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The Best of Times, The Worst of Times!

Posted by: | April 11, 2011 | No Comment |

In the “Tale of Two Cities”, Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Considering what’s been happening in the last several months, I think the above characterizes our College current situation.

These are truly the best of times for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Our student enrollments are up 25 percent. Many of our students, undergraduate and graduate, have acquitted themselves well in various competitions—a great example of that is the number of awards they have won or been involved in, including various leadership positions in organizations such as the FFA, which was on display during the 83rd Annual State FFA Convention in Central Point in southern Oregon.

We are on track to surpass last year’s record of extramural grants received to well over $60 million. In a recent survey done by Thomson-Reuters, the impact of our College’s publications was ranked third in the nation, behind the University of Wisconsin and Cornell University, and ranked in the top ten, globally. The best part is that the research is being translated and delivered to end users—in the realm of irrigated agriculture, vegetable and fruit production, ruminant nutrition, or small farms to such endeavors as food safety or potential cancer therapy and environmental challenges or water and land use to enabling mint producers and onion producers to create jobs and help the economy in the small communities of Oregon or the wheat producers who help create jobs in the Portland Metro area.

The generosity of our donors has been amazing, helping us reach almost $55 million—which is enabling student success and faculty excellence. We have created new scholarships and endowed the Leadership Academy and professorships. Construction of the Animal Science Pavilion is imminent.

These are also the worst of times.

You may recall, the Agricultural Experiment Station’s budget was reduced by approximately $11 million during the 2009-2011 biennium. We sought input from a whole bunch of stakeholders and came up with a plan to deal with the same, including restructuring of campus departments, elimination of several programs and 24 professorial and 36 staff positions, and made a proposition to our local stakeholders to provide 25 percent of the base operating funds. We thought that we had developed a workable glide path.

Unfortunately the idea of a workable glide path has been short-lived.

Owing to the continuing economic challenges our state faces, the Governor has proposed that the 2011-2013 biennial budget for the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory be reduced by $20 million—an almost 19 percent reduction. What is particularly concerning is this is more than twice the 8 percent cut recommended for the remainder of Higher Education. The cuts are particularly unfair, considering we cannot raise tuition to help offset cuts like the rest of Higher Education.

I have learned that we have had a legacy in Oregon of the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory—the core of Oregon State University’s Land Grant mission—being treated inequitably with the rest of Higher Education. The irony is that these endeavors are the research, development, and deployment arm of the food, agricultural, and natural resources endeavors of our state, which accounted for over $45 billion of Oregon’s gross domestic product of $180 billion. Additionally, funds provided to these endeavors allow undergraduate and graduate students to receive enabling, experiential learning, not just book learning. Apparently, endeavors such as discovering new ways of helping figure out how to provide food, clean water and air, and shelter, protecting human and environmental health, and creating jobs and enabling the economic well being our state are not endeavors worthy of being supported.

States north, south, and east of us or in other parts of our nation treat their Experiment Stations, Extension, and Forestry endeavors very differently, even protecting them because they cannot raise tuition, as is possible in funding for the teaching endeavors.

Just the Agricultural Experiment Station’s budget is proposed to be reduced yet another $11.4 million for the 2011-2013 biennium.

In order to accommodate this significant, additional reduction, the College will need to close, shutter or consolidate five branch experiment stations and eliminate a number of additional programs, including 30-35 professorial positions and 40-60 staff positions in research and Extension, which are critical to our teaching, discovery, and outreach endeavors, and to the state’s economy.

Based on an analysis of the bare minimum needed to prevent permanent and irreparable destruction of the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory, we have come up with a proposition that the state legislature consider an “Add Back” of $12 million to the Governor’s recommended budget for the 2011-2013 biennium; this would make the overall reduction for us on parity with that recommended by the Governor for Higher Education in general.

This proposal has been almost universally endorsed on and off campus, including the State Capitol.

My almost 3,000 mile trip around Oregon during Spring Break suggests wide support amongst our stakeholders for the $12 million “Add Back” to our budgets. They are sending emails, letters, post cards—I am told the onion growers are sending 700 postcards; now let’s see if some one else can top that—and handwritten notes to the legislators, along with making phone calls or visiting legislators in the State Capitol.

We also have significant support amongst a number of key legislators.

A number of students, young people, farmers, ranchers, conservation group representatives, and others, including OSU President Ed Ray, have testified passionately before the Ways and Means Committee of the state legislature for the add back of $12 million.

Let’s hope these efforts indeed pay off and we will get the $12 million Add Back.

As you read this, and if you believe in the well being of our endeavors, I exhort you to please reach out to the legislators and plead with them to add back the $12 million to our budget.

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