CEU, USU Merger Fizzles in Legislative Draft Stage
As the 2008 legislative session draws to a close, the volcanic discussion surrounding a possible College of Eastern Utah and Utah State University merger fizzled before any action was taken.
The bill never left the proposal's draft stage.
News of the possible legislation hit Carbon County in early February and was met with scrutiny by the public along with members of the CEU staff and faculty.
The scrutiny led to two video conferences with state legislators and a consensus that more investigation was needed before a merger could be considered.
The Utah Statesman, the campus newspaper at USU, reported last week that Amanda Covington, assistant commissioner for public affairs, had confirmed that "the bill was now dead".
The proposed legislation reportedly originated after Sen. Mike Dmitrich and USU president Stan Albrechtt met with several business owners in the Carbon County area.
In a Feb. 11 interview with the Sun Advocate, Sen. Dmitrich stated that he would not support legislation that would ever make CEU as USU institution.
"I would never support any legislation that was detrimental to that community," said Dmitrich.
The senator explained that CEU's continued financial trouble and declining enrollment were largely behind the bill's drafting.
As the draft began to circulate at the Utah Capitol, USU president Albrechtt offered the following as an explanation, "the merger should benefit students in the CEU service are as well as the greater Carbon community."
He reported that USU would be committed to:
Expanding educational opportunities for the region, including adding new undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas that would benefit the communities of Southeastern Utah.
Retaining and enhancing cultural and athletic activities currently offered by CEU.
Maintaining CEU's open enrollment, community college and Applied Technology College functions.
Maintaining the current tuition structure for lower division course work.
Students choosing to matriculate into bachelor or graduate programs would then pay Utah State tuition for the program or degrees.
Albrecht noted that on USU's end the merger would give the university the opportunity to expand programs in energy resource development and to extend into rural areas of the state further.
While many of these commitments where essential to the local community in the end there were just to many unanswered questions for Carbon residents.
Major un-addressed issues included:
Structuring of vocational programs.
"CEU has provided an excellent program for us at vocational rehabilitation," said eastern Utah district director Carol Rogers. "What will happen to work force education?"
Contingencies concerning CEU faculty and staff's continued positions at the college.
Albrecht's statement indicated that "the proposed legislation provides for a transition plan that would address questions of governance and administration structure, faculty qualifications and compensation."
The explanation was not good enough for CEU professor Curtis Icard.
"There are questions and issues of employment, job security, benefits and retirement among the faculty and staff," stated Icard during the second video conference on Feb. 12 at CEU. "These questions can't be relegated to the second to the last paragraph of a press release."
By the second conference's conclusion, it became apparent that neither Sen. Dmitrich nor Rep. Brad King would push the legislation any farther.
The question remains, however, whether the issue will be revisited until the legislation passes the draft stage.
According to Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich, the melding of new programs at the CEU will improve the college's enrollment.
"I would like to see the college set firm goals over the next 15 to 18 months that take advantage of the large natural laboratory that exists here in Castle Valley," said Milovich. "I believe they could expand on the natural assets of this area to recruit new students and set themselves apart as an institution."
If CEU cannot set itself apart and increase the college's revenues, Milovich indicated that the idea of a merger with a state university will continue to come up.
"I believe broadening the core curriculum and keeping CEU a local institution is the best case scenario for our area," concluded Milovich. "But if that doesn't occur and enrollment does not go up, I don't know what's going to happen at CEU."