When I first came to Price 17 years ago to work at the College of Eastern Utah I was amused by the fact that a room in the main building was named after a man with what at the time I considered to be a silly name. Afterall, the only person I had ever heard of named Gomer was on a television sitcom.
But as I learned more about this man, and those who surrounded him, I found that I would have never made my way to this wonderful place I now call home without his stout efforts to save what was then Carbon College from the state legislatures chopping block.
In the early 1950's J. Bracken Lee, a Price native, and one time mayor of Price had risen to the office of governor in the state of Utah. Lee, who was always outspoken, and who went by the motto "Do what's right and let'em holler," decided that the state was spending way too much money on education, both in the public schools and at the college level. Amongst the things he tried to do was basically pay teachers less and get the president of Carbon College fired. Neither happened, but he did succeed in getting a special session of the legislature to agree to ship Snow, Dixie and Weber junior colleges back to the LDS church from where their beginnings sprang and to close Carbon College completely.
People in eastern Utah were inflamed by this action of a native son. Lee said it was for the economic good of the state, and officially that is still how it stands in many of the histories written about his time in office. But those that lived here surmised at the time that there were other reasons, some of them personal, as to why he wanted to see the local college out of business.
Enter Gomer Peacock. He was a prominent businessman and citizen of the area and along with some other local leaders they organized a committee to fight the closure. Since most anything the legislature does can be reversed by petition and then a vote by the people of the state as to whether a bill stands or not, that is the route they took to keep the college open.
From December of 1953 until the general election of Nov. 2, 1954 they fought a long and hard battle to first, gain enough signatures on the petition to have the measure placed on the ballot, and then to get the public to understand that closing the college was not a good idea.
Now getting the signatures was not easy; it was a statewide thing and while people at the other colleges also opposed what was happening, none of them actually faced closure at the time. The committee's main enemy was not Lee or the legislature that voted for the closure, but public apathy. Peacock inspired local people to get involved and send out fliers all over the state, to go to meetings and speak on behalf of the college and to contact everyone they knew in the state to get them to sign the petition.
By the petitions deadline they had collected 56,117 signatures and the measure was on the ballot. They then continued their person to person campaign across the state and finally on that fateful day in November, the voters of Utah told the law makers and the governor that they didn't want to see the transfer or the closure happen by a four to one vote ratio. Peacock and his coharts were heroes, and deservedly so.
Today we have a different set of circumstances going on, but in a way it amounts to much the same thing; a possible major change in the status of CEU that would be forced upon us by the legislature. The legislature is a group of politicians who most of us snicker at year after year because of the ridiculous things that go on up there, yet this is a serious matter for our area. In two sessions of inquiry in the last week college officials and our state representatives have been asked a lot of questions about what will happen if CEU becomes Utah State University at Price or whatever they might call it. College people are concerned about their jobs, students about their future. But maybe, we as a group, have been asking the wrong questions, because we are so concerned about the here and now.
|Nelda Rutherford and Ardia Shumway prepare some of the 170,000 fliers that went out across the state in 1954 to convince voters not to close Carbon College.|
Maybe there are some underlying reasons this is happening now. Just as Lee may have had reasons beyond what he stated, is the proposed legislation being guided by other motives or purposes as well?
Right now any cut in services from the college or decrease in payroll will only hurt the community. Few in the general public realize the economic impact the college has on our area. Would a changed entity provide better service, more economically? Would it give our kids more opportunity within our area?
And we also have to ask why Utah State would want this merger to happen. How is this in their interest? Is it that they want in on an outstanding nursing program in their fold? Does it fit the mission of their institution? I doubt, they have much interest in an award winning automotive department, outstanding welding program or progressive diesel education venue.
And what about SEATC, which was recently forced by this same legislature to come to CEU's campus and become a part of the college they were basically removed from in the 1990's?
But maybe the main question should be, what particular individuals in the community would benefit from such a change? What I think was an unwise meeting of some local individuals with the president of USU concerning the idea took place in December. That meeting puts a large black mark on the entire idea for me, because it was done without any kind of notification to people in the community, including many who are associated with the college. A move like that tends to make me wonder what the hell is going on here.
And it should make you, the reader, wonder the same thing.
The idea of CEU becoming a four year college has been around since it opened it's doors in 1937. What people don't seem to understand is that four year colleges generally do not offer associate degrees. They also don't offer certificates in technical/vocational fields. Their emphasis is on grinding out people with bachelor degrees, who usually get jobs that are totally unrelated to the degree they obtained. CEU as it presently exists generates outstanding students in fields Utah State may have no interest in. And those fields also fit our local economy. A bachelors degree is a nice thing to have, but if the jobs available require that you know how to troubleshoot the electrical system on a Kenworth or weld together sections of a high pressure pipeline and you have no background either, are you going to stay in the area?
What needs to happen here, before any action is taken by the legislature to change things, is to do a real study of the changes that would take place with such a move. A committee needs to be set up to look at the overall picture; a committee with real deadlines for bringing the information in; one that is reasonably independent of college officials, politicians and private business that would benefit from such a merger.
For a change we could even have some common citizens on such a study group, instead of the usual cast of characters so often seen on these kinds of committees.
And maybe to do that, we need a new millennium Gomer Peacock to step forward.