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ONE TWISTED SISTER: Musician Dee Snider flashes the devil's horns to the crowd at Monster Circus, a rock mecca in Vegas. Click Arts&Life or a link to story. / Photo by Ben Hansen, special contributor

Today's word on journalism

May 8, 2009

The Last WORD

The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

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Feedback and suggestions --printable and otherwise --always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Utah State takes a hit but avoids worst of budget cuts

By Jackson Olsen

March 17, 2009 | The 45-day political circus that is Utah's annual legislative session ended in the midst of Spring Break, and when the dust settled on Capitol Hill, proponents of higher education had something to cheer about.

State lawmakers finalized the budget for fiscal year 2010, and in doing so were forced to make substantial budget cuts to state-funded colleges and universities. The cuts ran to the tune of 18 percent, which for USU means close to $30 million and 600 jobs, according to Michael Kennedy, special assistant to President Stan Albrecht for state and federal relations.

So what's to cheer about?

Fortunately for the entire higher education community, the heavy cuts were accompanied by 9 percent backfill that reduced the cuts to half their original payload. The 9 percent was made possible thanks to the federal economic stimulus bill recently signed by President Barack Obama, Kennedy said. The stimulus provided the state with over $80 million in education funding. The money was divided and distributed among higher and public education institutions.

"We were very fortunate to end up as well as we did," Kennedy said. "The federal dollars came through just in time allowing the legislature to reduce the blow that we were all about to take."

William A. Sederburg, the Higher Education commissioner appointed by Governor Jon M. Huntsman, felt much the same way.

"We feel good about it," he said, "considering where we thought it would end up."

According to Kennedy, USU still stands to lose a lot of ground in the coming years, even with the backfill. Certain courses will be offered only once a year rather than every semester. Class sizes will swell due to steady enrollment without the ability to hire more faculty. Mandotory furloughs, much like the one experienced this year during Spring Break that affected all faculty, staff and administrators, can be expected, Kennedy said.

"Everyone's going to be making sacrifices," Kennedy said. "The furlough we just took is a great example of smart sacrifices. It accounted for over 60 percent of our entire cut for this fiscal year."

The USU Student Lobbyists, the group responsible for the organization of both the rallies in the HUB and on Capitol Hill, have been lobbying at the State Capitol since early January. While pleased with the outcome of this year's budget cuts, they were disappointed that the state's rainy day funds didn't get put to use.

"Using that rainy day money could have completely eliminated the higher education budget crisis with millions of dollars left to spare for other programs or projects," said Chris Neil, senior in international relations and three-year member of the USU Student Lobbyists.

Neil said that thousands of letters from students were written to members of both the House and Senate asking the state lawmakers to tap into the reserve funds. According to Neil, most lawmakers politely declined.

"I guess it isn't raining hard enough for them," Neil said.

The state's rainy day funds currently amount to more than $530 million.


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