ALARMING NUMBERS

April 24, 2007 11:00 pm

I heard someone once say, "My job is to make the president's term of service at Eastern successful." Though I have the highest respect for that person's commitment, I would have rather heard it said that my job is to make Eastern Oregon University successful.

Eastern is not about one person or about a single goal that focuses on any one person's private agenda. Eastern is more than that. It is a family made up of a diverse community of individuals spanning multiple cultures, with even a greater diversity of knowledge, skills and trades being utilized toward the sharing of a common goal of making Eastern the best that it can be, not just during times of favorable economic and academic growth, but during times of financial uncertainty and a declining enrollment.

I've been a part of Eastern since 1991 and over the years it has become a part of me. You soon realize it's not just a job. It's a culture within itself. It is an alluring sense of belonging that one feels walking across campus or down a hallway at Eastern. You work among colleagues who share in the same commitment to quality and service — people devoted to doing the best job they know how to do with whatever resources that they have to draw upon.

When internal differences arise, as they sometimes do, they are approached with integrity and respect, not belligerent accusation or wanting demands. The by-product is cooperation and unity. This is what I have been privileged to witness at Eastern over the years.

Yet in the past year or so I have been witness to a new kind of indifference that has brought about serious concerns toward the future of Eastern, its members and its students. I feel it is my obligation as part of the team, as part of a greater purpose than any single one of us, to express those concerns.

It is not my place or intent to question administrative polices that some may or may not argue have brought about the present circumstances, and I certainly do not pretend to understand the dynamics of such. I merely understand what I see and what I recognize as being true.

In the 10 years I have worked in Alikut Hall never have I known there to be more than three to five beds empty during any given term. Yet since the end of fall term 2006 I have been witness to 24 beds in Alikut not being used. The numbers didn't improve spring term. But my concerns run much deeper than that of Alikut.

Since fall term, Hunt Hall, which historically is known to house up to 150 residents, has seen a decline in residency amounting to 73 beds not being used. The new dorms, South Hall and North Hall, which came on line in the latter part of 2005, also have experienced a decline in residency. This term, South Dorm stands at 32 beds empty while North Dorm stands at 28 beds not being used. This is a total of 157 beds not being occupied.

These numbers are rather alarming. Reluctantly, I have to concede that if these numbers continue to decline, the overall effect, if not being felt already, will undoubtedly be felt in many areas during the 2007-2008 academic year.

Some have suggested one of the reasons for the decline is a result of programs such as men's baseball being eliminated. Others blame it on increased cost of on-campus housing due to the construction of two new dorms before they were really needed. Others blame increases in tuition fees and over-staffing of administrative positions.

Students are looking at an estimated cost of attendance amounting to nearly $18,000 for the 2007-2008 academic year, reflecting a continuous increase. I have no doubt these reasons, along with others, have contributed to the decline in enrollment and have forced many students to trade campus living for off-campus housing. Oddly enough, the local community is feeling the effects too as off-campus housing, which normally has long waiting lists, is also seeing vacancies. A number of students I have spoken to have turned to distance education and community colleges while others have simply chosen to transfer.

I am not a politician and certainly not an administrator faced with the challenge of balancing a budget and establishing policy during a period of state funding being reduced. Yet I see no profit in being negative either. We need to expand current polices toward encouraging enrollment and provide realistic incentives.

I suggest that we find a way to reinstate the men's baseball program before the 2007-2008 academic year. A more economic alternative in the form of a payment plan over a longer period toward on-campus housing costs might help ease the burden on already strained pocketbooks of students and parents. It seems wise also to consider lowering on-campus housing costs. I would rather see a full dorm showing a profit than a half-filled dorm facing possible closure.

Strong efforts should be continued to encourage enrollment for Native American students above and beyond that of tribal support.

Finally, we should refocus our attention on cultural programs that support regional and local communities throughout the greater Northwest, especially in the area of agriculture, livestock and forestry.

These are but a few positive steps toward resolving a difficult problem. We all understand that creating new and innovative services are of little value without students to take advantage of them.

Moreover, I don't know about you, but I have done my share of pointing the finger, or saying we should have done this or shouldn't have done that. We need to pull together, as a family, with one single goal in mind, and that is to make Eastern Oregon University as successful as we can. Generations of future students with hopes and dreams are depending on us.

Floyd Mitchell works as a custodian at EOU. He has been employed by the university for 16 years.