The Oregon State University Extension Service is 100 years old. Gov. John Kitzhaber commemorated that birthday recently by proclaiming a special day in its honor. The news release noted the OSU off-campus education outreach program results in faculty working in every county in Oregon.
"Extension is perhaps best known for its 4-H clubs for youths, its Master Gardener training and its assistance to the state's agricultural producers," said the governor's release. "But it also educates low-income Oregonians about proper nutrition, teaches forest owners how to manage their land and helps people improve watersheds. It trains home canners to preserve food safely, helps senior citizens stay healthy, shows aspiring small farmers how to get started and publishes how-to guides on everything from controlling aphids on roses to maintaining a septic tank."
The governor's release is right on.
Why, then, are the statewides, as these extension services are known, fighting for their lives?
Kitzhaber's budget would slash about 18 percent -- or $20 million -- from the statewides. And, unlike regular college budgets, it is not possible to reclaim these funds with tuition increases on students.
The money would have to be gathered by charging more for research or 4-H membership or by somehow finding a lot of donations.
The amount lost easily could balloon as the extension services do a great job of leveraging their funds to gain federal and private grants.
OSU would have to close research facilities and cut deeply into the programs offered by the statewides if this proposed budget passes.
This is the point OSU President Ed Ray made before the legislative Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee March 29. Ray cited the history of the extension service that grew out of the Morrill Act, which in 1862 created land-grant colleges. It was signed by Abraham Lincoln under the shadow of the Civil War. OSU became Oregon's land-grant university. The statewides were launched to provide the outreach and education services envisioned by this act.
The land-grant concept may have been one of the best federal laws ever passed, as those of us in rural Oregon know from experience.
"Together the statewides address major societal challenges facing Oregon and the nation, including food security, renewable materials and energy, land and water use, forest health, climate change, environmental and natural resources, health and nutrition, poverty, jobs and the economy," Ray said.
He argued the statewides have doubled taxpayer investments by generating more than $82 million in external research grants. These grants provided $190 million in economic benefits to the state and created 2,000 jobs.
Those of us in rural Oregon know the value of what OSU's extension offices provide.
The problem is the Oregon Legislature is dominated by urban representatives who do not live so close to the land. This includes a governor who does not heed the message in his own proclamation. Fortunately, House Co-speaker Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, is from rural Oregon and understands. He describes the proposed cutbacks as "devastating" if they take away the ability to support rural jobs and grants.
There will be no winners in the Oregon budget fight this year. Money to fund one program must come from another. But in this case, it makes no sense to take it from the statewides. Social services, jobs and the Oregon economy will be the losers.