We think it makes a great deal of sense.
Not so many years ago, there was a suggestion that Oregon consider selling one of its seven universities in order to be able to more adequately fund the remaining six.
While the idea was considered preposterous, it did serve to illustrate the dire straits into which the university system had fallen.
The last session of the Legislature did take a step forward in terms of righting the ship of higher education. But that being said, three of the regional universities have experienced a particularly acute struggle.
Both Southern Oregon University and Western Oregon University have had serious funding problems from which they now are starting to emerge. Eastern Oregon University, on the other hand, is immersed in a series of problems.
Last Friday, EOU officials appeared before the State Board of Higher Education in Portland and painted what was described as a grim picture illustrating declining enrollment and fiscal shortfalls.
John Miller, EOU's Provost, talked about students who are leaving because of costs and others who are being lured to universities in other states. EOU's enrollment dropped by 3.1 percent this year and is expected to drop by another 200 students next year. And even with a 23 percent increase in funding for the university system, EOU's budget plan for the next three years calls for $3 million in cuts.
Last Thursday, it was announced that EOU President Khosrow Fatemi, who has been beleaguered by numerous problems during his three-year run, including a no- confidence vote from the faculty, will be leaving La Grande on July 31 for a new assignment within the system.
Despite the setbacks, Chairman Henry Lorenzen of Pendleton reminds us that the state board remains committed to EOU and its survival. Lorenzen is well aware that EOU is a regional university that provides access to rural students who might not otherwise be able to attend.
Throughout its distinguished history, EOU has left a large footprint in Eastern Oregon and it is vitally important this half of the state have at least one university to provide the educational, economic and quality of life benefits that such an institution offers.
Why Not Affiliate EOU with OSU?
However, we think the time has come for the state board to explore new thoughts and ideas about how to make EOU more viable. Sometimes, adversity opens the door to opportunity.
In recent years, Washington State University has opened branch campuses in Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Vancouver. At the same time, the University of Washington opened branches in Tacoma and Bothell. Those branch campuses have provided access to students in five key locations and they have enabled those satellite operations to benefit from the scale and resources of a larger institution.
Eastern Oregon University, which is now hovering around 3,000 students, no doubt enjoys a great deal of autonomy, something faculty members, in particular, heartily embrace. And, historically, academic institutions have been slow to accept change.
However, that being said, nowhere is the mission of a land grant institution more compatible than in Eastern Oregon - and Oregon State University is just such an animal. A larger presence for OSU in Eastern Oregon makes a great deal of sense.
Land grant institutions originally were designed for advanced training in agriculture and the mechanical arts. That mission has since been expanded to include other tangible trades and professions but the concept remains the same - a higher education program that includes practical skills. Eastern Oregon is the kind of place that appreciates such a concept.
Perhaps consolidation with OSU could be the dramatic solution that turns the tide for EOU and provides it with the image, the resources and the possibilities to turn itself around.
The idea of Oregon State University at La Grande is a concept well worth exploring. It is certainly an idea that has been highly successful in many other states - not just Washington.
OSU has become a research powerhouse in addition to its long-time reputation for academic excellence. A marriage with EOU and a major presence in Eastern Oregon could provide enormous benefits for OSU, and for our region.