Eastern Washington University will die a slow and agonizing death if lawmakers give Washington State University control over Spokane upper-division programs, an official said Friday.
Eastern Provost Niel Zimmerman said a compromise bill proposed by Sens. Eugene Prince and Jim West would force the universities to compete for the same limited supply of students. With WSU ruling Spokane - source of 56 percent of Eastern’s 6,900 students - the Cheney-based school eventually would perish, he said.
“If a merger is a heart attack, this is a cancer,” Zimmerman said from Eastern’s administrative offices in Cheney. “It will grow and suck the life out of us.”
Zimmerman made the statements as he prepared to testify Monday against the Prince-West bill before the Senate Higher Education Committee.
WSU supports the legislation, saying it creates a long-range plan for Spokane to expand its higher education programs.
“This doesn’t put Cheney at risk,” said Bill Gray, dean of WSU-Spokane. “Rather, it provides opportunity for refocusing our missions and growing the pie.”
WSU President Sam Smith has said he wants to serve at least 1,500 full-time students in Spokane by 2005. The school currently has about 425.
Prince and West introduced the compromise bill last week after West had proposed merging the two schools, a plan Prince fiercely opposed.
Senate Bill 6717 would:
Put WSU in charge of all upper-division and graduate level programs in Spokane.
Require Eastern to get prior approval from the state Higher Education Coordinating Board in Olympia for any programs offered off the Cheney campus.
Abolish the Joint Center for Higher Education in Spokane, a consortium of local colleges and universities that regulates academic programs and manages the Riverpoint Higher Education Park east of downtown.
Give the title of Riverpoint, a 48-acre campus, to WSU on July 1, 1998.
Nearly all of the 1,300 full-time Eastern students attending classes in Spokane are in upper-division programs. Programs include physical therapy, dental hygiene, business, computer science, public administration, urban planning, creative writing and social work.
Zimmerman said it would cost Eastern students an additional $6,000 to attend four years of school at WSU. Gray said the number is closer to $3,200, a difference of $800 per year.
Todd Hansen, an accounting major at Eastern, takes a bus to classes at Riverpoint. The north Spokane student said he doesn’t have the money to attend WSU, or the time to log an extra 90 minutes each day commuting to Cheney.
“I don’t think our representatives are thinking this out,” he said. “Many students are unhappy about this.”