SOU faculty tired of 'hallucinating'

A recent article in the Tidings (July 26; "SOU seeks funding solutions") and the follow-up editorial (August 4; "SOU's road to redemption") both bring up important issues, but also contain inaccuracies and a lack of understanding of what has been occurring at SOU and higher education in general.

First, a little fact-checking would find that SOU has had an Environmental Studies Department since 1995, not sciences as mentioned in both pieces. While the difference between "studies" and "sciences" may seem academic to some, "studies" go beyond the natural science issues and encompasses the broader complexities of the historical, social, cultural, political, and economic interplay within our physical environment.

Second, faculty in the Environmental Studies Department have been obtaining grants for years, obtaining between 4-5 million dollars over the last ten years from federal, state, regional, and local sources.

However, SOU faculty teach 3-4 times the number of classes that faculty at larger universities teach, leaving little to no time for grant writing. Furthermore, SOU's grants office is only staffed by one person (bless her heart) when other comparable institutions have many more people to support faculty grant processes.

Third, as little as 20 years ago, universities in Oregon were supported by the state to the tune of 50 percent or greater. State funding has dwindled to less than 20 percent today and, with no other source of funding, tuition has had to increase. The results have been a perceived loss of value in higher education in Oregon and reduced access for lower income level families.

Obtaining federal grants alone will not solve the problems that SOU faces. The State of Oregon and its citizens need to come to the realization that the social fabric of our state must rest on a sound infrastructure supported by reasonable taxation to pay for services. Due to a fiscally irresponsible tax system, the general fund is prone to strong cycling between bust and boom and, as a result, state support for higher education has failed to grow enough to cover inflation.

For the last ten years I have worked alongside a dedicated and grossly underpaid faculty and staff that remains dedicated to SOU in spite of the financial turmoil. However, when SOU faculty are paid in the bottom 5 percent of comparable institutions, it is hard to recruit and retain faculty.

These low salaries, combined with not enough funding to: provide proper support staff, stem the rising faculty-to-student ratios, fix the aging buildings, maintain the landscaping in a respectable manner, and keep the buildings warm in the winter and cool in the summer, make working in the Oregon higher education system a challenge to say the least. While the reorganization and a new marketing focus for SOU will undoubtedly bring rewards, we face many challenges along the way without more state funding. As I recently heard in a meeting "visions without resources are simply hallucinations" and the faculty at SOU are tired of hallucinating!

Gregory V. Jones, PhD.

Department of Geography

Southern Oregon University

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