Letter: Disagreement could deny Central Oregon a university for years to come

By Becky Johnson /

Published Jun 7, 2014 at 12:01AM

When I arrived at OSU-Cascades in 2009, it was to temporarily lead the campus, but what convinced me to stay was the incredible support I witnessed from the Central Oregon community for OSU-Cascades. Simply put, I was awed by our community’s desire for higher education.

From the minute I arrived in Central Oregon, I was continually asked, “When is OSU-Cascades going to become a four-year university?” I did not come here to expand OSU-Cascades to a four-year university, but I made it my top priority when so many community members clearly stated this as one of their top priorities.

Central Oregonians have had a vision for a four-year university for more than three decades, and we now are in a position to make this vision a reality. Oregon’s State Board of Higher Education and Gov. John Kitzhaber have endorsed the expansion of OSU-Cascades. The Oregon Legislature has allocated initial funding, and hundreds of Central Oregonians have donated more than $4 million to make it happen. After consulting with community real estate experts, OSU-Cascades purchased a site to develop the first phase of our campus on a site already zoned appropriately for a college campus and served by needed infrastructure. The site can be developed immediately, is an attractive location, and will be readily accessible to our community, prospective students and faculty. No site is perfect, but this is the only site that met these criteria.

Across the nation, there isn’t a site for a new university that doesn’t come with challenges. Go to any university and you will hear concerns around traffic and parking. As members of this community, we are sensitive to these issues and committed to address them. Because of this, we created a Campus Expansion Advisory Committee with representatives from public agencies, private businesses, nonprofit organizations and the community.

We created 10 task forces around issues such as transportation, neighborhood livability and housing. You can see the issues that were identified and follow recommendations coming from these task forces online at www.osucascades.edu/4. Along the way, more than 80 community members have participated in these task forces. The initial recommendations have been excellent, and we have been incorporating them into our planning.

Now, as we are poised on the threshold to develop the university that Central Oregon has sought for more than 30 years, concerns have arisen.

We sincerely respect our community and its residents. That is why OSU-Cascades will always be Central Oregon’s university and why in planning for the new campus we have had extensive citizen involvement. Yet, community leadership should not be simply about what issues we agree with or are opposed to, but instead about what we can achieve together.

In this case, simply saying “I am for” higher education in Central Oregon, “but not in west Bend,” may deny Central Oregon a university for many years. I would ask all of us — those in favor of OSU-Cascades’ expansion and those with concerns — to take our considerable talents and resources and bring them to bear to listen, learn and work to achieve the outcomes we all desire.

We can make the proposed site for OSU-Cascades work for the community and the university, if we keep our efforts focused on solving issues and achieving community-based outcomes and opportunities.

There are nearly 80,000 residents in Bend and more than 200,000 in Central Oregon. Each of us now has an opportunity make what was a dream into a full-fledged reality. I urge everyone who supports higher education for our community — and wants a four-year university established in the next decade — to engage in the upcoming land use process. A public hearing to review the site application for the branch campus is slated for Tuesday. Public input is welcome via a letter or in verbal testimony. For information, visit the city of Bend’s website at bendoregon.gov/OSUcascades.

— Becky Johnson is vice president of Oregon State University-Cascades.