|Mike Overson waits to question Sen. Dmitrich about possible merger.|
The community at large along with faculty and students from the College of Eastern Utah showed up en mass Tuesday to address and question state legislators Mike Dmitrich and Brad King concerning proposed legislation that would merge CEU with Utah State University.
The meeting conducted at the Jennifer Leavitt student center also included members of CEU's San Juan campus and representatives from the state board of regents via video conference.
CEU President Ryan Thomas started the proceedings by assuring all in attendance that he had spoken at length with Sen. Dmitrich and Rep. King and promised that no legislation would go forward that would damage the college in anyway.
"I would not support anything that is not in the best interest of the college or the community," said Sen. Dmitrich, prior to the question and answer portion of the meeting. "I have always supported CEU and will continue to do so, we will keep open enrollment here permanently or the legislation will not move forward."
Dmitrich's opening statement stemmed from his reaction to a Feb. 8 article in the Salt Lake Tribune that reported the following statement from USU President Stan Albrecht, "the college (CEU) would keep its open enrollment policy for at least two year and tuition would be frozen for that period."
The questions that followed Dmitrich's opening statement demonstrated that both the faculty and community in Castle Valley do not support the legislation in any form at this time. There are just too many unanswered questions.
Erin Atwood, a current student at CEU was the first to question the legislators and demonstrated the concerns of many of his peers.
"What will happen to current students," asked Atwood. "What will happen to their degrees?"
Mark Spencer from the state board of regents replied, "the same standards that apply to Utah State will apply to students at CEU. If there are admissions criteria for an upper division class that same criteria will be required of local students."
As it stood at the time of the meeting the legislation was still being worked on.
"The draft of this bill is still in its infancy and is changed regularly," said Rep. King.
|CEU President Ryan Thomas addresses Tuesday's crowd.|
In a press release posted on CEU's website USU President Albrecht call the legislation a "working draft" that would not be considered unless it was proved to be beneficial for both institutions and the constituency that they serve.
Question after question aimed at the senator showed just how far the legislation would have to come before the faculty of CEU could support a merger.
"CEU has provided an excellent program for us at vocational rehabilitation," said Carol Rogers, Eastern Utah Vocational Rehabilitation District Director. "What is going to happen to workforce education? Without that program and an open enrollment policy many of our clients would not be able to enter college. I have supported the Western Energy Training Center but there are many other programs that our clients require. Can you promise that all vocational training programs will remain functional?"
Dmitrich's response to questions concerning the ending of programs or the changing of policies remained constant. "I will not support the closing of CEU's vocational programs, I don't see anything happening that would jeopardize them. Let me tell you again," Dmitrich said at one point. "Nobody is going to push this legislation through, it is just being explored. This idea is nothing new on Capital Hill and I was part of a group that stopped this sort of merger two years ago. I support the college and I don't play political games."
Curtis Icard spoke to many of the faculty's concerns stating, there are issues of employment, job security, benefits, and retirement among the current faculty and staff.
"These question can't be relegated to the last paragraph of the press release," said Icard, in response to the USU press release. "You are asking 200 to 250 to support something that does not have any specific language concerning their retirement. Why can't we have a study performed before this legislation moves forward?"
Rep. King responded stating that he could not see any state employee losing their job. "No one lost their job during the last merger and I don't think anyone will lose their job at this point."
Icard continued to press his point, "Why can't we change the process, why can't this be tabled until a study is performed? I mean what happens if the bill is past and then down the line 20 percent of the college's faculty lose their jobs?"
As the meeting wore on it became apparent Sen. Dmitrich had heard the concerns of his constituency loud and clear.
"I will not support this legislation unless Rep. King supports it, after all he works there. It sounds like from what you have told me there is not going to be a bill."
Rep. King said that he still had too many questions to offer his support to the bill and also stated, "If this legislation is going to cause an increase in tuition then we can stop the conversation right now.
Dmitrich did however point out, something has to be done about the college and how it is being run. "That is why this legislation was considered in the first place."