November 15, 2001 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

The words dont deliver a clear picture of what could happen in an upcoming special session of the Oregon State Legislature.

Its serious, says Carole Smith, Union County 4-H Extension agent.

What is serious is what could happen to the programs that fall under the direction of Oregon State Universitys statewide higher education services, including 4-H, the 10 agricultural research stations including the one in Union, the Extension forestry program and the Extension Focus on Consumer Education programs.

Simply put, Gov. John Kitzhaber has asked the university system to submit plans to cut budgets from 2 to 10 percent.

That request has filtered down to a decision from university system chancellor Joe Cox that the brunt of the cuts will by borne by Oregon States statewide outreach programs that dont directly impact resident undergraduate university students.

There is a meeting Monday of OSU program directors and other higher ed officials to discuss cuts.

The numbers being discussed so far, Smith said, are frightening. While it wouldnt happen exactly this way, an 8 percent reduction to the states overall higher education funding would translate to a 17 percent reduction to statewide programs such as Extension and ag research.

If, again for example, that 17 percent cut singled out the 4-H program, two-thirds of the 4-H program would have to disappear. 4-H in Oregon involves 30,000 youth.

The same reductions, Smith said, would eliminate a quarter of the states OSU-based agricultural research.

Were making plans to redirect our in-county support funding, Extension crops agent Darrin Walenta said this week. Some plans for demonstration research projects in Union County expect to see a 50 percent funding reduction.

In Union, ag research station director Tim DelCurto is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

It sounds really bad, he said, adding it is hard to tell how much of what is being said is political verbiage.

The statewide program cuts, he said, are what Cox is suggesting but not what OSU wants.

If the universities see the 8 percent cut, and it translates to a 17 percent cut for OSUs statewide outreach programs, DelCurto said it would mean staff cuts at least one scientist and a support staff person at the Union ag station.

A positive note, DelCurto said, is that OSU is working on a redesign of its administrative processes that is due by mid-December. He hopes the redesign shows the chancellor and the Legislature that cost-cutting is being seriously planned.

For Smith and Walenta, the best hope is trying to reach state legislators to stress the importance of programs involving youth, consumer education and ag research. Its too late, they felt, to try and change the chancellors feeling and understanding of OSUs role as a land-grant college.

DelCurto agrees that there seems to be a lack of understanding about what ag research and Extension means to and does for the people of Oregon, because we dont teach undergraduates.

For Walenta, the knowledge that the chancellor seems to be focusing on cutting the statewide programs and staff is kind of ironic, since we hold academic positions and serve as teachers in many roles.

A point made by Walenta and Smith is the number of contacts with people that occur each year through the Extension programs.

Reports from 2000 show that individual contacts totaled 26,650, with more than nearly 23,000 of those being through the 4-H


And Walenta has an even more difficult time calculating exact contacts. He serves as a contact for growers and others in crops in Baker, Union and Wallowa


The Extension agents dont expect a replacement for home economist Cheri Jo Carter any time soon and suspect that the temporary person handling the Master Gardeners program wont be replaced. Carter recently transferred to a position at OSU.

Paul Oester, the OSU forester, is currently presenting at a Canadian forum and wasnt available for his thoughts.

The cuts, if they happen as proposed, will change how we do business, Smith said. It has to. Its about to hit the wall.