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Hanging up the Extension cuts off rural Oregon

April 25th, 2011
Published: Saturday, April 23, 2011, 4:09 PM

By David Sarasohn, the Oregonian

In July 2009, Sonny Ramaswamy arrived as dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State.

    The next Monday, he was told to cut $10 million from his budget.

    Nothing beats an Oregon welcome.

    Now, in an even less hospitable budgetary time, he’s looking at another agricultural famine. Three service programs out of Oregon State — the Oregon Extension Service, the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Forest Research Laboratory — face a budget cut of almost 19 percent. It’s a considerably larger cut than even the rest of higher ed, and the shrugging suggestion that universities can just raise tuition doesn’t even apply to these programs.

    “So many of the services they provide really are targeted to people who need help,” says Ed Ray, OSU president. “You can start charging rural folks for agricultural help, and for being in 4-H, but they don’t have any money.”

    Which is more or less the point.

    In rural Oregon, the recession didn’t start in 2008, but somewhere closer to 1982. Those counties have the highest unemployment levels, and outsized hunger rates, often in the middle of some of the richest land in the world. The three programs — supporters tend to refer to them collectively as “the Statewides,” a verbal password indicating not just knowing the programs but valuing them — are efforts to provide some support, and some connection, to those parts of Oregon.

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