February 06, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

It is an economic paradox.

Eastern Oregon University has long helped stabilize this regions economy, yet its source of state funding is perpetually unstable.

These and other points were brought out Wednesday during a program to discuss the status of state funding for EOU.

The program was conducted at EOU two days before the Legislature is to begin a special session to address the states budget shortfall.

The status of EOUs state funding will hang in the balance during the session.

Those who spoke out in support of EOU Wednesday included Union County Commissioner Steve McClure. He said Northeast Oregons economy often fluctuates because it is based on resources such as timber. The presence of Eastern helps level these shifts in the economy, he said.

McClure said this is made evident by the fact that Union Countys unemployment rate is usually about 2 percent lower than the rate in other Northeast Oregon counties.

State Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, a 1993 Eastern graduate, said he regrets that EOUs future is again a political issue.

It is a social and a community issue, Smith said.

He said the state funding issues which EOU faces sound similar to the ones the university was confronting when he attended the school. He said that something needs to be done to stabilize the schools source of funding.

Smith said he appreciates the value of Eastern in part because of how he benefitted from attending school here.

When you graduate from here, doors will open for you that you didnt even know existed, Smith said.

State aid for students was also addressed Wednesday, a concern because it is feared that a number of state financial aid programs could be trimmed during the special session.

Hector Martinez, a senior from Nyssa, said he is concerned about the possibility the state could trim the Oregon Opportunity Grant. Martinez fears that if the program is cut he might not be able to graduate. The grant helps students from low-income families.

Speakers urged students to take an active role in campaigning for state funding for EOU.

I am appealing to students to get involved. Do not let any legislators evade you or push you away, Johnson said.

Dan Stark, a representative of the Union County Democratic Committee and the director of EOUs Regional Services Institute, echoed this sentiment. He said film director Woody Allen once said that ninety percent of life is showing up.

The Legislature operates on this dictum, Stark said.

He said legislators are willing to open the door, but you have to be there.

Stark said the Legislature has many people knocking at its door, and the people who are the most persistent are the ones who are heard.