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Local editorials

Faculty pay is a statewide issue Oregon's universities all struggle to compete for the best instructors

It should come as no surprise that Southern Oregon University is having difficulty filling some faculty positions. It's expensive to live in Ashland, and SOU salaries don't match up well with comparable institutions in other states.

But this problem isn't confined to Ashland, or to SOU. It's a statewide issue, and it's something Oregonians will have to face up to if they want top-quality higher education for their children and for the employers who depend on a well-educated work force to drive the state's economy.

Ashland's cost of living is a factor, but there is nothing SOU can do about it. Many people who work for a living in Ashland can't afford to live there; that's why Talent is booming.

The statistics should be alarming to anyone who cares about the state's well-being. The salary for an SOU assistant professor ranks 393rd out of 405 institutions that offer master's degrees.

The generous state benefits package helps a little. When benefits are added, total compensation at SOU rises to 92 percent of the national median.

Faculty and administrators are working toward reaching that median over the next four to six years. But without support from the state budget, it won't be easy to get there.

— The bottom line: Oregonians must decide whether they want their colleges and universities to be scraping for qualified faculty. If not, state residents must let their legislators in Salem know that they expect quality from the state's higher education system and that they are willing to help pay for it.

Give them options Considering that the motto for our schools is supposedly no child will be left behind, we should ensure that we are presenting options that draw students to what academics has to offer. The Eagle Point School District is planning a new school, the Southern Oregon School of Arts and Academics, to bridge the gap between educational, student and other school needs.

Using &

36;500,000 in grant money, Eagle Point plans to use an existing building to expand educational programs for 360 students from freshmen to seniors. Those applying for the new system will still cover the basics of English, math, science and social studies, plus a four-year foreign-language requirement. Students also will be required to take art classes in order to graduate.

Eagle Point will be on the cutting edge of education, promoting the Oregon Small Schools Initiative, which has both Medford high schools looking at models to revamp the one big school and one general offering system that now exists.

The new schooling should appeal to parents who desire a smaller classroom environment and more individual attention for their children. Lack of interest in class work is not limited to students who are struggling to keep up; even the brightest and most gifted students can founder in a system that does not challenge them. Offering a greater work load is not equivalent to offering a better learning experience.

It is better to offer more choices than more of the same. The Small Schools Initiative will supply another avenue for hard-working students wanting to specialize in an area of interest before they reach college or the work force.