As OSU-Cascades gets ready to begin its second full year at its new campus, there’s a move afoot to honor a man whose vision of the future made it all possible. What’s envisioned is an outdoor gathering space near the main academic building on campus.
Paul Risser, the late president of Oregon State University, was on board with the idea of bringing a full university education to the region when he met with members of the Central Oregon Regional Advisory Board before they had a chance to ask for his support. The advisory board was formed to find a way to improve access to higher education in Central Oregon. Now the school’s supporters hope to honor Risser with a memorial on the OSU-Cascades campus.
It was Risser who, after they’d received a decidedly cool reception at the University of Oregon, told members of CORAB he supported the idea absolutely. It was he who recognized, as few west of the Cascades did at the time, how much the lack of local access to a four-year college hurt the region.
Risser’s support was critical, particularly in those early days.
He wasn’t alone in his efforts. Joe Cox, the state’s chancellor of higher education, and the late state senator from Tumalo, Ben Westlund, got on board quickly.
So, too, did then-Gov. John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber’s 2001-02 budget included $7.2 million in startup funds for what was originally envisioned as a two-year, upper division capstone university students could enter after finishing up at Central Oregon Community College. That commitment, like Risser’s support, was critical.
Risser, who left OSU in 2002 to return to his native Oklahoma as chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, never got to see the four-year university open its doors. He died in July 2014, two years before the new campus was up and running. He did, however, live to see the plan for a capstone university change to one that would create a four-year university by 2016.
Efforts to improve Central Oregonians’ access to higher education go back farther than the beginning of the 21st Century, to be sure. More or less serious discussions were held as far back as 1979.
But it was Risser, with his vision and his commitment, who played a key role in turning the dream into reality. A memorial on campus is surely a fitting way to honor the man.