Friday, April 10, 2009

Will Hard Times Kill the Platypus?

Oregon State University's Cascades Campus in Bend might be near its last gasp, if our local state representatives are reading the signals in Salem right.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2009 at 7:29 AM

Oregon State University's Cascades Campus in Bend might be near its last gasp, if our local state representatives are reading the signals in Salem right.

According to Thursday morning's Bulletin, Reps. Judy Stiegler and Gene Whisnant say lawmakers are seriously considering pulling the plug on the educational experiment begun with such bright hopes seven years ago.

"I think they're being looked at [for possible elimination] and we're going to do all that we can to convince the leadership here that it's wrong to do," Whisnant was quoted as saying.

However, OSU President Ed Ray said in today's Bulletin that he's ready to go to the mattresses for the survival of the Bend campus, and he's hopeful that it can be saved.

And today, KTVZ has OSU-Cascades Dean Becky Johnson predicting the school will survive: "I certainly would put my money on us being here for the long run." KTVZ notes that OSU-Cascades currently enrolls more than 500 students and is expecting a 16% jump in enrollment next fall.

The euthanasia of OSU-Cascades, if it happens, will be sad but not really too surprising. The state higher education establishment threw a sop to Central Oregon when they created it, but it never appeared willing to commit the money and other resources needed to make it succeed.

OSU-Cascades was established as a "capstone" institution - a place where students who already had completed the first two years of college could finish work toward their bachelor's degree. The Eye can well remember local predictions when it was founded that students would flock there from all parts of the state - indeed, from all parts of the country - because of (Can you guess? We bet you can) Bend's "unique" lifestyle and recreation opportunities. (Even now the website emphasizes images of students canoeing, rock climbing and skiing.) Soon, the line went, the state would recognize the overwhelming demand and OSU-Cascades would blossom into a four-year campus.

So much for that theory. Now, with the state's economy in near-free-fall and the budget forecast looking scarier than a Wes Craven movie, lawmakers are openly doubting whether Oregon can afford to keep eight higher ed campuses open.

If one has to get the axe, which will it be? Well, it's a pretty safe bet it won't be one in Portland or the Valley, where most of the votes are. And Eastern Oregon University, Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Institute of Technology all have been around a long time and have established constituencies both in the legislature and within the higher ed bureaucracy.

So the odds seem pretty good - barring a sudden and dramatic economic turnaround - that we'll be saying adios to OSU-Cascades, if not this biennium, then next.

Which means we also should be saying goodbye to the grandiose pipe dream (and that's all it ever was) of luring a four-year university to open a campus in Bend, at Juniper Ridge or anywhere else. The state system is contracting, and new private universities are not exactly springing up like dandelions. And the Oberlins and Villanovas of the world - much less the Harvards and Stanfords - are not going to locate in Bend, Oregon, no matter how wonderful the skiing, mountain biking and rock climbing are.

The Eye would be really sorry to see OSU-Cascades go away, though - not least because it would mean losing the opportunity to have a state college with the platypus (a combination of a duck and a beaver) for a mascot.

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