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Senate chief says UVSC will be a university someday

John Valentine
John Valentine

OREM — The president of the Utah Senate says Utah Valley State College should be a university.

"In my mind, it's not if — it's when," Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said Friday afternoon while meeting with students and faculty at the Orem campus.

Valentine's public statement — made while discussing a proposal to add a four-year engineering degree at UVSC — was his first regarding the college's not-so-secret quest to gain university status.

College administrators have long said they have met with the senior legislator to discuss plans to move past its ranking as a four-year state college.

On Friday, Valentine told the Deseret Morning News that he has had "several dozen meetings" with UVSC President William Sederburg to talk about the issue.

"A degree that comes out of Utah Valley University will mean a lot more," he said.

Another Utah Valley legislator, Sen. Parley Hellewell, R-Orem, echoed Valentine's statements.

"As Sen. Valentine said, it won't be long until (UVSC) becomes a university," said Hellewell, who also meet with students to talk about the engineering-degree proposal. Hellewell graduated from the school in 1972 in business management and marketing.

The criteria for designation as a university varies from state to state. In Utah, a college must offer graduate degrees before the governor-appointed Board of Regents gives it university status.

Utah County, with more than 360,000 residents, is the "second largest county in population," Hellewell said. "We have a private university, but we don't have a state university. It's kind of crazy."

Valentine said he does not have a timetable for when the school, which counts more than 24,000 students, could obtain university status.

Among the factors that will play into the school's possible college-to-university transformation will be the perception that the school has liberal leanings, Valentine said.

"When you're in the process of trying to make university status and you ask the taxpayers to be supportive, you have to be reflective" of the community, he said.

Last year's visit by "Fahrenheit 9/11" filmmaker Michael Moore, performances of "Vagina Monologues," concerts by rap-music stars, and the offering of a gay literature class on campus have upset many Utah County residents, considered among the most conservative in the state.

UVSC cannot pretend to be an "East Coast or West Coast" school, Valentine said. Activities on campus cannot deviate from the community's values.

"I'm not against having a diverse education," he said, "but the major mission of this institution can't get lost in the quest to be fair and listen to diverse views."

Valentine also noted UVSC's low number of full-time faculty as a hurdle to university status. In fall 2004, 56 percent of the faculty were adjunct, according to Utah System of Higher Education data.

Weber State University, considered a "peer" university to which UVSC officials compare the Orem school, has 22 percent adjunct faculty, according to USHE.

The school also needs more academic advisers and more bachelor's degrees. Valentine told the students that degrees such as engineering could propel the school toward university status.

The school also would have to seek university accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which certifies schools as meeting certain standards, Valentine said.

"It will take an upgraded and badly needed library," Valentine said. "We're going to get that next session."

To the surprise of regents, the State Building Board pushed UVSC's request for $48 million in state tax funds for a Digital Learning Center/library to the No. 1 capital priority in the state. But it will take at least 18 months to design and build a library, said UVSC's spokesman, Derek Hall.

"Right now we're talking about a comprehensive set of bachelor's degrees," he said.

UVSC offers 44 bachelor's degrees.

"Boise State (University, a peer comparison school) has less than that," Hall said. "Weber has more."

Administrators want to fill in gaps in different academic programs, including engineering, although traditional civil, mechanical and electrical engineering are not on the school's "short list" of degree considerations, Hall said.