Students, faculty meet to discuss budget crisis

Representatives from employee unions and student organizations gathered last Friday to discuss PSU’s current budget troubles and possible solutions in preparation for the state legislature’s special session in June.

“The reality is that PSU has sustained since last July $10 million in reoccurring cuts. That’s on top of the fact that last year we were hit with $5 million in one time cuts,” said Richard Koontz, PSU technician and OPEU delegate present for the meeting.

The Oregon University System’s (OUS), and subsequently state universities’, share of the state’s general fund money has been decreasing since the 1980s, while enrollment has increased, according to OUS reports.

PSU has seen a huge increase in size and enrollment, bypassing the other two state universities. In 2000, 19,029 students were enrolled at PSU, compared to UO’s 17,843 and OSU’s 16,777 according to OUS data.

Koontz says this adds to PSU’s budget worries.

“PSU is typically run on a lighter budget than the other two universities,” Koontz said.

The future looks to hold more expansion for PSU. “The enrollment figures are for a slightly smaller increase in student population, but still a huge leap,” Koontz said of future enrollment projections.

In order to accommodate these new students, PSU has embarked on a remarkable expansion. Not only are there a number of new properties being investigated for purchase, there are a host of new acquisitions that are waiting to be brought up to code before they can be used as university facilities.

This expansion has put a huge burden on PSU’s facilities department, which is responsible for maintaining the grounds and structures on campus. Facilities has seen some of the biggest cuts to its workforce; a majority of the layoffs from last week were facilities employees.

“When I started with the crew that I work on, we had 15 or 16 people on this crew. Now we have about 8 people, and 5 million square feet of space,” said Koontz, who has been with facilities for 20 years.

Whether the legislature will act to alleviate the budget crunch is still unknown, but those present at the meeting have hope that increased lobbying from students and faculty can help to impress upon the congress the importance of higher education funding.

“We’re down to the point that we can’t afford any more budget cuts,” said Dune Zhu, ASPSU vice president, who attended the meeting. “I think for right now the only thing we can do is lobby our representatives, call them and tell them the situation we face.”

“The legislature has met twice in special session and failed to deal with the budget, and now the third special session is going to convene in June, and we think that it’s necessary that students and employees alike contact their representatives and let it be known that we’re just about at the end of our string,” Koontz said.

Governor Kitzhaber has suggested recently that he is dedicated to increasing funding for higher education, but the only apparent solution is to increase taxes, which is always a politically unpopular option.

“Tax increases would help us,” Zhu said, “they’re the only way to help us.”

“We don’t want to cut programs, we’ll lose enrollments,” Koontz said. Tuition hikes can’t make up the shortfall either, according to Koontz.

According to OUS reports, major tuition increases are always followed by enrollment decreases, most notably in 1981, when tuition was increased by 33 percent, and freshman enrollment subsequently decreased by 11 percent. A similar dynamic was seen when Measure 5 was implemented in 1991. Tuition increased by 40 percent and enrollment decreased by 5 percent at that time.

Tuition and fees only made up 15.5 percent of total funds for OUS for fiscal years 1999 through 2001.

Zhu and Koontz encourage students to contact their local representatives and tell them their concern for PSU’s budget situation, and impress upon them the importance of higher education in Oregon.