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OSU Cascades' Early Struggles Focus Of Lawmakers' Criticisms

The lawmakers who craft the state budget, members of the Ways and Means Committee, are on a series of field trips around the state.

They’ll meet in Bend  Wednesday, on Oregon State University’s Cascades campus – which just so happens to be threatened by the budget knife.

The school says it wants students and community leaders to turn out in force to plead their case.

Central Oregon correspondent Ethan Lindsey reports.

Oregon State University’s Cascades campus opened in 2001 as the first full-fledged university in the Bend area.

OSU Cascades Campus - Photos by Ethan Lindsey

State and school officials expected the school to grow very fast – after all, it was in the fastest-growing part of the state.

But as recently as last fall, the school’s growth flat lined.

Afterwards, there was a turnover in leadership on the campus.

Becky Johnson is the new administrator.

Becky Johnson: “Obviously we had some fits and starts and haven’t grown as fast as maybe we’d thought we would. And would have liked to. But it’s a chicken and egg kind of thing: to get the students you need to have the programs. To get the programs you need to have the faculty.”

And now, as lawmakers tackle a mammoth budget hole, the school’s past struggles make it an inviting target.

But professors and administrators argue that closure would be shortsighted – the school is getting into a groove.

The Cascades campus is a strange beast.

Students and teachers here claim both Beaver and Duck allegiances – depending on which department you are in, you can be either a University of Oregon student or an Oregon State student.

At a transfer fair in the school’s only building, faculty like English professor Neil Browne talk to local community college students.

Students take their lower-division classes at Central Oregon Community College down the street. And they take their junior and senior classes at Oregon State University.

Browne says he went to community college himself before transferring to a four-year school.

Neil Browne: “Part of interest in coming here speaks to the value that I see from my personal life, to this model. Cutting it off at the knees, just as it starts to get started, that seems to me to be basically insane. It doesn’t make any sense. What did Harvard look like 7 years after it started? I mean, come on.”

But the unique nature of the school also means major headaches.

Two of the most popular programs here are the Tourism and Outdoor Leadership major and the Natural Resources program.

But some locals complain that faculty members first invited to the school were not focused enough on those fields.

In discussions with professors, funding and campus size constraints also emerge as problems.

But perhaps the biggest challenge the Cascades campus has had to deal with is the balancing act between Oregon State, the University of Oregon, and the community college.

OSU President Ed Ray says he isn’t surprised.

Ed Ray: “You learn about bureaucracies when you go to college – and we got three bureaucracies. And even if each of them thinks they are doing a terrific job, you know what, students have to deal with three bureaucracies.”

Even as his main campus in Corvallis faces budget cuts from the state, Ray has publicly endorsed funding the Cascades campus.

The single biggest complaint from students is that when they transfer from the community college to OSU Cascades, they have to either repeat classes or take an extra semester to complete their work.

Ray says it’s hard for community college students because they aren't sure if they're going to school for 2 years – or 4.

Ed Ray: “There is one major problem, and quite honestly, I’ve been slow on the uptake.”

Students say they don’t understand why the communication is so difficult, since COCC and OSU Cascades are right next door to one another.

Ray says the school is holding meetings with advisers and faculty from all the schools to minimize those problems.

And Becky Johnson points to the school’s record enrollment growth this Spring as an indication of success.

George Pernsteiner is the chancellor of the Oregon University System.

George Pernsteiner: “What we are seeing with the enrollment growth in the Spring Term is the tip of the iceberg. I think we can have that kind of enrollment growth for several years to come.”

Sitting on a comfy couch, in the school’s main hall, senior liberal studies major Jack Chapman says he came to Bend to, in his words, “just go to college” not to learn. But then he took a small constitutional law class that allowed him to really connect with his professor.

So, he says despite all its inefficiencies, the school must be saved.

Chapman asks, where else can Beavers and Ducks live in such harmony?

Jack Chapman: “I mean we’re the Platypus’ man. This is a special place, I mean we finally have U of O and OSU finally getting together and taking classes together.”

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