Southern Oregon University began as Ashland Academy in 1872, founded in part by Reverend Henry Skidmore of Oregon's Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1878, the school was renamed Ashland College, and then renamed Ashland College and Normal School in 1879. In 1887, the State of Oregon proclaimed the school an official state normal school. However, the state did not provide any funding for the school, and in 1890 the school closed. In 1892, the school selected a new site in the city with financial assistance from Methodists in Portland, and construction began on what was named the Ashland Collegiate Institute. The school reopened in 1895 as the Southern Oregon State Normal School (SOSNS), and state funding began in 1899.
In 1904, the school became a full state school, but funding was eliminated in 1909, leading to the closing of the campus. In 1926, the state reestablished Southern Oregon State Normal School in Ashland at a new location on land donated by the city, where the university is currently located. The residents of Ashland passed the "Normal School Site Bonds" to build the new facility. The building was later named Churchill Hall after SOSNS' president Churchill who oversaw the relocation project. Churchill now serves as Southern's administrative building, with the president's office on the first level. Churchill Hall closely resembles Eastern Oregon University's Inlow Hall. Both buildings were built at during the same time from the same architecture semantics. The buildings were designed by architect John Bennes and retain their original Renaissance style.
In 1932, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education renamed the institute Southern Oregon Normal School. In 1939, the state board eliminated normal schools in Oregon. The university received full accreditation from the American Association of Teachers Colleges. With the accreditation, Oregon Governor Charles A. Sprague signed into law the bill changing the institution's name to Southern Oregon College of Education. In 1956, the university underwent another name change, to Southern Oregon College (SOC) to reflect the institute's diverse degree options. In 1975, SOC was renamed Southern Oregon State College (SOSC) In 1979 Dr. Natale Sicuro became president and led the movement in 1997, SOSC officially became Southern Oregon University.
In the spring of 2014 the faculty of Southern Oregon University held a vote of no confidence in then President Mary Cullinan, Provost James Klein, and Vice President of Finance and Administration Craig Morris, citing a failure in leadership and fiscal mismanagement. 83% of the faculty participated in the vote, with 76% of those faculty expressing no confidence in Cullinan, 84% expressing no confidence in Klein, and 92% expressing no confidence in Morris. Cullinan and Klein subsequently left the University.
In 2014, Roy Saigo signed on as SOU's interim president. He will serve until the end of 2015-16 school year.
Southern Oregon University consists of the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, and the School of Education. In addition to SOU's main campus, classes are offered on the university's satellite campus in downtown Medford. The main campus is home to an Oregon Health Science University satellite campus, which maintains a school of nursing. An Honors College was inaugurated in 2013.
The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) was formed in 2007 by combining the SOU School of Arts & Letters, School of Sciences, and the School of Social Sciences. In 2011, U.S. News & World Report ranked Southern as the 71st best amongst the regional universities in the west.
Southern Oregon University (SOU) and Rogue Community College (RCC) worked together to implement the guidelines of the white paper "Annexation of Jackson County to the District of Rogue Community College," signed on March 6, 1996. During the 1997–99 biennium, RCC and SOU received Regional Partnership funding from the Legislature to jointly launch several new initiatives to provide additional access for a larger number of residents in southern Oregon. Construction on the downtown Medford center broke ground March 2007 and was completed September 2008. The three-story, 68,700-square-foot (6,380 m2) center includes classrooms, science labs, computer labs, a Prometric Testing Center and the Business Center. The Higher Education Center offers lower- and upper-division level courses, as well as three master's degree programs: Master in Business Administration (offered in a cohort format with classes held on Saturdays), Master in Management (courses offered online and at night), and the Master of Arts in Teaching (a two-year, part-time version of the SOU one-year MAT program).
The Siskiyou a student edited university paper staffed by student reporters and photographers. It is published online each Monday during the academic year.
The West Wind Review is a nationally-distributed literary magazine that features a wide range of established and emerging writers. It is published annually in February.
The Soap Box is the university's alternative periodical, publishing more liberal articles from students and community members. It is published infrequently.
Many of the majors offered at the university have associated clubs. There are clubs for hobbies, sports, and music, as well as continued support for multiculturalism. There is a Newman Center for Roman Catholic students, the LDS Student Association, and several Protestant organizations, such as the Campus Crusade for Christ to the Bible Club. SOU students are involved in community arts. Outside magazine rated SOU 20th on a list of U.S. universities in 2003, based on recreational opportunities.
