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OSU Students Affected By Travel Ban Are 'Scared To Death'

<p>Ed Ray is president of Oregon State University</p>

Ed Ray is president of Oregon State University

Oregon State University President Ed Ray said he's been busy lately.

“It’s not dull,” Ray said about being the head of a university during the Trump administration. He spoke to OPB after delivering his State of the University address Wednesday.

He said he has to advise his staff how to behave in the current political climate.

“First and foremost, we have to be the adults in the room," he said. "And second, we have to be clear who we are and what we stand for. And the more chaotic things get around us, the more important it is for us to stay focused and true to our values.”

Ray has already had to demonstrate those approaches in the months since the election. When President Trump signed his executive order on immigration, Ray responded by saying he was "angry" and "disappointed."

"It was a very badly written and a terribly, poorly implemented executive order that caused a lot of heartache, a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety for people. That was totally unnecessary," he said. "That thing was not ready for prime time.”

Ray argued any supposed danger posed wasn’t imminent enough to justify the speed with which the order was released. And exceptions for people such as green-card holders or those with dual citizenship should have been clarified earlier.

He said OSU students affected by the order appreciated his statements, but they weren't the only people he heard from.

“I’ve gotten some fan mail from the other side, as you can imagine,” he said, sardonically.

None of the 165 students and visiting scholars at OSU from the banned countries were out of the country when the order was signed.

“But they’re scared to death, they don’t know what to expect going forward,” Ray explained. “It’s pretty frustrating.”

The university has set up a website to disseminate information to affected members of the campus community as it seeks to understand the effect of the order.

“That’s part of what breaks your heart. I don’t have any answers any more than you do or they do. This is all very confusing — what the state of the world is with respect to them," he said. "And there’s not much you can do to relieve their anxiety.”

Ray also recently affirmed OSU's status as a "sanctuary campus," saying, "We will do everything we can to prevent anyone associated with Oregon State University from being deported."

Trump has threatened to pull funding from sanctuary cities and counties.

When asked what that would mean for OSU, Ray replied, “I know what we stand for, and we are not going to change. And as we go forward, we will come to understand what that means we have to do to stay true to our values.”

He said the Trump administration and the 2016 campaign may have also led to an increase in racism and incivility on campus. “I think there’s been some more acting out since the election, during the whole campaign season. But I think we’re dealing with it on a case-by-case basis as best we can.”

Another open question for the university during a Trump administration is what might happen to federal research money.

The university received $336 million for grant-funded research last year.

Ray estimated that the vast majority of those grants were federally funded. “I would say probably 75-80 percent.”

He pointed out that OSU is trying to move away from federal funding.

"We've been working very systematically to diversify our sources of research revenue, finding industry partners that we can work with so that, in fact, we’re not as heavily reliant over time on federal funding as we have been historically.”

During his State of the University address Wednesday, Ray urged state lawmakers to increase funding for higher education.

The state is trying to fill a $1.8 billion budget gap. In spite of that shortfall, Oregon’s state universities are asking for a $100 million increase in state operating funds.

"I think it’s time for the state to stop hunkering down every time it faces adversity and think hard about where is the future and where do we need to invest," he said. "And I think the future of this state is our young people.”

Ray is also looking for $69.5 million in state bonds to expand the recently opened OSU-Cascades campus in Bend.

OSU is striving to retain 90 percent of its first-year students and to increase the six-year graduation rate to 70 percent by 2020. In his address, Ray announced a $150 million campaign to support that goal. A third of that money has already been raised.

The money would, in part, contribute to counseling and grant money for students who are at risk of not returning a second year.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dave Blanchard