|College of Eastern Utah's President Ryan Thomas considers the future of CEU at a meeting on Friday.|
Last Friday, College of Eastern Utah president Ryan Thomas called a community-wide meeting to address rumors and possible legislation that could permanently merge CEU with Utah State University.
The legislation drafted by the staff of state Sen. Mike Dmitrich was unacceptable to Thomas in its early draft form. He described the early draft's wording as "meaning the death of CEU. Our college would be eliminated and become a USU institution."
According to Thomas, a meeting was conducted two months ago without his knowledge, or his attendance, between USU president Stan Albrecht and several prominent community members and business owners in Carbon County to discuss the merger. The CEU president indicated that Albrecht denied any knowledge that Thomas would not be present at said meeting.
"I am not saying that there couldn't be benefits to a merger," said Thomas. "But I don't think this situation has been properly thought through. We need to find a way to put the brakes on this until we come up with a better solution."
Many attendees at the Feb. 7 meeting were distressed that Sen. Dmitrich was not available to explain the proposed legislation. There was also great concern for the fact that college business of this magnitude had been discussed without the presence of the chief executive of CEU.
"If we need to work around Sen. Dmitrich's schedule, then that's what we are going to have to do," said Carbon County Chamber of Commerce director Ann Evans. "He needs to be at our next meeting because there are a lot of questions that need to be answered."
A main concern of the college was the status of its campus in San Juan, a campus that Thomas described as very successful.
According to Thomas, 55 percent of the students at the San Juan campus are Native American. He further reported that more than 65 percent of those students graduate, a number far higher than the national average for Native Americans.
The school's vocational programs, many in their infancy, were also discussed at the meeting.
"What happens to our technical programs?" asked Stan Martineau of CEU.
Thomas had no answers for the questions on Friday. The CEU president apologized for knowing so little and stated that the answers would have to come from officials on Capitol Hill.
Some questions were answered by Dmitrich in a telephone interview Monday morning.
"I am not the only one pushing this merger," said the Utah senator. "But change is never comfortable for anyone and this merger is nothing new on Capitol Hill. Everyone knows what the concerns are at CEU and they need to be addressed."
Dmitrich reported that contrary to statements made at the Feb. 8 meeting he would not support legislation that would make CEU a USU institution.
According to Dmitrich, he would not support legislation that halted CEU's vocational programs, terminated collegiate athletic programs or changed the college's open enrollment and lower division tuition policies.
"I'm sure the upper division costs would reflect those at Utah State," said Dmitrich. "But if anyone in Carbon County thinks that I have anything but the community's and the college's best interests and continued viability at heart, they are wrong."
Dmitrich continued, "the bottom line concern that I have and the reason we are looking at legislation instead of another study, is how long is the legislature going to continue to bail CEU out of financial trouble? How long are they going to to fund their shortages and maintain this institution?"
County Commissioner Mike Milovich gave similar statements Monday morning. "I personally would like to see CEU stay CEU," said Milovich "But the college is no longer attracting students and it is my belief that USU could infuse the college with new programs and ideas in order to make it viable."
In a document provided by Thomas prior to the Feb. 8 community meeting, the CEU president indicated that post associate educational programs are essential to creative business development. Local communities have found that the migration of some of their brightest and best students to urban areas to pursue an education tends to be a one-way street. Few students who leave rural Utah for higher education return to seek work. Therefore, the impact of their additional education is lost to local economic development efforts.
However, Thomas did caution that of the western states who have implemented merger solutions motivated by increased efficiency have not been very successful.
"Rumors about a CEU-Utah State merger have been going on for years preceding my administration. As we experienced some financial difficulties they gained ground and as we got better financially they slowed down," said Thomas. "When I met with Mike, Brad and Kevin (Walthers) on Wednesday (Feb. 6), Dmitrich told me he didn't like to see things studied to death and that he wanted to go forward with the merger."
Dmitrich reported his reasoning behind considering the merger as increased revenue, more full-time enrollment and better educational opportunities for the students inside and outside of our area.
"We have to look at this as if it were a corporation," said Dmitrich. "We have to look at the decisions that are going to allow us to advance for the betterment of the school and the community."
Advancement of the local college was also the main consideration of Commissioner Milovich.
"I am concerned that the college just continues to limp along," concluded Milovich. "When it should be the bright light and the beacon that brings new people to this community and keeps them here as well."