Western Oregon president tells campus: ‘We’re broke’

MONMOUTH, Ore. (AP) – Facing a potential faculty strike and declining student numbers, President John Minahan of Western Oregon University held a campus gathering to explain the school budget.

The math was this: The school has about $35.7 million to spend from tax revenue and tuition. It has about $38.6 million in expenses.

"Anybody not get that picture?" Minahan said. "We’re broke."

Hundreds of faculty and staff members and students came to the gathering Wednesday, spilling into the halls.

"I didn’t expect there to be so many people here, but I’m glad there are," Minahan said. "It shows that this is a school with a lot of energy."

In 2003, faculty and staff members accepted a two-year wage freeze.

This year, faculty members voted 98-19 to authorize a strike in the absence of a wage agreement with the university. By law, a cooling-off period is required before a walkout can take place. That period ends April 3.

Minahan said he doesn’t think a walkout is likely. He reiterated the university’s offer of a 9.6 percent average pay boost to faculty by June 30, 2007.

Several people in the audience, including faculty union President Mark Perlman, questioned the wisdom of some of the university’s spending decisions, such as the addition of a highly paid administrative position.

Perlman said cost-of-living expenses incurred during the wage freeze will consume much of the administration’s offer.

WOU’s enrollment dipped to about 4,850 this year from a recent high of 5,100 during the 2003-04 school year.

Minahan said increasing enrollment is pivotal if the university is to be in the black. He said the school needs a thousand more students.

"That would be worth about a million dollars to us," Minahan said. "I’m a gambler, but I’m not foolhardy. I don’t see it happening."

WOU student Ian Molay asked Minahan what students can do.

"When you go home, tell the students in your high school how much you like it here and why," Minahan said. "I would ask every [student] here to do the same."

Western Oregon bills itself as the oldest institution in the Oregon University system, founded in 1856. It began as a normal school, training teachers. It says about two-thirds of its students these days are in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a third in the College of Education.