University warns services, programs and jobs at risk
By MITCH LIES
Oregon State University's statewide public service administrators are concerned over their ability to deliver services in the wake of budget cuts of up to 20 percent proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.
In the budget aired earlier this month, Kitzhaber allocated $46.6 million in general funds for the Experiment Station, down from the $57.9 million lawmakers approved last biennium; $34.9 million for extension, down from $42.3 million; and $5.1 million for the Forest Research Laboratory, down from $6.3 million.
Some general fund reductions were expected.
College of Agricultural Dean Sonny Ramaswamy, who is director of the Experiment Station, last year sought increased industry support in preparation for the cuts. Extension Service and Forest Research Laboratory administrators also in the past year have tried to beef up grants and contracts to offset funding reductions.
Scott Reed, director of the Extension Service, has been stretching extension dollars by combining administrative duties and using more Internet-based communication to cut travel costs.
But cuts of 18-20 percent caught administrators by surprise given that Kitzhaber has said research and education were vital to moving the economy forward. Coming on top of increases in benefit costs, the cuts present "quite a devastating challenge," Ramaswamy said.
"We've talked about several programs having to be eliminated," Ramaswamy said, "and we might very well have to look at consolidating or shuttering (one or more the college's 11 branch experiment) stations."
In addition to programs and services, jobs are at risk, officials said.
"We don't want to cut services to people until it is the last resort," said Bill Braunworth, extension agriculture and natural resources program leader. "But the level of cuts proposed are ... very, very hard to achieve only with attrition."
The service agencies, so-called statewides, are line items on the larger Oregon University System budget, which has a 4.9 percent general fund reduction in the governor's budget.
Ramaswamy said he hopes lawmakers "see the value that we bring" and hold the statewides to the same level of reduction as the rest of the Oregon University System.
"I'm really very concerned about the viability of this incredible system we have had in place for almost 140 years in this state," Ramaswamy said. "This might jeopardize the whole thing."
The experiment station last year brought in $55 million in grants and contracts off of a general fund investment of about half that, and the station is in line for $70 million in grants and contracts this year, administrators said.
Add endowments and other outside funding, and the Experiment Station generates between two and six times the state's investment in outside dollars, Ramaswamy said.
"My big fear," Ramaswamy said, "is these faculty are going to say, 'I'm not going to hang my hat at OSU. I'm going to join a company that is investing in research,' or 'the Midwest universities are starting to hire a lot of people already. I might go there.'"
The funding reduction continues a trend that has hounded university officials the past three decades.
Thirty years ago, state funds paid for nearly half the operating costs at Oregon State University, President Ed Ray said, compared to 13 percent today.
The statewides are harder hit than most of higher education in that they can't raise tuition to offset reductions in state funding.
In 2009, the Experiment Station cut 24 faculty and 36 staff positions in response to a 15 percent cut in state funds.
The university's College of Forestry has lost seven of 61 positions to budget cuts in recent years, Dean Hal Salwasser said. The college is considering cutting a degree program in response to the proposed 2011-13 biennium cuts.
Salwasser said forestry and agriculture are two of the preeminent programs at the university and contribute to two important sectors of the rural Oregon economy.
"We contribute directly to the workforce and the science and technology of the natural resources sector of the state," Salwasser said.
"We're struggling to understand how we can maintain research capacity ... while cutting forestry and agricultural research budgets," Salwasser said.