Chancellor sees education as a force for change
Joe Peterson is no wild-eyed radical, but the new Chancellor of Utah State University/College of Eastern Utah is committed to a patient and quiet revolution that he hopes will change society for the better.
"I want to contribute to a system that shakes up the social strata," he says when he explains his reasons for choosing higher education as a career. Too often, he continues, the "haves" of one generation produce the "haves" of the next, while the "have nots" continue to be "have nots" generation after generation.
"I abhor that. It's unfair," he declares. To him, education is the way to give everyone a chance at success in life.
Higher Ed was a natural choice given that philosophy. Coming home to Price to head USU/CEU was just as logical. He grew up here, immersed in academic surroundings. His father, Chas Peterson, taught history at CEU. He got to know the faculty, and in particular he remembers the outings that the polymath Don Burge would take him and his father on. ["Polymath" means "guy who knows lots of subjects" so it's the right word.]
Then, as now, Peterson says, CEU was "a small college in a small town. The people of the community see it as their college." So it will remain in the new regime. The chancellor is convinced that the communities of Southeastern Utah continue to have a stake in the success of their college. The challenge for leadership, he adds, is in identifying a few projects or programs that will rally the support of the communities as well as the university.
He cites the example of the Entrepreneurship Center at Vernal of what can be done. With 120 acres donated by a member of the community, USU and the Applied Technology Center partnered to create a facility and program aimed at cultivating business ventures. Expanding on that subject, he notes that the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research has projected that Carbon County will no longer be the state's premier producer of coal in a generation.
It seems reasonable, he says, to consider what should be done with a scenario like that. "Of all possible outcomes, how can we assure that we get the outcome we want?" Given the needs of the community and the research strengths of USU, there should be some solution.
There also needs to be a solution for what he calls the college's "resource stress" - not enough money to be all things to all people. Part of his job is to develop new sources of funding, while the other part is to use existing resources more efficiently. Distance learning is one powerful tool to accomplish that.
That microwave network needs only a handful of students at each Southeastern Utah site to make a class size that is economically viable, he explains. Now that the Utah Legislature has defined USU/CEU as a "comprehensive regional campus" instead of as a community college, the distance learning capability has become integral to the mission.
One other advantage that CEU will continue to offer is comparatively low tuition. That affordability is another key factor in opening the gate for people who might not otherwise be able to raise their earning potential through higher education, he notes.