the experience for any other,” he said it was hard, especially because “you have a level of responsibility [to employees] and to continuing their responsibility to the campus, so there’s always this kind of low-level fear that something will happen.”
After more than thirty years of this kind of pressure as director of campus safety, Stout looks forward to having time for other activities during retirement, starting with a trip to Hawaii that he planned with his partner in January. He also looks forward to relaxing together and gardening, a hobby they both enjoy. Nonetheless, Stout said he will miss Willamette tremendously, especially because it has played such a large role in his life for so long.
“More than half of my life I have been coming here every week,” he said. “If I had to start again and do it over, I would, because it's really been a wonderful experience with a lot of really smart, dedicated people who loved what they did and loved the people they work with. And I got to be one of those people.”
The new semester will bring many changes to campus, including Stout’s departure from his long-time role. Though this marks the end of a chapter in Willamette’s history, students, faculty and staff can still look forward to seeing him around: “I'll still have connections here. I’m looking forward to continuing to attend concerts and activities and still being part of the community.” A retirement party for Stout will be held Jan. 27 4pm- 5:30pm in cat cavern.