Saturday, December 12, 2009

College of Eastern Utah, Utah State University merger

The Utah Board of Regents approved a memorandum of understanding Friday outlining the merger between the College of Eastern Utah and Utah State University. This merger has been under discussion for more than a year, and the final approval step will come from the state legislature in early 2010. An attempt to merge the institutions in last year's legislative session failed, but unanswered questions were addressed in recent months.

The move is suggested as a way to increase educational opportunities for students, but it is not proposed as a cost-savings measure. The CEU campus will be governed by a chancellor appointed by USU, but will retain its own mascot, school colors and athletics program. A new tuition rate scale will be applied to CEU upper-division courses and faculty will be grandfathered into USU's tenure track system. The merger is slated to become effective on July 1, 2010.

Of interesting note in this merger is that it is not what I would describe as a "complete" merger. This can happen on more traditional campuses that provide a broad array of student and campus services such as student organizations and intercollegiate athletics. This is opposed to a merger of a comprehensive institution with a free-standing professional school, such as a medical school, that does not have its own identity linked to colors, mascots and athletics. While these two institutions are becoming linked legislatively, administratively and to some extents academically, there is an amount of individuality being retained by CEU. With the CEU name continuing along with USU on the campus and the school mascot and colors and athletics program, some may see the identity of CEU as the same as always; business as usual. General student opinion about the merger seems mixed. Most sentiments from students show concern related to the small classes and one-on-one attention from faculty. Some may feel a sense of pride for the "old" CEU and the colors and mascot that accompany these feelings, but I wonder if some students would like to become more of a part of their new, larger, more prestigious institution. Seeing the USU name, colors and mascot on campus would do more for students' identity with the "surviving" institution in the merger. As a student, I think I would want to refer to and take pride in my alma mater as USU, the more widely-recognized and prestigious institution when applying for jobs, etc. While the institutions are 200 miles apart, and it is unlikely that too many students would regularly travel between the campuses for athletic events, the identity that can be developed for the larger, merged institution can be powerful in students continuing on to other USU undergraduate and graduate programs.

I wonder how much of the retention of the CEU identity over the course of the merger was simply political assurances to bring the merger to fruition, and how much of this may erode in the years to come. CEU may maintain its own cultural identity due to the distance between campuses, but it remains to be seen whether USU will seek to effect more of the "mothership" identity on the satellite campus.