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Monday, November 30, 2015

Dealing with OSU growth and student conduct issues affecting Corvallis townies

Cover of official program for Oregon State vs. Iowa 1967 Rose Bowl football game PHOTO: (click on photo to enlarge) The magazine cover for the official program of the 1957 Rose Bowl football game between the University of Iowa and Oregon State College (the former name of Oregon State University and also the Oregon Agricultural College). This cover is from an era that not only was the OSU Football team more successful than it is today, but OSU students could receive a college education without having to go deeply into debt as they do today. (See previous posts OSU 1957 Rose Bowl program Cadillac Ad (1/12/12) and Cost of OSU outpaced inflation letter to the editor (11/5/14))

Over the last 20 years, the President of Oregon Sate University Ed Ray has chosen to grow the college instead of shrink it in response to reduced funding from State of Oregon taxpayers. The growing pains associated with it have been the topic of much discussion in Corvallis, which is the small college town where OSU is located. For example, Corvallis's local professional newspaper recently published the "Editorial: Slow growth at OSU good news for Corvallis," Gazette-Times, Nov. 10, 2015, p. A7 posted Nov. 10, 2015 plus the news articles by Bennett Hall, "OSU enrollment up 2.4 percent," Gazette-Times, Nov. 10, 2015, p. A1, A6 posted Nov. 9, 2015 and by Nathan Bruttell, "Police respond to major jump in calls for service over Halloween weekend," Gazette-Times, Nov. 11, 2015, p. A1, A9 posted Nov. 11, 2015. Also see the reader's opinion submission by Suzanne King, "As I See It: Time for OSU to control its students," posted November 04, 2015 and a reader's letter in response by Yvonne McCallister, "Letter: Where are the adults at OSU?" posted Nov. 18, 2015.

A related issue to the growth of OSU has been the defunding of public education by Republicans, which has made it impossible for a student to work his way through college without going deeply into debt. (See articles by Bennett Hall, "Students rally for free education," Gazette-Times, Nov. 13, 2015, p. A3 and Katy Murphy, "Debt-free college: the next Democratic mantra," Gazette-Times, Nov. 15, 2015, p. A9)

All of this discussion motivated me to submit the following opinion piece to my local newspaper:

As a permanent Corvallis resident and Oregon State University alumnus, I would rather deal with problems created by the growth of OSU instead of problems related to shrinking enrollment, for example, after most male students left campus during World War II or after the Baby Boomer generation graduated.

Corvallis felt like a ghost town the last time OSU enrollment dropped, especially given a coincidental reduction in jobs related to logging and a downsizing at Hewlett-Packard, where the first personal computers and inkjet printers were being invented, but were not yet profitable.

Depressed Corvallis citizens stole a macabre joke from Boeing workers, who had been laid off in Seattle, and localized it to ask, "Would the last person leaving Corvallis please turn out the lights?"

The biggest problems created by growth at OSU are the increase in nuisances, such as noisy parties, and very serious public safety issues, such as public urination and personal injuries due to drunk drivers.

Previous presidents of OSU, working with Corvallis city leaders, have more successfully dealt with student conduct problems, but to be fair, they received more help from the Oregon Legislature.

For years, the Oregon Legislature was able, by capping enrollment at 15,000 students, to both control the cost to taxpayers and subsidize tuition at OSU sufficiently enough so that any Oregon resident student could graduate debt-free using only the money they could earn from a typical part-time job.

Today, students without wealthy parents or a scholarship are forced to go deep into debt because Republicans have cut the taxpayers' contribution to OSU in an attempt to undermine what Republicans see as one of their political adversaries, "progressive liberal college professors."

OSU President Ed Ray has rationally responded to reduced funding from taxpayers by choosing a strategy of growth, in both enrollment and funded research, instead of choosing to shrink OSU.

While I support Ray's strategic response of growth, I worry it might conflict with his ability to successfully mitigate unacceptable student behavior in Corvallis with a student conduct process, which to be effective must be able to quickly suspend or expel students without having to worry about maintaining enrollment growth.

According to decades of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, as long as a student conduct enforcement process is fair, it can be much more efficient than using only the police and court system, because it doesn't have to follow the lengthy process of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, as a Benton County judge must do under the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps my viewpoint is distorted by old college friends, who as law students defended other students against being expelled for protesting the Vietnam War - this student conduct was deemed to be un-American and disruptive to campus life by university administrators. My friends learned the hard way that while the U.S. Supreme Court firmly upheld their First Amendment rights to free speech, the court also upheld the very broad rights of university administrators to discipline students for the common good of the community.

Executing an effective student conduct improvement process requires leadership from the OSU president and his staff, because if they ask their attorneys for permission, they will probably hear only about the few corner cases where a student was treated unfairly, instead of hearing how it can be designed to work fairly and effectively.

Likewise, the OSU president must ask his marketing staff to figure out how to sell students on the long-term career advantages of going to a disciplined OSU instead of a "party school" like the University of Oregon.

(Quoted from Thomas Kraemer, "As I See It: OSU's growth is a good problem to have," Gazette-Times, Nov. 30, 2015, p. A7)

The fact that the Republican President Ronald Reagan when he was the Governor of California cut the nearly free college education for California students was mentioned in a letter to the editor, which also covered a point I had previously made in a letter to the OSU student newspaper about how the cost of OSU tuition has outpaced inflations:

"From reading the news these days one might get the impression that the idea of a tuition-free state university is new. It isn't. . . . Governor Ronald Reagan ended free tuition at the UC campuses in 1969. . . . . Those were the days when politicians and citizens alike, thought that an educated populace was for the common good and that education should be free, or nearly so, to students at all levels. . . ." (Quoted from G. Brent Dalrymple, "Letter: We're to blame for high tuition," posted Nov. 19, 2015)

See previous posts: