March 07, 2001 11:00 pm
ALL THE WAY FROM LA GRANDE: Eastern students, faculty and staff joined a rally for higher education funding Wednesday at the Capitol. (Submitted photo).
ALL THE WAY FROM LA GRANDE: Eastern students, faculty and staff joined a rally for higher education funding Wednesday at the Capitol. (Submitted photo).

SALEM More than 100 Eastern Oregon University students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered on the Capitol steps this week to rally for support of higher education in Oregon.

The group joined nearly 2,000 other Oregon University System supporters in chants that echoed a clear message: Keep Oregon on Track, Dont Go Back.

EOU participants departed La Grande at 4 a.m. Tuesday to take part in the mid-morning rally, which continued into the Capitol with

visits from Eastern Oregon senators and representatives. EOU brought one of the largest groups, joining others from each of the seven schools in the Oregon University System.

Rally participants were there to send a message to their legislators about cutting higher education in Oregon.

EOUs priorities for the legislative session are to work with Oregons leaders to ensure adequate funding for the Oregon University System, and specifically to fund the EOU Science Center, small school investment and partnership programs with EOUs community college neighbors.

In the early 1990s, Oregons higher education system was faced with program cuts and tuition increases. In 1997 and 1999, the Legislature froze tuition. But this year, Gov. John Kitzhaber proposed an 8-percent tuition increase. Though he channeled money for a branch campus in Bend, bio-technology research, and an engineering school, his new proposed budget would cut $96 million from current service levels.

Participants listened as legislators welcomed them to the Capitol. Legislators and guest speakers said Oregon needs to invest in its leaders of tomorrow. Speaker of the House Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, said, You are the future of Oregon and our country. What you are bringing us is a great message.

Although Kitzhaber was in Japan, it did not quell the spirit of those attending the rally. Sending rally-goers into audience frenzy, EOU Professor Greg Monahan, president of the Association of Oregon Faculties, said, The only door to the future is a door to a college classroom. College education is not a luxury; it is an absolute necessity.

Gov. Kitzhaber owes everything he is to higher education. He wants to run a 21st century university on a 19th century budget. California, Washington and even Idaho invest in higher education.

Monahan directed his plea to the governor.

Although you are in Japan today, we today are begging you to join us. If you wont join us then, get the hell out of our way.

Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, said, The message today is hold on Governor. Ive got a future. He added, This thing (legislative session) is going to go on for two to three months. I can pledge to you that this Legislature is going to work very hard fight, claw

to restore funding to higher


Legislators told the crowd to continue the job of making their voices heard because it does makes a difference. The state of Oregon is among the top five of highest cost for higher education according to House Minority Leader Dan Gardner, D-Portland. He said he would like to see incentives to businesses to offer more scholarships and restore funding to opportunity grants.

Higher education is not a partisan issue. It is something that both Democrats and Republicans care about, Gardner said.

Sen. Ryan Deckert, D-Beaverton said, I wouldnt be standing here if my leaders hadnt favored higher education.

We in Oregon lead the way in funding cuts in the early 1990s. Our friends to the north (Washington) nearly doubled in students. We will not go back to 80 to 90 percent tuition increases. We will not go back to headlines of department closures and leading the country in cuts to higher education.