Student activities and support are supplemented by a number of resource centers on campus. The Women's Resource Cente r, Ecology Center of the Siskiyous, Commuter Resource Center, and the Queer Resource Center all provide services, resources, and events to their respective communities. The university is represented on the Board of Directors of the Oregon Student Association.
There are several Residence Halls on campus, as well as family housing complexes.The Cascade Complex(No longer used) is built around the Cascade Food Court. It consists of: Aspen Hall, which houses St. Mary's Chinese students, Baker Hall, used for conference groups, Cedar Hall; Diamond Hall, location of the gender inclusive floors, Emerald Hall, location of the substance free floors as well as the outdoor adventure leadership floors; Forest Hall, the honors hall; Glacier Hall, which consists of all single rooms; Hawthorne Hall, home of the civic engagement floors ; and Ivy Hall, a 24-hour quiet hall. All the halls in the Cascade Complex are smoke-free.
The Greensprings Complex consists of four halls: Applegate, Bear Creek, Crater Lake, and Deschutes.
The oldest residence hall on campus, Susanne Homes, was built in the 1940s.Susanne Homes is a 24-hour quiet building. In order to live in Susanne (often called, Susy), students must either have a minimum of 45 credits, be at least 21, or be part of the Accelerated baccalaureate program. The rooms in Susanne Homes have kitchenettes in them, so students get a mini-fridge, a stove top, and a sink.
The Madrone Apartment complex consists of Apartments, each of which contain four bedrooms, two bathrooms (one shower and either one bathtub or one ADA compliant shower), and one kitchen and living room area. The Madrone Apartments opened in September 2005.
The newest residence halls on campus are Shasta Hall and McLoughlin Hall. There is also a new dining hall, The Hawk.
The Old Mill Village is a complex of apartments specifically for students attending SOU who have families. The university also has houses available to qualified students.
A new residence complex, the North Campus Village, began construction in the Spring of 2012 and opened in the Fall of 2013.
Southern Oregon sports teams, known as the Raiders, have the Red-tailed Hawk as a mascot. The Raiders are a member of the NAIA, primarily competing in the Cascade Collegiate Conference. Men's sports include basketball, cross country, football, track & field and wrestling; while women's sports include basketball, cross country, soccer, softball, track & field and volleyball. Southern Oregon's football team competes in the Frontier Conference, winning the NAIA championship in 2014, and its wrestling team competes as an Independent in the NAIA West Regional, winning the National Wrestling Championship four times: in 1978, 1983, 1994, and 2001.Ty Burrell, actor who graduated from SOU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1993.
Devin Cole, 2001 All-American wrestler; wrestling coach and professional mixed martial artist
Todd Field, future Academy Award nominated filmmaker who, in 1983, attended SOU on a music scholarship.
Mark Helfrich, football coach, formerly the head coach of the Oregon Ducks football team
Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, former governor of the Mexican state of Guanajuato, former director of CONACyT and current Mexican senator.
Lawson Inada, SOU Professor Emeritus who was named Oregon Poet Laureate in 2006, a position that had been vacant since poet William Stafford vacated the post in the early 1990s.
Jörn Maier, football coach, currently the head coach of the Elmshorn Fighting Pirates in Germany.
Joel Moore, actor, graduated from SOU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2001.
Agnes Baker Pilgrim, spiritual elder of the Takelma tribe and chairperson of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers graduated in 1985.
Rick Story, runner-up in the 2006 NAIA National Wrestling Championships; current professional mixed martial arts fighter, competing in the UFC Welterweight division
Andrae Thurman, football player who played for the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and United Football League champion Las Vegas Locomotives. Now plays for the Cleveland Gladiators or the Arena Football League.
Patrick Donahue American Football Wide Receiver of the Lübeck Cougars (2014) and the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns 2015 a team mate of Moritz Böhringer who actually put up better numbers in their season together at Schwäbisch Hall and was invited to a minicamp by the Green Bay Packers in 2016.
Mike Whitehead, retired professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter
Julius A. Churchill
James K. Sours (1969-1978)
Natale A. Sicuro (1979–1986)
Joseph (Joe) Cox (1987–1994)
Stephen Reno (1994–2000)
Sara Hopkins-Powell (interim president, 2000–2001)
Elisabeth Zinser (2001–2006)
Mary Cullinan (2006–2014)