UO students and staff testify against governing board at legislative meeting

Peter Buckley still remembers what a community college student said to him when she visited him a few years ago.

“She said, ‘Every year I’ve been going to school in Oregon, I’ve had less,'” the Democratic representative  from Ashland said during a budget town hall meeting at Lane Community College on Tuesday night. “And that just knocked my socks off.”

Buckley opened the meeting with that anecdote, and it proved to sum up the problem Oregon higher education is facing — every year there is less money in the system to go around.

For University of Oregon students and staff in attendance at the hearing, the cuts to higher education are felt deeply. With the proposed 5.8 percent rise in UO attendance costs and low faculty and classified staff salaries, employees and students have suffered from the state’s disinvestment in higher education in recent years.

Worries over funding for higher education and rising costs have sparked over the issue of independent governing boards for the University, as proposed by Senate Bill 270. If passed, the bill would separate the UO and Portland State University from the Oregon University System.

The bill has received mixed reactions from students and staff, and UO community members gathered at Tuesday night’s budget hearing to speak in opposition of the bill.

According to Service Employees International Union Vice President James Jacobson, the governing boards could create issues for UO students and staff because of the lack of representation proposed in the bill and the additional costs of maintaining the boards, which OUS estimates to be between $1 and $4.5 million per year. Jacobson worries about the lack of language in the bill designating student, faculty and staff representatives to the governing board.

“If there’s going to be a governing board for the UO, we want to see people represented who work and go to school at the University,” Jacobson said. “The University wouldn’t be there without any of us. It’s unfair not to have those voices on the board.”

UO student Jeremy Hedlund echoed Jacobson’s concerns with the lack of representation on the proposed governing board, as well as the cost of the board.

“I don’t see another reason to add another $1 to $5 million to the costs,” Hedlund said.

Buckley says the Oregon Legislature is struggling with the bill. Phil Barnhart, who represents Lane and Linn counties in the House of Representatives, agreed.

“I wish we had some great news for you,” Barnhart said to Hedlund in regard to the increasing financial burden on students. “But I don’t.”

Jacobson said during the hearing that the SEIU would not support the bill until it improves and its language becomes more specific.

“Momentum is building more and more against the bill,” Jacobson told the Emerald. “Even if on paper it sounds like a good idea — it’s a way to raise money for the University — there’s a lot of pitfalls.”

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Samantha Matsumoto

Samantha Matsumoto