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Faculty Senate » January 27 - February 1, 2003

Faculty Senate President's Message

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Faculty Senators

Bruce Sorte

Faculty Senate Summary
January 27 - February 1, 2003

Tough week. I was caught-up in believing that Oregonians might value public services enough to spend more on them, even in these difficult economic times. Measure 28 failed even while many voters could see that they would need to spend more on child care than the amount of the added tax, if school districts cut days as promised. The effects of M28's defeat were quickly felt. I serve on the Corvallis Housing & Community Development Commission, which is the single largest source of City of Corvallis social service dollars. On Thursday after the Tuesday vote, we coordinated a small group session to listen to people describing their needs in a public meeting. They described people, or were people, who earn less than their prescriptions cost each month. Those prescriptions are essential to keep them productively functioning mentally and/or physically. Many of them had their funding cut-off on Friday. The Oregonian carried a picture of a frenzied legislator (Peter Courtney) with a picture below of a gleeful prisoner being released from jail.

Do we seriously think that we can go to the Legislature with the Chancellor's Deal and persuade the legislators to send additional or even the same funding to higher education in lieu of funding prescriptions for mentally ill, health care for children or seniors, protecting the public from criminals, supporting programs that give poor pre-school children and their families a minimal chance to succeed, or to keep from going off the bottom of the charts in terms of number of K-12 instructional days? The legislators would if they could but they can't.

We like to avoid zero-sum discussions (e.g. we are not competing with these other uses - we should collaborate - bunk!); yet, this is one that cannot be ignored. Most legislators believe in investing in higher education and that through that investment they can reduce the crisis type of funding situations with a better-educated public -- in the future. However, that is the future and the present is right in their face yelling and pleading with them on the Capitol steps, in their offices, churches, everywhere.

We need to redirect the 90% of our energies that we expend pursuing that additional 5-10% of State Education and General funding, beyond what the Legislature will give us with more routine effort, and vigorously pursue a Cornell sort of model that would transition at least the professional colleges to charging most or all of the cost of their programs through tuition. This would free the other colleges to use the major share of the E&G funds we receive to hold tuition down and maintain access. We need to at least double our financial aid program, including doubling staff and doubling our expertise in credit issues. We should cut tuition for lower division classes to more effectively compete with community colleges and then increase our upper division tuition. We need to spend less time accounting for what we do and more time developing, trying, monitoring, and revising plans that will at least partially free us from the paralysis of depending on a Legislature that makes its decisions with its bid for reelection only months away.

We have an infrastructure (although we can list many needed improvements), a reputation, and faculty and staff that can effectively compete in that way. If we do not do this, I believe the precious little time you have for scholarship and student engagement will disappear in the next two years, as your class loads grow and the number of your colleagues shrink.

The end of last week brought the tragic news of the death of the crew of the Columbia. A week previously, I gave my daughter a small model of the shuttle for her birthday because I know she will fly many different types of craft and because I hope she will do so not only for recreation but to help others. Her older sister has already brought home stories of swimming a river or climbing over seaweed covered rocks in surf to get to sampling sites or offshore experiences and why she took those risks. I know they will both continue and I will continue to worry in a very proud way.

Two NPR interviews on Saturday seemed particularly relevant to what we do. One with a professor of many of the astronauts who died, when asked if we were paying too high a price for this scientific knowledge, resoundingly said; 'No! The knowledge is important enough for people to risk their lives and we must continue.' The second question was asking the flight director to describe the NASA community. He described a community where the risk was ever present and the only way to minimize and so tolerate the risk was the tremendous teamwork that everyone within all parts of the organization and suppliers outside the organization devoted to doing high quality work. As you fly a single engine plane between Cascades Campus and here, work under hoods with toxics, walk into caves in Canada to understand snakes, venture offshore to study right whales, leave family to talk with women in the steppes of Eurasia, describe findings or issues to folks who you know will stridently disagree with you, challenge students to consider all aspects of world events, convince a person to try an alternative method of pest control that may jeopardize their livelihood and your reputation, and on, and on, you display that same type of courage and sense of purpose of those astronauts.