August 05, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Budget problems have forced Eastern Oregon University to cut a total of seven non-teaching positions for the 2002-03 academic year, but only three of the employees will be out of work.

The cuts have been made as part of a $1.2 million budget reduction package for the year.

In another cost-saving measure Creighton has elected not to hire anyone to fill 11 positions that are now open.

"The cuts have been made painfully,'' Eastern Oregon University President Phil Creighton said.

The reductions have been necessary because of a revenue shortfall brought on by the state's slumping economy.

The positions cut include a budget analyst, a purchasing analyst, an accounting technician, the director of the EOU Cornerstone Experience Program, the director of the Regional Services Institute and two part-time RSI secretaries.

The cuts will result in a net loss of three jobs. The director of the Cornerstone program has retired and the Regional Services Institute has been privatized. The privatization of RSI means that the people working with the program will still be employed but not with Eastern.

RSI provides services for communities throughout the region. It does things such as help cities obtain grants for public works projects, lobby for federal funds and do strategic planning.

The Regional Services Institute will still be housed on the Eastern campus but will be self-supporting.

EOU's cost-cutting measures will reduce its 2002-03 budget by about 5 percent. Creighton said the university can trim its budget by this amount without hurting its core academic programs.

Creighton emphasized that all efforts have been made to protect academic programs and faculty positions.

The cost-cutting measures have been made in such a way as to not stifle the university's enrollment growth, he said.

"We can't grow unless we have a first-rate faculty,'' Creighton said.

Eastern's total student enrollment has grown at a rate of between 5 and 7 percent each of the past three years. The total number of students taking classes on or off campus is 3,096.

EOU, like all of Oregon's state universities, may not be out of the woods yet in terms of budget woes. It is not known how much money the state's universities will receive because Gov. John Kitzhaber has not decided if he will approve a budget balancing plan approved by the Legislature in June.

"Our budget picture is hazy,'' Creighton said.

Should Kitzhaber veto any of the proposals, Eastern and Oregon's other universities might be forced to make further cuts.

Oregon's voters also will have a say in Eastern's budget outlook. The Legislature has referred two revenue ballot measures to the voters. One would raise Oregon's cigarette tax by 60 cents a pack and the other would allow the Legislature to take $150 million from the state's Education Endowment Fund.

Rejection of either of the measures would ultimately hurt Eastern and all state universities and schools by reducing the amount of funding available to the state.