Study recommends halting CEU merger
The study set up to look at a merger between Utah State University and College of Eastern Utah was forwarded to the Legislature's executive appropriations committee on Tuesday.
It appears the merger was not recommended by the group studying the matter.
In a statement to the committee, Utah Board of Regents Commissioner Bill Sederberg recommended that a merger not be pursued at the present time.
Instead, the regents commissioner recommended that the CEU-USU partnerships be enhanced.
"The final conclusion is that we are not, at this time, recommending a merger," stated Sederberg at the committee meeting last Thursday in Salt Lake City. "We would like to see enhanced cooperation between the two schools, however."
The report came after the culmination of a number of months of work.
The subject began when a suggestion was made by a number of Utah legislators and other people that CEU should be merged with USU to become the university's Price campus.
During last year's legislative session, the lawmakers directed the board of regents to study "greater collaboration . . . including consideration of partnerships, alliances or a merger" between USU and CEU.
Former Utah Senator Mike Dmitrich subsequnetly introduced a bill to work toward the goal.
"I introduced that bill with all the best of intentions," stated Dmitrich during the Thursday meeting. "I had the best interests of the community and the students when I did that. I could see more degrees being accessible to students and the fact that a research university might be able to bring dollars into the school would be a great thing for CEU. I still think we should pursue this further."
Dmitrich, who currently serves on the EA committee, will be leaving at the end of the year when he retires from the Utah Senate.
Senate district voters elected David Hinkins of Emery County to assume the position at the 2008 polls.
When the Utah Legislature directed the board to look into the matter, interim commissioner of higher education, the regents chair, the USU president, the interim president of CEU and two researchers discussed various ways of completing the assigned study.
The group considered two options - an outside independent and a facilitated study. Members determined that a facilitated study utilizing three consultants would be most appropriate approach.
The consultants, working with individuals with interest in the two institutions, developed a list of important issues that would need to be considered, consider those issues, and develop a possible model for merging CEU with USU.
The plan organizers anticipated the model then being offered to the employees, students and communities of USU and CEU for public comment, scrutiny, criticism and suggestion.
The three consultants included Gary Carlson and Steven Laing of Utah State University and David Sperry of the University of Utah.
The study was meant to be conducted in three phases.
Phase one took place in July. The group interviewed persons identified by the leadership of USU and CEU to help identify the primary issues that should be examined to create a model for a potential merger of the two institutions or an enhanced partnership between the two schools.
The interviewees were representative of administration, faculty, staff, students, boards of trustees, city and county elected officials, state agencies like workforce services, legislators, community residents and local business owners.
From the interviews, the study consultants identified 47 issues and grouped them into four general areas: mission, governance and community; finance; faculty and employee; and educational program and students.
The consultants recommended the formation of four study teams to investigate the issues identified.
The presidents of the two schools then appointed 23 people to serve on the four study teams.
Study team members were asked to set aside and suspend personal preferences, beliefs, and bias regarding the merger of CEU and USU and develop answers or responses to the specific issues before them.
Team members were informed they would be free to express their concerns, reservations or opposition to the eventual model when it emerged in phase three of the study, and that participation on the study teams was not intended to be construed as individual endorsement of the possible merger model.
After conducting interviews with almost 60 people between Logan and southeastern Utah, the president of USU and interim president of CEU determined the levels of concerns reported by members rendered further effort to resolve the identified issues and develop a possible merger model unlikely to result in anything substantial.
In response to a letter from Buhler, the presidents responded in writing to express their desire to terminate the study.
Development of the possible model for merger - phase two - was never completed.
Consequently, the public response or phase three to a model was never obtained.
"We just found after that first day of meetings that one group was able to answer most of the questions that had been posed to them, but the other three were less successful in trying to complete what they were supposed to do," said Carlson, who presented the study to the EA committee. "All the groups wanted to go on and have further discussions, but at that point we suspended the talks."
However, according to the executive summary of the report that was presented to the EA committee significant issues have been identified regarding a possible merger or an enhanced partnership between CEU and USU.
It went on to say that authoritative direction and leadership will be required to advance further consideration of such a merger or to enhance the partnership between the two schools..
"The study did not produce the product we had hoped for, but I think it did help to bring out many issues that are important and our observations in the report point those out," said Carlson during his presentation to the EA committee.
Interim CEU president Mike King was not available for comment on Wednesday because of an out-of-area commitment.
But in an email to CEU employees and faculty, King pointed out that the EA committee didn't indicate how it would proceed from what was reported.
But "I won't be surprised if there are further discussions during the upcoming legislative session" concerning the situation, indicated King in the email.